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Getting Away From It All at Sea Ranch Lodge

All of the Sea Ranch Lodge's 19 rooms look out over Sonoma County’s Pacific coastline. All but four of the rooms include a fireplace. None of them has a television.

That's because the emphasis is on the beauty and bounty of untamed nature in this place of ocean vistas, pristine bluffs, dramatic landscapes, and abundant wildlife.

When I first walked into my room on my recent getaway, I almost wished for bad weather. Part of me longed to turn on the gas fireplace, curl up on the window seat, and read a good book while watching a storm rage outside my large window.

However, I say I "almost" wished that, because the day was so sunny and beautiful that my view was spectacular just as it was.

"It's close to the everyday hustle and bustle, but you still feel worlds away," said general manager Lee Hoener.

(Of course, if you don't want to completely get away from it all, the lodge does have a television in the lounge area.)

Tucked away on a small, secluded property on the northern edge of Sonoma County, Sea Ranch Lodge features the rustic, organic architecture that is a hallmark of The Sea Ranch, the environmentally-planned community developed in the 1960s on a 10-mile stretch of coastline.

It's internationally known for its distinctive, low-key architecture using simple timber-frame structures with wooden siding or shingles, now weathered, and designed to work with the prevailing winds.

After stowing my gear, I strolled around the property. I loved the natural landscaping out front, enhanced by bronze sculptures by artist Robert Holmes. But I was quickly drawn to the back of the lodge, where a line of Adirondack-style wooden chairs await those who just want to kick back and take in the view.

Even more enticing than the chairs was the short, wood-chip trail leading to Bihler Point, just behind the lodge. Here the high bluff pushes a short way out toward the sea, providing spectacular views of the craggy coast to both the north and the south. Standing facing the ocean, the wind blowing my hair, I felt energized and alive, and deeply aware of the majestic beauty of this place.

From 1875 to 1917, this area was known as Black Point, and a small community clustered around Bihler's landing, where William Bihler loaded his timber products. Nearby stands a weathered, 1890s-era barn, once the livery stable for the Black Point Hotel.

The lodge itself boasts massive windows to take advantage of the gorgeous setting. Rotating exhibits featuring regional artists are on display in the Fireside Room, and The Boutique gift shop offers a mix of clothing, gift items, jewelry, books by local authors, and more.

I ate dinner in the lodge's Black Point Grill at sunset, the better to enjoy the view through the floor-to-ceiling dining room windows. The staff works with each diner to ensure any dietary allergies or restrictions are addressed, with the goal of serving a delicious meal to all.

Executive chef Richard Whipple uses the freshest local ingredients to present a delightfully creative seasonal menu of internationally-inspired California cuisine. I opted for a delicious kale salad (according to my waitress, the secret is to massage the kale), followed by halibut, mashed potatoes, and asparagus, with a to-die-for flourless chocolate cake for dessert. It was all heavenly.

In the morning I once again enjoyed the dining room view with my meal, this time for a delicious breakfast. Then there were lots to choose from for the day's activities. Staying at the lodge gives access to the community tennis courts and golf course, as well as 50 miles of private trails.

The Bluff Trail that begins at the lodge runs along the Sonoma coastline for more than eight miles, ending at Gualala Point Regional Park. This 195-acre park includes a campground, trails, sandy beaches, a visitors center, and five tall, intricately hand-carved serge (pronounced sayrgay) posts erected at a cultural festival in 2014 to reflect the region's Russian heritage.

The park vistas include views of the coastal town of Gualala (pop. 2,093), located just across the Gualala River. This small coastal town includes a number of shops, galleries, and restaurants. Tucked into 11 acres of redwoods you'll find the Gualala Arts Center, which presents a wide variety of performances, exhibits, classes, fairs, festivals, and other events.

If you have the time, be sure to visit the Sea Ranch Chapel, just off Highway 1 near mile marker 55.5, on the way from the Sea Ranch Lodge to Gualala. This small, whimsical building is an architectural gem topped by a winged roof that appears ready to take flight. And the inside is just as delightfully imaginative.

Heading south from Sea Ranch Lodge, nearby places to explore include the blooms at the pristine, 317-acre Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve; the pygmy forest trail at Salt Point State Park; and Fort Ross State Historic Park.

Sea Ranch Lodge, 60 Sea Walk Drive, The Sea Ranch

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