This is the second time Hitchcock inspired me to visit a place where one of his films was shot. Hitchcock seems to be very good at taking his audience into a journey not just through a thrilling storyline but to places that often makes a good supporting character for his films. For his early 1960’s film called The Birds, he chose a sleepy little coastal town north of San Francisco called Bodega Bay. Before Hitchcock, no one knew about Bodega Bay and its existence. Today everybody ‘flocks’ to this town to catch a glimpse of a colony of birds that attacked the locals in the film.
Inspired by a story written by Daphne de Maurier (who also wrote Rebecca, another book the director adapted into film), Hitchcock was able to create a story that sometimes makes one jump up from their seat or avert their sight in this suspenseful thriller. Hitchcock as most film historians and critics would say is a master storyteller.
My first visit to Bodega Bay was many years ago. It was back in the 1990’s right after I saw The Birds for the first time. Bodega Bay is about one hour north of San Francisco and two and a half hours north from Silicon Valley.
“There’s a lot of spare time in Bodega Bay.”
Suzanne Pleshette as Annie Hayworth
The film first takes you to San Francisco at Union Square where we meet Melanie Daniels (played by Tippi Hedren in her movie debut) heading to a pet shop at Union Square to buy a bird as present. Even the famous Hitchcock cameo he is known to do cannot be missed. This is where he meets Mitchell Brenner (played by Roger Taylor) and decides to play a little practical joke on him. After buying a pair of love birds, the next day our leading lady drives down to the windy road she was seen skillfully maneuvering her Aston Martin convertible leading her to Bodega Bay. She then heads to the town’s general store where she inquired about the Brenner family. It was around this time that Melanie meets Ms. Annie Hayworth played by Suzanne Pleshette who turns out to be Mitch’s old flame. She rents a small tug boat from the general store to sneak into the Brenner House located across the bay leaving the love birds for the little Brenner girl. One the way back to town, Melanie was attacked by a seagull, and so the story really begins.
When going to Bodega Bay, it is always a good idea to head to the Sonoma County Visitors Center first. Located in California Highway 1, just across the street from the Tides Wharf Restaurant, this would be a good place to get a map to guide you for exploring the town. This coastal town may be small but it’s not walkable, you will still need a car with a full tank of gas.
Leaving San Francisco, Melanie Daniels was seen driving down a road heading to the center of Bodega Bay. This road some people say may have been Bay Hill Road located just five miles from the Sonoma Coast Visitors Center. In the film, the road Melanie Daniels went through was an open-air winding road. When I got to the beginning of Bay Hill Road, I was surprised of how patchy the asphalt was and it’s not as open as it was in the film. Trees lined the road eastwards. Only a small part of the road is open and it does not present a good view of the town. The road is also quite narrow that two cars may not be able to pass through at the same time. You will also see the occasional cyclists here heading uphill. The west end of the road circles back to Highway 1 just a few yards away from the entrance of the Children’s Bell Tower.
The general store and the rest of the surrounding buildings from it were built for the film. It was later dismantled by Hitchcock’s crew after filming wrapped.
The first place I visited many years ago was the Tides Wharf Restaurant featured in the film. But the restaurant you will see today looks different from what it was in the film. In the scene where Mitch Brenner takes Melanie to tend to her wound, the Tides Restaurant was nothing more than a small diner where locals come to eat, drink and gossip. Imagine my surprise when I saw it had been renovated and expanded since the film probably because of the large amount of visitors who started coming to the town since the film’s release. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered all this during my first visit to Bodega Bay. Even the famous docks where Melanie Daniels rented her boat is now gone. One of the buildings in the film that was original to the town existed was the Tides Wharf Restaurant. But it turned out there was a reason the Tides Wharf Restaurant looked this way now. Because of a fire in 1968 the owners had to rebuild the restaurant eliminating the gas station and boat dock. Today, the building is larger and includes a gift shop, grocery and tackle shop, and a casual dining restaurant called the Snack Bar serving local seafood. The original diner is now a semi-formal restaurant with white linen covered tables serving fresh seafood and locally produced wine. The Tides Wharf Restaurant is now part of the Inn at the Tides Hotel located across the street.
The Bodega Bay School it turned out was also a real building. In Bodega Bay, it is called The Potters Schoolhouse because it was originally built as a schoolhouse. Located in Bodega Bay Lane, it is also one of the oldest buildings in town and the only building from the film that never changed over the years. Built in the 1870’s the building looked dingy and abandoned but I suppose Mr. Hitchcock thought it will do just fine. Some years after filming the building became a bed and breakfast. Today, it was a private home and a family lives there. The house where school teacher Annie Hayworth supposedly lived next door to the schoolhouse was built by the production and later torn down. The schoolhouse and the teacher’s cottage were both located on Bodega Bay Lane. There are even rumors the schoolhouse building is haunted.
The Brenner House was an actual building that once existed in Bodega Bay. The road opposite the Tides Wharf across the bay is called Westshore Road where the house once stood. The house had long since been torn down and new developments had been built since in its place. This includes a marina, a couple of restaurants and parking lots.
If you drive Westshore Road heading south, you will find yourself in a winding uphill road. Perhaps this is the road where they filmed Melanie driving? On the end of this road you will find yourself in Bodega Head where at the end of the bluffs gives you magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean. There is a path leading to a small beach and also a couple of hiking trails if you feel like walking further. This natural wonder lures visitors from all over regardless of the steep drive one has to go through to get here.
If you are thinking of watching the film, I suggest allot three hours of your time to see this film in full. Bodega Bay was once a little known sleepy little fishing village suddenly disturbed by Alfred Hitchcock by filming one of the best films of his career. The world did not know anything about this town prior to the film’s release. Today, you can find a small branch of the Sonoma County Visitors Center guiding out-of-towners. How time and places could change simply because of a single film.