In 1963 the smash-hit movie The Birds, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, terrified film audiences and was the talk of the town for months after its opening. The story of a small California town under siege by a flock of crows had movie viewers screaming in terror and covering their eyes.
Fast-forward 53 years to the tiny California coastal towns of Bodega and Bodega Bay where the film was shot. Local folks there have not only kept the movie alive, but have made it an integral part of everyday life in both towns.
From The Birds Café to the paper-mache crows that are ubiquitous in every store and gas station, there are reminders of the film everywhere you look. The visitors center is filled with photos autographed by the stars, and location maps take you to where each scene was shot.
From what I encountered there, almost every citizen is ready, willing, and able to talk about it; and not just the making of the movie. Everyone seems to have their own personal story of involvement – even those who were too young to have been there when it happened. It's ingrained in the local Bodega DNA. The movie has become the linchpin of the local economy thanks to the efforts of local entrepreneur Mike Fahmie.
The adjoining towns of Bodega and Bodega Bay are small wood-frame enclaves surrounded by gorgeous coastal forests straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting and almost as famous.
Touring the Country Store (and museum)
Mike considered himself the movie's number-one fan in the world and had a personal memorabilia collection of more than 800 items strong. In 2008, he bought a small nondescript general store that was originally built in 1854 and really looks like it today, in what he saw as a dying town. He added a delicatessen in the rear of the store and installed his private collection in the front to create a shrine to the movie and everyone in it.
Before you get to the sandwiches and smoothies you pass Tippi Hedren’s movie dress, signed posters, movie props, personalized photos, old script pages, and even a reproduction of Hitchcock’s death mask, not to mention the T-shirts, coffee mugs and Velcro crows. Every square inch of the walls is hung and covered. The movie plays on a continuous loop on a flatscreen TV.
The best part: you know you've found the right place when you spot the life-sized mannequin of Alfred Hitchcock standing out front.
When I arrived, Mike was holding court outside the store for a group of visitors who were captured by his tales while munching their po' boys and hoagies. Inside, an elderly lady was ordering a wheel of cheese at the deli counter while two ladies from New York were busy trying to decide if they could fit into Tippi Hedrins’ movie dress (left) or not. Mike’s establishment is one of those wonderfully bizarre conglomerates that are only found by travelers who leave the beaten path.
For the true movie connoisseurs, he'll open the storage room next door to reveal an even more eclectic selection of rare memories – a row of seats from the old movie theater where the film first premiered, exotic posters from the European theaters that have misspelled words or different colors of costumes than the ones actually in the movie. There are specially made 50th anniversary T-shirts for sale alongside the key chains and mousepads.
Before Mike, there were no real organized movie tours. He decided he could also feed people along the way, and so the general store/delicatessen/movie museum of the town of Bodega was born. According to him it's the only such hyphenated business in existence.
For a small fee, the gregarious Mike gives daily Birds tours during which he dishes the inside scoop on all the players from Hitchcock to stars Tippi Hedrin, Susan Pleshette, Rod Taylor, and Jessica Tandy. Plus, every item on his walls comes with its own story.
There's an annual Birds festival presided over by the star, Ms. Hedrin herself, and during this time townsfolk are eager to mingle with the visitors to relate their personal “Birds” stories. Mike Fahmie calls his deli/museum, the ‘Physical manifestation of his obsessive compulsive disorder,” and the folks of Bodega are glad.
And just for good measure, in 1980, a second horror film was filmed in Bodega Bay called The Fog. While not achieving the fame of The Birds, it remains a cult classic as well.
If you go
Bodega Bay is located on Highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway), forty miles north of San Francisco and 20 miles east of Santa Rosa on a picturesque rocky inlet. The town of Bodega is five miles south of Bodega Bay and one mile inland from Highway One.
Almost any local you stop in town is ready and willing to give a tour of Birds shooting sites.