Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963), starring Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor, is the famous director’s first horror film and perhaps one of the most industry-defining films in history. It was filmed just up the coast in the towns of Bodega and Bodega Bay in Sonoma County, making it just an hour-and-a-half drive from San Francisco. Whether you’re a film buff in the mood for a road trip, or you’re just a fan of quaint coastal towns and beautiful views, these iconic places are worth putting on your radar.
Hitchcock set the film in the small town of Bodega Bay, although some scenes were also filmed in the neighboring town of Bodega. The setting was chosen for its unobstructed skylines and moody, foggy weather — but alas, the fog didn’t always cooperate with the film schedule and many gray skies had to be added during post-production. Development of the film began in 1961 and it was released in March of 1963.
Legend goes that The Birds was inspired by the “sooty shearwater incident” of 1961 in Capitola, when hundreds of birds started acting erratically and dive-bombed residents after consuming toxic algae. However, an article from Santa Cruz Waves has debunked that tale — the truth is that the movie’s original inspiration came from English author Daphne du Maurie’s 1952 short story of the same name, and the Capitola incident more or less added fuel to the fire for Hitchcock’s vision.
Read on to discover where some of the most iconic scenes in The Birds were filmed, and scroll to the bottom for a handy map.
Despite the majority of the film taking place in Bodega Bay, San Francisco does get a cameo in the opening sequence when protagonist Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) crosses the street at Union Square on her way to a pet store. This is also where we get a classic Hitchcock cameo, as the director is seen exiting the pet store with his two Sealyham Terriers. However, the scenes inside of the pet store were filmed at a Universal Studios lot.
According to The Alfred Hitchcock Wiki, the Union Square scene was shot surreptitiously from a fake furniture van so as to avoid attracting attention during filming. During this time Hitchcock stayed at SF’s St. Francis Hotel right on Union Square.
Location: Powell and Geary Streets, Union Square, San Francisco
Perhaps the most recognizable building in The Birds is Bodega’s Potter School, or “Bodega Bay School” in the film, where a flock of birds attacks a group of fleeing schoolchildren. Tension builds ominously as Melanie is smokes a cigarette outside of the school and birds gather on the play structure behind her, and then all hell breaks loose as the flock attacks the kids when they beat a hasty escape.
The children are seen running down Taylor Street in Bodega Bay during the attack scene, although close-ups were filmed separately on a treadmill at Universal Studios. As for the schoolteacher’s house nearby, it was simply a façade constructed for filming purposes.
The schoolhouse was originally built in 1873 and had been abandoned by the time of filming, but the film crew repaired it and tidied up its façade for filming purposes. As of 1966, the schoolhouse building is a private residence.
Location (private residence, not open to public): 17110 Bodega Lane, Bodega
St. Teresa of Avila Church
Audiences are also treated to several shots of St. Teresa of Avila Church, which stands in front of the schoolhouse and is visible from Bodega Highway in Bodega. You can see it in the background when Melanie drives up to the schoolhouse and in several other shots, but it is most often recognized from Ansel Adams’ 1953 photograph Church and Road.
Location: 17242 Bodega Hwy, Bodega
Tides Wharf and Restaurant
The gas station attack, boat dock scenes, and restaurant scenes were largely filmed in and around Bodega Bay’s Tides Wharf & Restaurant. Although the restaurant was remodeled in the 1990s, it still proudly preserves the film’s legacy through a small replica of its original façade and a gift shop.
Inn at the Tides tells us that the restaurant played a pretty major role in the story’s development both behind the scenes and on-camera. The 1960s owner of the restaurant, Mitch Zankich, gave Hitchcock permission to use the restaurant as a filming location under three conditions: the town in the movie had to be called “Bodega Bay,” the male lead must be called “Mitch,” and Zankich himself had to have a speaking part. You can hear him say “What happened, Mitch?” after a seagull attacks Melanie at the dock.
According to BodegaBay.com, the gas station explosion itself was filmed separately at Universal Studios. The fire was filmed from a helicopter and then superimposed over a painting of a fishing village for the birds-eye shot.
Location: 835 Bay Hwy, Bodega Bay
Bay Hill Road
We are first introduced to Bodega Bay when Melanie drives up a scenic coastal road into town. This is Bay Hill Road, which connects to Highway 1 at both ends. The ocean views from this drive are largely unchanged in the decades since The Birds was filmed.
Location: North end of Bay Hill Road
Hitchcock’s crew constructed several sets on the site of Gaffney Ranch to create “Brenner Ranch,” where the male protagonist Mitch (Rod Taylor) lives. You can see it during the birthday party scene and seagull attack, as well as the end of the film when the group escapes the flock at night.
According to Inn at the Tides, Gaffney Ranch was owned by tenacious rancher Rose Gaffney during filming. When a messenger requested her presence for a chat with Hitchcock himself, she replied, “who?”
Luckily she agreed to let the crew work their magic, and they did a fairly major overhaul of the site. To create Mitch Brenner’s ranch home, the crew constructed a new façade and some outbuildings around Gaffney’s home, rolled out a lawn, and planted blooming daffodils. The sets burned down in the late sixties, and the UC Davis-Bodega Marine Laboratory dorms now stand there.
Location (temporarily closed): UC Davis-Bodega Marine Laboratory, 2099 Westshore Rd, Bodega Bay
Valley Ford farm
It’s impossible to forget the terrifying scene where Lydia discovers her neighbor Dan Fawcett’s lifeless body with its eyes pecked out. Exterior shots were filmed at a remote farm in Valley Ford, which Then & Now Movie Locations and The Movie District place near the Valley Ford Cutoff. The original farmhouse is no longer there, but you can see the same characteristic line of trees behind several ranch structures from the road.
Location (private residence, not open to public): Highway 1 on Valley Ford Cutoff near 15000 Valley Ford Road, Valley Ford
Featured image: Photo by @filmtourismus on Instagram