Engage any former Bay Area resident in conversation for long enough and odds are that in short time the talk will turn to what they miss most about living in the unique and special place that is the Bay Area region of Northern California. And one of the things that most folks who used to live in the Bay Area seem to miss most is the easy access to so many breathtakingly beautiful, scenic, peaceful places - all within a relatively close distance and time from San Francisco and the East Bay.
These numerous scenic getaway destinations include the recommended spectacular and dramatic Sonoma coastline, specifically the State-owned, public-access Sonoma Coast State Beaches that stretch for many miles north of Bodega Bay alongside Highway 1.
This recommended day trip from the Bay (about an hour and a half drive north from SF if traffic is light) offers a breathtaking rugged Pacific coastline dotted with beautiful beaches and great trails (of all lengths) that are wonderful to hike along -- and all open to public access.
This stretch of NorCal coastline is ideal for beach-combing, tidepool exploration, sea lion and bird observing, whale watching (January through May), reading, writing, painting, taking pictures, or (for idle fun) trying to find faces embedded in patterns in the numerous dramatic rock formations (like the face in the rock left), or simply relaxing and meditating while listening to the soothing sounds of the crashing ocean waves. Note that swimming is not advised since the ocean is very rough with rogue waves aplenty.
This time of the year is one the best times to go since in the summer months fog tends to stick around a lot longer every day. If possible make the trip on a weekday and avoid weekends, when most folks seem to make the day trip from the Bay. One recent week I made the trip on a weekday, arriving early in the morning, to find entire beaches (including Shell Beach which is a little bit of a hike down to it) deserted of other human life. Sure, a few hikers will show up here and there but you are likely to find a peaceful refuge nearly all to yourself.
While in the area you can also check out the village of Bodega Bay and stop for a bite to eat at the numerous seafood restaurants to be found in and around the coastal village as well as check out the setting where Alfred Hitchcock filmed The Birds in 1962, including the well maintained 1873 structure Potter School house (see picture below). Even though it is a private residence, you can still get close to get a real good view -- just be respectful of the patient folks who live there now and who on Sundays open a gift shop on the premises for the many Hitchcock fans who stop by.