Bodega Bay, where Alfred Hitchcock filmed his horror masterpiece The Birds.
Bodega Bay, where Alfred Hitchcock filmed his horror masterpiece The Birds. Contributed

Hitchcock film location a beauty

THE seagulls watching us eat our clam chowder looked greedy, but not menacing which was reassuring seeing as we were at The Tides, a vast waterfront seafood complex in Bodega Bay where Alfred Hitchcock filmed his horror movie, The Birds, in 1962.

 These seagulls just looked hungry, unlike their counterparts in the film who were killers, attacking the town folk in a murderous rampage. (It’s worth looking for a copy of the old film at the video store; despite a lack of today’s special effects it’s quite terrifying.)

Bodega Bay locals are understandably proud of the legacy Alfred Hitchcock left after he finished filming. There are laminated newspaper clippings all around The Tides written at the time of filming, mostly humorous tales of attempts to get the mechanical birds to fly through the air like proper birds instead of model aeroplanes. It’s as fascinating to read the clippings as it is too look out The Tides floor-to-ceiling windows at the churning Pacific thundering to shore.

Not far down the road, the Potter Schoolhouse and church which featured so prominently in the film are major tourist attractions. The school, built in 1873, has been an art gallery, theatre, B&B and gift shop over the years. There is always a constant stream of visitors hovering outside to take the obligatory photos of themselves against the famous backdrop.

Bodega Bay is on the magnificent Pacific coast, about a 45 minute drive north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. It is easy to see why Alfred Hitchcock chose this location to make a film from a book (by Daphne Du Marier) that was actually set in Cornwall. He needed clear open skies and a breathtaking ocean backdrop where thousands of intimidating sea birds could flock, threaten, swoop in for the kill.

Although Bodega Bay is still a working fishing harbour, it has now grown into a tourist destination, with five-star lodges and elegant restaurants discreetly lining the bay. San Franciscans clog the highway out of town every Friday evening seeking a weekend of peace and nature in Bodega Bay and the Sea Ranch area, a nearby coastal community that straddles the highway.

A short drive along the highway takes you passed exciting rocky coves and sandy beaches, all protected by the Sonoma Coast Beaches State Park. This is a wild and beautiful coast, as natural as it is possible to be with the (considerate) intrusion of holiday homes.

Whale watching begins in late December and at the start of crab season in November, the fishing boats unload crab pots on the wharf and visitors enjoy the famous crab cakes of the area. Oysters as big as side plates also bring the tourists to feast every weekend, as do the many r options for relaxation: beach walking, bird watching, dining in some of the most pleasant restaurants in California.

At Seaweed Cafe only produce grown or fished from a 30 mile radius is used and the salmon tartare we enjoyed there was presented so artistically it could have been a painting in an art gallery.

At the swish Bodega Bay Lodge and Spa nestled on a hillside surrounded by natural beauty, guests golf on the championship links and dine on innovative Californian cuisine overlooking Doran Beach.

Driving on through Jenner, a coastal town of great charm will lead you inland along the Russian River where the small towns of Duncan Mills and Porter Bass are home to delightful B&Bs and quaint shops with cutesy names.

The Russian River meanders from the coast through Cloverdale to Healdsburg and is one of the most picturesque grape-growing regions in California. Wineries along here range from large producers with French-style chateaux to tiny family run estates with small cellar doors.

Plenty of time to explore is essential. A picnic in the vineyards; a drive through oak-studded countryside; a kayak on the river; a purchase at one of the galleries or gift shops – all enjoyable - but with 190 wineries in the area, you simple must stay and indulge.

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