Enjoy stunning ocean views, breathtaking sunsets, more than 50 miles of hiking trails, golf, tennis, an acclaimed restaurant, and a rustic lodge at The Sea Ranch, an environmentally-conscious planned and private community that stretches for 10 miles along the remote northern edge of Sonoma County’s Pacific Coast.
The Sea Ranch is a place to relax, renew, and rejuvenate. Just a few hours from most of the Bay Area, the coastal drive there is a scenic journey that adds to the experience. To reach The Sea Ranch, follow Highway 1 as it winds its way north; the community is immediately south of the Sonoma-Mendocino county border and the the tiny town of Gualala.
Designed in 1963 by noted environmental landscape architect Lawrence Halprin and the architectural firm of Moore Lyndon Turnbull Whitaker, and inspired by local agricultural buildings — barns, sheds, farmhouses — the houses in The Sea Ranch don’t dominate or subordinate themselves to the land; they blend into it (photo by Bart Edson Photography). The unpainted wood has weathered naturally, just the way old barns do. The landscape remains untouched, and there are no fences or street lights.
The most renowned building at Sea Ranch is the award-winning Condominium One, built in 1965 as multi-family housing. The angular building centers around a courtyard, and contains many skylights to illuminate the interiors and large bay windows looking ocean-ward. Condominium One was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.
Experience that same architectural style and attention to detail at the Sea Ranch Lodge (60 Sea Walk Drive, The Sea Ranch, 800-732-7262). Checking into the lodge guarantees an ocean view from any of the 19 rooms. The views are amazing and the amenities are top notch (see photo).
Most rooms include gas fireplaces and the windows open to let in the ocean breezes. Some of the rooms are available for people traveling with their dogs. The rooms have been updated, and the colors, fabrics, and décor perfectly fit the Lodge’s rustic, yet elegant, style. And, of course, the ocean views offer an ever-changing landscape of color and intensity.
For visitors who want to experience living at The Sea Ranch, vacation home rentals (707-785-2371) are available through the lodge, as well as Sea Ranch Vacation Rentals (39175 S. Highway 1, The Sea Ranch, 800-643-8899); Sea Ranch Escape (35590 Verdant View, The Sea Ranch, 707-785-2426); vrbo.com; and airbnb.com.
At the Sea Ranch Lodge the onsite restaurant, the Black Point Grill, blends outstanding cuisine with gorgeous coastal views. The internationally-inspired California cuisine emphasizes the freshest local ingredients. The daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus change seasonally, and offer everything from casual tavern fare to more formal small plates, appetizers, and entrees paired with regional wines. Vegetarian options are available by request.
About 12 miles south on Highway 1, the fun and unpretentious Ocean Cove Lodge Bar & Grill serves fresh and simple coastal fare like burgers and fries, fish and chips, a prawn quesadilla, salmon, or steak, in a relaxed setting, with outdoor seating and a beautiful ocean view.
Slightly less than three miles south of Ocean Cove, the Coast Kitchen restaurant at the Timber Cove Resort offers organic, seasonal Wine Country coastal cuisine, served amid stunning ocean views for breakfast, lunch, or dinner (see photo). Dine in the intimate indoor dining room or on the outdoor patio overlooking the fire pit, for a romantic, cozy atmosphere.
And north of The Sea Ranch in the town of Gualala, the Cove Azul Bar & Grill cooks up tasty pasta dishes and fresh seafood in a casual setting, with a dog-friendly patio; enjoy the view with a cup of clam chowder or fish and chips. Savor original North Coast cuisine in the dramatic three-story main dining room at St. Orres Bed & Breakfast, or relax in the cozy atmosphere of its Seaside Bar with cocktails and a seasonally-changing menu of delicious small plates. Or, enjoy the exotic flavors and aromas of Thai cuisine at Anchor Bay Thai Kitchen.
Most Sea Ranch roads and trails are closed to the public, but guests staying at the lodge or those who rent a vacation home are free to use its more than 50 miles of private coastal bluff and forested walking trails, as well as beaches, tennis courts, swimming pools, and other amenities, including the 18-hole, par 72, 6,649-yard course designed by Robert Muir Graves at The Sea Ranch Golf Links.
However, six public access trails within The Sea Ranch are open to the public, and lead directly to the beach. Maintained by Sonoma County Regional Parks, the trails start at Highway 1 parking areas and cut across bluffs to panoramic views of the coast, with pathways or staircases to the beach below.
And Gualala Point Regional Park offers a vast expanse of white sandy beach and dunes, a small forested campground along the river, and the chance to stroll beside the Gualala River as it travels seaward (see photo). The park is popular with day hikers, beachcombers, picnickers, birders, and whale-watchers, but is rarely crowded.
Be sure to check out the Sea Ranch Chapel. This stunning architectural gem is a cozy little non-denominational chapel topped by a winged roof that seems ready to take flight. The serene interior includes hand-carved redwood benches, free-form structures, bright-colored stained-glass windows, and any number of crafty and whimsical touches.
Other local attractions include the beautiful 6,000-acre Salt Point State Park, which includes one of California’s first underwater parks, a pygmy forest, fascinating Tafoni sandstone (with unique patterns carved by erosion), more than 20 miles of hiking and equestrian trails, surf fishing, camping, and a lively visitors center with many activities.
A few miles south of Salt Point, the 210-acre Stillwater Cove Regional Park is a popular spot for picnicking, tide pooling, fishing, diving, ocean kayaking, camping, and hiking.
As you continue to drive south, you can’t miss the distinctive 93-foot Peace Obelisk sculpture (see photo) at the Timber Cove Resort; to get an up-close view, park in the gravel lot north of the resort and follow the short path to the obelisk. Made of concrete, mosaic tile, redwood, and lead by the late San Francisco artist Benjamino Bufano, the beautiful sculpture is approximately eight stories high and weighs about 20 tons.
And a bit further south, Fort Ross State Historic Park is a faithful reconstruction of the once-thriving colony on this site, which from 1812 to 1841 was the hub of the southernmost Russian settlements along the West Coast.
If wine is your thing, be sure to take advantage of the opportunity to sip great wine with amazing coastal mountain views at the Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery.