Sometimes you have to get on a plane and fly half-way around the world to find paradise. Other times, you realize that it’s just a short drive from your front door, but a world away from everyday life. This is how I feel about The Sea Ranch.
The Sea Ranch is a planned community, which spans 10 miles along the stunning west coast of Sonoma. It came to life in the late 1960s and properties are built to strict architectural guidelines which ensure the homes are sympathetic to the dramatic surrounding landscape. Think growing roofs, silvery sea air-worn wooden siding, lots of open common ground. This is a special place and it takes just under 3 hours to get there from San Francisco.
I promise you will find something to restore yourself here, come rain or shine. Open fires, sipping wine while watching the sunset, long hikes, whale watching, watching newborn seals on the beach. Even surfing at Black Point Beach, if that’s your thing (experienced surfers only). Here are a few of my favorite places to go and visit from Sea Ranch – in no particular order.
1. Get thee to Two Fish Baking Company
I’ve written about Two Fish before – it’s reason alone to make the trip to Sea Ranch. From amazing pastries to breads and stellar coffee. Check the web site for details of pizza night and calzone lunches. Sandwiches and salads also served at lunchtime. Get there early when they open – typically around 8am – as the lines get long and you don’t want to miss out on the sticky buns.
2. Do some shopping at Placewares, Gualala
Gualala is the nearest town to the Sea Ranch. It offers a couple of supermarkets, a great bookstore, and a handful of stores which are worth visiting. Placewares is one of them. Beautifully curated, with an emphasis on classically-designed household items. The store also offers a handful of clothing and gourmet food items. It’s easy to spend a chunk of change here. Inside, there’s a small gallery which typically displays art, but is currently home to a number of design classics from Marimekko to Braun. Owned by Lu and Maynard Lyndon, who have been in business for since 1977 (the last 10 years in Gualala), over the next year they will be transitioning to new owners. Let’s hope their successors don’t mess with a good thing.
3. Muse at the art at Spindrift Gallery, Gualala
Spindrift is home to a rotating portfolio of artists’ work – with prices from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. Admiring one of the pieces, I asked a question about the artist, only to find that she was standing right next to me! Currently on display are paintings by Alan Mazetti, Britta Kathmeyer and Michael Mote, to name but a few. Photographer Paul Kozal, also has an exhibition via Spindrift at Sea Ranch Lodge (see below) and at another location in Gualala.
4. Pick up some great clothes and objets at Red Stella, Gualala
Since 2005, Red Stella has been offering a great collection of stylish designer clothing, jewelry and lovely artifacts for your home. Just behind Placewares, this store is not to be missed.
5. Go horse riding with the folks from Ross Ranch
I’ve ridden with Tobi and her husband a number of times over the past 14 years. They offer Western-style riding on Manchester Beach, about 40 minutes from Sea Ranch, (be warned, it can sometimes be super windy there), and also up in the gorgeous redwood forest near their ranch, which is about 1 hour and 10 minutes from Sea Ranch. Unfortunately, their insurance doesn’t allow for much more than a walk or trot, which might be disappointing for experienced riders, but we still had a lot of fun. The scenery is spectacular at either location . Rides are $60 at the beach, or $50 in the forest.
6. Picnic at Gualala Point Regional Park
Although the sleeper waves at this beach can be deadly, if you stay up on the sand, you can enjoy the scenery and power of the ocean without danger. Grab a picnic from Surf Market in Gualala and take a leisurely hike through the grass to get down to the dunes. This beach has some of the most beautiful driftwood I’ve ever seen. If you need shelter, there are always a few structures constructed from said driftwood to hide in. Guaranteed fun for big and small kids alike.
7. Watch the sunset over drinks at Sea Ranch Lodge
If self-catering ain’t your style, then the Sea Ranch Lodge is a good option. The first property you pass as you enter the Sea Ranch, the lodge is built in the same style as the other properties: lots of exposed wood and big windows. The food in the grill and bar is good enough, but the view is really what it’s all about. You can easily walk to Black Point Beach from here too.
8. Poke around in the tide pools around the Sea Ranch
One of my favorite things to do is to explore the tide pools just behind the One Eyed Jack playground off Leeward Spur. The problem is that they are hard to find! When the tide is high, you’re likely to see seals up on the beach which is just as much fun as spotting starfish and other sea-life during low tide.
9. Take a day trip to Mendocino
A picture-perfect Victorian village, way up north, Mendocino is now a draw for tourists. There are plenty of hotels and bed and breakfasts to choose from, should you wish to spend the night (it’s about an hour and 40 minutes drive from the Sea Ranch). And a number of eateries and bars to while away downtime. Plus, there’s a spectacular ocean overlook walking distance from the village.
10. Walk the beach and watch the surf
Okay, the beach has made it on this list a number of times, so hopefully you get the message that Sea Ranch really is all about the sea. Enjoy.