Every good independent cafe has something special that distinguishes it: the cafe adjoins a bookstore, it boasts a collection of cool local art, or it just has exceptional atmosphere—and great coffee, of course.
At first glance, it would be easy to think that the “something special” at Cafe Aquatica is simply about location, location, location. And of course, that’s certainly part of its allure. The cafe occupies a plum spot along Highway 1, welcoming visitors to the hamlet of Jenner by the Sea, with a patio that overlooks the mouth of Russian River, where it meets the Pacific Ocean. Foggy and sunny days alike, the dramatic views are hard to beat.
But it’s not just the prime river- and sea-side vistas that keep bringing us back to the cafe. Sure, the views are amazing, but that only goes so far. It’s the friendliness of the staff—and the pretty important fact that we simply like the food and drink, too—that draws us back. It’s a perfect package.
We made our first visit to Cafe Aquatica back in February, dropping by for a bite on our way back from a bracing walk on the beach, and it was just warm enough to enjoy the patio. That day, we had originally planned to pick up some sandwiches at Cafe Aquatica to bring for a picnic to Russian Gulch Beach, but the day was windy enough, we decided against it.
It was a wise move all around: though it was a sunny day, it was still February, and we avoided wind-blown al fresco dining at the beach—plus we ended up giving ourselves a chance to really sit down and get a good introduction to a cafe that’s become one of our go-to spots.
The cozy, welcoming interior of Cafe Aquatica has many essential ingredients you might expect at an independent cafe: the community bulletin board, the stacks of flyers for local events, the mismatched armchairs for lingering over a good read—and cool local photos and postcards for sale. But like all the best independent cafes, it has its own character. This place is definitely not resting on its location laurels, even though it could.
Once you start to look around, there are little quirky, fun details everywhere: inspiring words playfully sprinkled here and there on the walls: “community” “thrive” “wisdom” (on every visit we spot a new one) and painted shapes peeking out from the woodwork—the outline of a junk ship decorates the counter (the ship also seems to serve as the cafe’s logo). A compass rose adorns the worn floorboards near the entrance.
The whole package—interior, patio, general atmosphere—is so appealing that it took us several visits to Cafe Aquatica to decide to finally have that beach picnic we had been planning on. We ordered some sandwiches to go and brought them to nearby Blind Beach for a Memorial Day picnic.
The cafe’s menu is small—about a half-dozen sandwiches or less at any given time—but we’ve loved everything we’ve tried. Probably our favorite is the Veggie Fantastico: its heaps of greens, shredded carrots, crunchy cucumbers, tomatoes and hummus offer a fresh, healthy complement to the fluffy, rich housemade foccacia, which is loaded with herbs.
We’ve also enjoyed breakfast at Cafe Aquatica: poached eggs with veggies on that same beautiful foccacia. And the cafe’s assortment of freshly baked goods—muffins, cookies and pastries goes well with their coffee, which they roast themselves—there’s a roaster tucked in the corner behind the counter. You may catch it in action some morning.
Their spicy chai also really warms us up on those days when we *have* to sit on the patio, when maybe we should really sit inside … but we’re not going to.
The cafe also offers live music sometimes. A couple months ago, we enjoyed a sunny autumn breakfast out on the patio, accompanied by the music of a solo Flamenco guitarist.
So although it is true that pretty much everything goes well with the view at Cafe Aquatica, as we learned on our first visit, that beautiful view is just one of many reasons this place keeps us coming back.
If you go:
Cafe Aquatica is located on Highway 1 in the town of Jenner. The cafe is cash-only, but does have an ATM inside.