Estero Tour: Landmarks to the Beach

Many people at the launch area at the Estero Americano tell me they’ve never paddled all the way to the ocean. That is understandable. It’s five and a half miles to the beach and that first mile is nothing special.

Most of the journey to Bodega Bay, however, is a lovely paddle.

With that in mind, permit me to show you just how grest it is.

Let’s start with a map showing the names of the landmarks along the way. Click to enlarge.

Black text for features on Land. White text for water features. Each feature will be discussed in the following narrative. Click to enlarge.

The public launch is at the intersection of Marsh Road and Valley Ford Estero Road in northwest Marin County.

Looking back towards Valley Ford.

A gravel driveway, often rough with potholes, runs along the south side of the road out to the narrow Estero channel. Parking is limited, but not many people come here. Leave room for others to park.

Launch site. Paddle under bridge to get to ocean

From this site, paddle north under the bridge and begin winding up the channel. You’re likely to pass dairy cattle who often show interest in paddlers passing by.

Dairy heifer

The dairy buildings on the Marin side have a pleasing geometric appeal. They mark the beginning of the wilder reaches of the Estero. You have come about a mile at this point. It gets better from here.

Dairy buildings in Marin County

Wild animals begin to appear beyond this dairy. On the most recent trip, Willets worked the Marin shoreline.


A luxuriant grove of Bay Laurel trees overhang the Estero. It’s a pleasant place to sit in shade on a warm afternoon.

Beyond Bay Laurel Grove you’ll  pass beyond the dairy and out to the rangeland of True Grass Farms. The cattle on this ranch aren’t making milk; they’re for meat. As cattle go, they enjoy some prime real estate. As a rancher I know says, “My cows have only one bad day.”

It is here that the Estero stretches out in a more or less straight mile running west northwest and gradually widening as it approaches Buckeye Bend.

Along this stretch of the Estero I often see Turkey Vultures, Ravens, and Hawks.

To the north is California Highway One.

Zooming in

And zooming in more

Highway One is far enough away so that the only vehicles you’re likely to hear are the unmuffled Harleys. If you know where to look, you can catch a glimpse of the traffic passing by. If you look north as you pass by Coyote Point, you should be able to see the traffic going by on the highway.

Coyote Point, so named for this coyote photographed here.

You’re just shy of halfway to the ocean when you reach Buckeye Bend.

Buckeye Bend. Another person went out that day in a motorized canoe. He is visible if you click on the photo to enlarge it. 

Whale’s Tail marks the halfway point of the trip out to the coast. It’s a landmark that requires no explanation.

Just beyond Whale’s Tail the landscape opens up.

Sonoma Reach

Sonoma Reach opens to the north of the main channel. Sadly there is barbed wire fencing blocking easy passage into this Reach.

Crossing the Reach and passing a Point on the Marin shore you arrive at the Hanging Gardens. A pair of Barn Owls had made their home in a cave near the top of the cliffs here.

Hanging Gardens

Beyond the Hanging Gardens the Estero narrows briefly before opening to Marin Reach.

Marin Reach

As you exit the broader waters of Marin Reach you enter the fiord-like Straits that pass by the Sonoma Land Trust site and lead to the beach. There is Inner Strait

Inner Strait

Middle Strait,

Middle Strait

and Outer Strait.

Outer Strait

Each of these straits requires less than ten minutes of moderate paddling. As you paddle into Outer Strait the sound of surf will become more and more prominent.

Almost there ?

Get out at the end. You’ve made it to the beach!

Lots of footprints on this trip

If you go on a weekday, you may find the beach entirely empty of other people, and, if you’re lucky, even empty of other human footprints. Of course you will see the flotsam and jetsam of humans. It’s everywhere.

I always bring a trash bag to pick up whatever trash I find.

Here is a link to a video panorama of the beach out there.

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