Lounging on a blanket at North Salmon Creek Beach on Friday, Ryan Bradford and Rosalie Simonitch sipped pinot noir and noshed on Humboldt Fog cheese while they watched surfers brave giant waves.
"Somebody's gotta do it," Bradford, of Santa Rosa, said with a grin.
Friday was a preview of what is expected to be an epic weekend at the Sonoma Coast, with the forecast calling for sunshine and high temperatures in the low 60s, which would be several degrees warmer than the average temperature for Santa Rosa this time of year.
Throw in relatively calm winds and the sight and sound of big waves crashing on the beach, and the coast could be the ideal getaway on the final weekend of 2013.
"We were surprised how comfortable it is," said Simonitch, who required only a hooded sweatshirt to keep her warm.
Friday proved that winter often is the ideal time to visit the Sonoma Coast, since usually there's less fog and smaller crowds.
The easterly winds prove warming because "the air conditioner (meaning the ocean) is on the other side," said Diana Henderson, a forecaster with the National Weather Service.
She said the pleasant conditions at the coast should stick around for another week.
Steve Aijala of Sonoma took advantage of an unexpected day off Friday to bring his camera gear to the coast, where every angle offered stunning visual beauty.
"It's just raw," he said.
A high-surf advisory was canceled Friday morning. But the waves were still big and powerfully strong at many beaches, including at North Salmon Beach, where numerous surfers plied their sport.
"It's pretty much as good as it gets," Lucas Albus of Graton said after he emerged from the cold water.
The big waves and strong rip currents heighten the dangers for beachgoers who aren't prepared for the conditions. Experts caution people to never turn their back to the surf or get too close to the water. Dogs are supposed to be kept on leashes.
If a dog is caught in the surf, don't go in after it.
Since 2008, at least seven people have drowned off the North Coast while attempting to rescue their pet. Others have had near misses or been killed after they and their dogs were swept away by a wave, as was the case in February at Shelter Cove in Humboldt County, where a 32-year-old woman drowned after she, her boyfriend and their dog were overcome by a large wave.
The sad irony is that the dogs in all of these cases survived the ordeal save for one, a pug that in 2008 drowned off Portuguese Beach in Sonoma County.
Russ and Ellen Webster did not venture near the pounding surf at Wrights Beach on Friday. They also kept close tabs on their 2-year-old granddaughter, Liberty, who was clad in pajamas and pink boots.
"She stays right by our side," said Ellen Webster of Petaluma.
The couple, who were wrapping up several days of camping at Wrights Beach, said they enjoyed listening to the pounding surf at night.
Campground host Rick Sweet said most beach visitors seemed to be heeding warnings to not venture too close to the water.
But he said he had to alert lifeguards to one man who waded into the water clad only in a bathing suit and carrying a bar of soap.