Storm-watching in Sonoma

Celebrating the power of winter storms on the Northern California coast

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Winter is rainy season in California, which means the coastal towns in the northern part of the state see some pretty spectacular shows when storms blow in.

Some of the best natural “entertainment” can be found a short drive from our home in Sonoma County; other great spots to watch storms make landfall are farther north on Highway 1, in the Mendocino County towns such as Mendocino and Fort Bragg. An added bonus: Storm-watching always is romantic, since all you really do is sit (or lie) around and stare.

Here, in no particular order, are my favorite NorCal spots from which to watch winter storms.

Timber Cove

This circa-1963 motel underwent an exhaustive renovation for a few years and reopened toward the end of 2016 with new life. Today, 46 rooms have a hippie chic vibe that includes turntables and old-school refrigerators with microbrew beers. Some rooms have funky 1970s-style fireplaces; others have lofts. Of course the biggest attraction is the view—the property sits right on the bluffs north of Jenner, which means all of the ocean-facing rooms offer panoramic perspectives on the Pacific.

If you’re lucky enough to get a balcony room, consider your sliding glass door a private window to the storm. From the comfort of your bed (or your couch if you get a suite), you can watch the squalls come in off the ocean and batter the land with wind and rain. Crashing waves are another attraction. They also make for a great drinking game.

There’s another option for travelers who aren’t able to book ocean-facing rooms at Timber Cove, too: Coast Kitchen restaurant. This high-end eatery has windows that look out on the ocean as well. Have a late lunch and linger over watching the storm. Bring a board game and you could spend all day.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the property’s landmark obelisk, a concrete tower formally known as the Bufano Peace Statue Monument. Soaring 93-feet above the cliffs, the Peace Statue is an iconic symbol of beauty, spirit, and tranquility. During storms it also offers great perspective on clouds and wind and rain. When you go, definitely check this out, too.

Lobby/great room at Timber Cove

Lobby/great room at Timber Cove

Brewery Gulch Inn

Our favorite bed-and-breakfast in the sleepy town of Mendocino isn’t right on the water, but it situated on a hill just east of Highway 1, giving it a commanding view of the spot where Big River meets the sea.

From the high-ceilinged, lobby-level great room, you can see and hear waves crashing into the bluffs below while you sit cozily near a giant crackling fireplace and snack on afternoon goodies prepared by Executive Chef Scott Allen. If you’re feeling brave (and you have rain gear), the patio just off this communal space offers a completely different perspective on storms—especially as systems roll in. (The patio is pictured in the image atop this page.)

One of the features that makes Brewery Gulch such a good value for storm-watching that every stay includes breakfast and a light dinner. On those rainy nights when you don’t want to climb out of your pajamas, this is a major plus. Also, the food is fantastic—veggies are almost always local, and everything is served buffet style so you’re welcome to as much as you’d like (while supplies last). There’s even complimentary (local) wine included with dinner. Owner Guy Pacurar has thought of everything.

Viewfinder Tip: When traveling the California coast during rainy season, be sure to bring appropriate rain gear. Some places offer complimentary umbrellas, but others do not.

The Inn at Newport Ranch

This craftsman-style property, about 30 minutes north of Mendocino in Fort Bragg, is unlike any other on the northern California coast. Technically, there are only seven rooms spread over three buildings—structures that feature design elements such as tree trunks, hand-carved wood furniture, and more. These accommodations sit on a 2,000-acre parcel, a property that serves as private preserve for guests to enjoy and experience when they visit.

Of course unless you like getting soaked, you probably won’t do much exploration during storm season. (though the place does offer plenty of activities during drier times of year). That’s why the amenities in the Main House are so sweet. The living and dining room offers a hand-crafted stone fireplace—the perfect place to cozy up and drink brandy while the wind and rain are swirling outside. During breaks in the weather, the rooftop hot tub is a great spot from which you can gaze out to the ocean and scan for the next squall. Downstairs, a game/media room offers ample space for diversions.

Chef (and Innkeeper) Creighton Smith prepares breakfast every morning, and is happy to cook dinner (for an additional fee), too. With this great food, quirky hand-crafted details in the rooms, and a welcoming intimate setting all around, you’ll never want to leave—which is exactly the point.

Where are your favorite places to watch storms?

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Hotel Deals for San Francisco
Sweden House Hotel
CA, USA
Nov 19 - Nov 19, 2017
per night from
$ 190.14
$ 63.47

Matt Villano

In more than 20 years as a professional journalist, Matt Villano has had articles published in outlets including TIME, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, National Geographic Traveler, Sunset, Coastal Living, and Entrepreneur, to name a few. He currently blogs about family travel at WanderingPod.com, and occasionally covers family travel for Family Fun and Scholastic Parent & Child magazines. Villano also wrote the family travel blog for Parenting magazine, and an adventure travel blog for SeeAmerica.com (a one-time website of Brand USA). In addition to travel, Villano’s areas of expertise are business, technology and gambling. When he’s not working at his stand-up desk, Villano is chasing after his three daughters, both of whom are future New York Yankees fans. His favorite destination on Earth is his (adopted) hometown of Healdsburg, California. No. 2 on the list: Vancouver Island, British Columbia (specifically Tofino). For more about Villano, visit Whalehead.com.

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