How Bodega Bay got its name

Bodega Bay is named for Don Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra. The name “Bodega” probably refers to an ancestor who worked in a wine cellar or warehouse, two meanings of the Spanish word.

Born in Peru in 1743, Bodega traveled to Spain as a young man to enter the Cadiz Naval Academy. Returning home an officer, his career was hindered by the navy’s prejudice against those who were not Spanish-born.

To prove himself, Bodega volunteered for a dangerous voyage in 1775, when Spain was beginning to colonize California. The mission was to sail as far north as possible, claiming territory while looking for the Russians who were rumored to be moving down the Pacific Coast.

Two ships, the Santiago and the Sonora, were outfitted for the journey and departed from Mexico. Three days out, after the Sonora’s captain became delusional and was sent back to port, Bodega took command. At 36 feet long with a 14-man crew, the Sonora was extremely cramped. It was said that only Bodega’s leadership made the voyage bearable. He treated the crew kindly, giving them small presents and reminding them of the glory they would earn.

Off the Washington coast, a storm separated the ships. Though the Santiago had most of the expedition’s supplies, Bodega decided to continue north. In August, five months after leaving Mexico, they turned around near Glacier Bay, Alaska. Pushed by the prevailing winds, the return voyage went quickly. By October, Bodega was searching for San Francisco Bay, which had been recently “discovered” by land.

Thinking he was in San Francisco Bay, Bodega anchored off what is now Tomales Point and named it Punta Bodega. He quickly realized his mistake, but it wasn’t until much later that his name was attached to the bay. When the tide shifted, the seas crashed over the ship and smashed their launch boat to bits. Somehow, the Sonora escaped on the ebb tide.

By the time the crew reached Monterey, most had scurvy. Their clothes were worn to rags . The Sonora had sailed farther into the North Pacific than any previous Spanish ship. No Russian settlements or ships were sighted. Bodega went on to a distinguished career.

When the Russians arrived on the Sonoma coast decades later, they named the inlet Rumyantsev Bay. But the Spanish must have smiled when they learned that the first thing the Russians constructed there was a warehouse, a bodega at Bodega Bay.

Contact Arthur Dawson at

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