It’s hardly a secret that Northern California has some of the most beautiful coastline in the world. With its hairpin curves, blankets of spring wildflowers, and hills that shine golden in the sun, coastal Highway One is a showcase of natural wonder. Lesser known, however, is the quiet allure of the Sea Ranch, a 5,200-acre refuge of private homes, oceanfront trails, and some of the state’s most dramatic, unspoiled scenery.
This tranquil pocket of Sonoma County was the brainchild of Al Boeke, the architect who surveyed the land in 1962 and conceptualized a community in harmony with its environment. Landscape architect Lawrence Halprin then conceived an idea to blend each home into its natural setting, drawing upon the Pomo Indian philosophy to “live lightly on the land.” The result? A collection of understated, unpainted wooden homes, each with sweeping vistas of the ocean, open meadows, or dense redwood forest.
It’s here that your weekend begins, at a (surprisingly affordable) home on the bluffs. No cell phone service? No problem. There’s nowhere else you need to be for the next three days.
The Prince Of Tides
Although Sea Ranch claims some of the loveliest shores in Northern California, this isn’t your typical beach-goers’ getaway. Thanks to rough, icy water full of kelp, seals, and sharks, you’ll get more use of your bathing suit back at home in the hot tub.
That said, the wild ocean beaches are a joy to explore, especially for those who run, walk, or jog along the seven-mile Bluff Top Trail between Black and Gualala Points. Your destination? The sheltered coves of Shell Beach and Walk On Beach, the former of which is flanked by tide pools laden with sea life. Pack a few morning buns from Twofish Baking (32000 Shoreline Highway, inside the Stewarts Point Store), crack open a novel from Four-Eyed Frog Books (39138 Ocean Drive), and you might just catch a glimpse of a grey whale passing through.
A weekend at Sea Ranch is all about relaxation, so fretting about dinner reservations is rather out of place. Instead, get to know the tiny community of Gualala, a former redwood logging town that serves as Sea Ranch’s commercial center. The charming Surf Market is the go-to place for groceries, picnic fixings, and (on occasion) chicken, ribs, and tri-tip served up by the local grillmasters. But no matter what you decide to bring home for dinner, just be sure to secure a prime sunset view (39250 Shoreline Highway).
If it’s a fog-free morning, hop in the car to experience one of the more extraordinary drives on the California coast. Fifty miles north of Gualala is the unincorporated town of Mendocino, a picturesque seaside colony of artists, vacationers, and (fun fact) streets that once stood in for Cabot Cove on Murder She Wrote. As one of California’s original counties, Mendocino has enjoyed a long history of wine, beer, and marijuana production—but today, you’ll be perusing the local art galleries, breathing in the fresh ocean air, and sitting down for a delightful lunch at Café Beaujolais (961 Ukiah Street).
Grab a coffee for the road at Moody’s Organic Coffee Bar (10450 Lansing Street) and make your way back south to Point Arena, where the century-old Point Arena Light looks especially beautiful in the golden hour sun (45500 Lighthouse Road).
Call My Bluff
Make the most of your final day in Sea Ranch by dressing in layers, packing a picnic, and setting off to explore the entire Bluff Top Trail to Gualala Point Regional Park. As you walk, you’ll see pelicans diving in the waves, harbor seals napping on the rocks, and herds of deer moving silently through the meadows. By afternoon’s end, you’ll be craving a pie to go from Upper Crust Pizzeria (39331 Shoreline Highway) and one last luxurious soak in the hot tub back at the house.
And as the sun begins to set, make your way to Stengel Beach for a spectacular evening view. With a small seasonal waterfall as your only companion, you can bring the weekend to a close in a landscape of overwhelming beauty.
A Few Notes
Beach Rentals is a great resource for renting homes in Sea Ranch, and offers non-peak season booking specials, such as three nights for the price of two (39200 Shoreline Highway, Gualala).
One of the greatest attractions of a weekend in Sea Ranch is the lovely drive north from San Francisco. From 101 north, take the River Road exit just north of Santa Rosa. The road will bring you through wine country, along the banks of the Russian River, and onto one of the most white-knuckled stretches of Highway One near Fort Ross. For those with more time to spare, you can take Highway One all the way from San Francisco, passing through Point Reyes Station and Bodega Bay. Either way, you can’t go wrong.
TITLE: The Sea Ranch coastline | SATURDAY: The view from the Bluff Top Trail; the view from the Bluff Top Trail; the view from the Bluff Top Trail; the view from the Bluff Top Trail; the view from the Bluff Top Trail | SUNDAY: The coast north of Gualala; the Point Arena Light; sunset on the cliffs in Sea Ranch; sunset on the cliffs in Sea Ranch | MONDAY: Cypress trees on the Bluff Top Trail; the view from the Bluff Top Trail; a Stengel Beach sunset; watching the sunset on the Bluff Top Trail.
This post makes me want to return to Sea Ranch today! I love your photographs (especially of Point Arena Lighthouse) and your description of the great hikes, tide pooling and whale watching. The barbecue at Surf Market is great and they carry specialty items like Cowgirl Creamery cheeses as well. Thanks for reminding me of all that I love about Sea Ranch!
Great Maura. Are you getting paid by for promoting the restaurants and other businesses? If not, you should be.