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Updated October 2023

Welcome to the iconic Northern California Coast destination of Sea Ranch. A unique community located along Highway 1 in Sonoma County, full of natural beauty and one-of-a-kind architecture. It’s wild, rather remote, and one of those places you head to when looking to disconnect.

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My husband and I have always been drawn to Sea Ranch. As an architecture enthusiast, this community of homes set out on the wild coast of California is a design lover’s dream. The architecture is simple, refined, and best of all, connected with nature. The original architects were tasked with the challenge to show that “one could live in a beautiful landscape without destroying it.” And today, you have this enclave of beautiful homes that if you’re like me, end up buying a coffee table book about post-trip.

A Weekend Guide to Sea Ranch, California
Classic home in Sea Ranch

Sea Ranch is not only home to these stunning retreats. At its footsteps, coastal pathways, hikes in redwoods, and untouched beaches await adventure. It’s (sort of) close to a few of my favorite Northern California coastal stops like Bodega Bay and Jenner, making it a great final destination for those wanting to take a road trip. It feels like a world away from the craziness that life brings us, offering an opportunity to disconnect from it all.

Few parts of California speak to me like this section of Highway 1. I’ve told my husband that it’s a place I could come back to time and time again. Though I’ve pulled off at the same scenic viewpoints at least a dozen times, I still see something new, and in return am smitten all over again.

This recent trip was driven by an opportunity to stay in Sea Ranch itself. Invited by the AIA award-winning home, The Ranch House at Sea Ranch, to come live out our Sea Ranch dreams. Having never stayed right in the area, it felt like an opportunity to experience it like a local. It’s a design-forward Airbnb, one bedroom and one bath, perfect for a solo traveler, couple, or small family. I’ll tell you now, go snag a weekend stay, it’s that good.

We packed up with our baby (with our usual road trip with a baby packing list) and took off for a three-night trip. It was everything I hoped for and more. Mornings were slow, nestled in the redwoods as the sunlight poured in. Afternoons were by the coast, soaking in the unusually warm January blue skies that graced the coastline. And of course, several visits to the recently renovated Sea Ranch Lodge that has been all over my social feed the last months (for coffee, meals, general store, and beautiful architecture).

So now that we’re home, looking at photos from our trip and chatting up dreams of one day living there, I wanted to share a guide to Sea Ranch. What to do, where to eat, and a few hidden gems to find along the way on your journey there, are all below.

Short on Time? Here Are My Top Picks for Where to Stay in Sea Ranch:

  1. The Sea Ranch Lodge, for the best hotel
  2. The Ranch House at Sea Ranch, for the best vacation rental

For more on my favorite spots along the Northern California coast, don’t miss my Northern California Coast Road Trip Guide and these 10 photos to inspire you to drive the Northern California Coast!

A Weekend Guide to Sea Ranch, California

Things to Know Before Booking a Trip to Sea Ranch

A Weekend Guide to Sea Ranch, California

When is the Best Time of Year to Visit Sea Ranch?

Truly you can visit Sea Ranch year-round. The weather is always somewhat unpredictable, meaning you could have blue skies in January and grey skies in the summer. It’s almost always cooler there, so I recommend a few layers when visiting.

How Much Time Should I Spend in Sea Ranch?

Given the drive time, I think three nights in Sea Ranch itself is a wonderful way to experience it. There is a lot nearby, so you may find yourself doing a few half-day trips as well.

Where is Sea Ranch Located?

Sea Ranch is located up the coast, about 2.5 hours north of San Francisco. It is somewhat remote with limited cell service and access. I would recommend saving maps offline and stocking up on essentials you may need. There is a small grocery store in Gualala, about 15 minutes north.

Can You Swim in the Ocean at Sea Ranch?

The ocean at Sea Ranch is not suitable for swimming. The waters can be unpredictable with strong currents, making it unsafe for swimming activities.

While swimming might be limited, Sea Ranch offers a range of other coastal activities including several beaches and coastal trails perfect for walking, exploring, and enjoying the ocean views. As always, heed local advisories and be cautious if approaching the water.

Who Designed Sea Ranch?

Architect and planner Al Boeke was the original visionary behind The Sea Ranch and recruited the design team. The primary architect behind Sea Ranch’s design was Charles Moore, in collaboration with the Joseph Esherick, Donlyn Lyndon, William Turnbull, and Richard Whitaker.

The landscape architect Lawrence Halprin was responsible for the master plan of the community, ensuring that the development harmonized with the natural surroundings. The Sea Ranch’s design philosophy emphasized building structures that would blend seamlessly with the coastal environment, and it has since become an influential model for environmentally sensitive design.

The Sea Ranch logo and brand identity was designed by Barbara Stauffacher Solomon, a San Francisco-based landscape architect and graphic designer.

Where to Stay in Sea Ranch

The Ranch House at Sea Ranch

Tucked under towering redwood trees where sunlight sinks through is The Ranch House at Sea Ranch. An AIA award-winning home that has been reimagined but kept true to its original structure. It’s a quintessential Sea Ranch home — clean lines, big windows, and very private.

This one-bedroom, one-bath Airbnb is a cozy place to call home. Set with a fireplace inside, a well-furnished living room with details like a Marshall speaker and a plethora of well-curated coffee books makes it too easy to just hang back. The kitchen is set up perfectly to cook all of your meals should you wish, and I personally loved the Nespresso machine.

Outdoors, a spacious deck, their own walking trail in the redwoods, and the chef’s kiss is certainly the hot tub. You may find it hard to go leave The Ranch House at Sea Ranch when there are several reasons to stay. My recommendation is to book (far) in advance as it’s one of the top listings in the area.

The Sea Ranch Lodge

The Sea Ranch Lodge
Image via

Set along the breathtaking California coastline, The Sea Ranch Lodge is more than just a stay—it’s an experience. With roots dating back to 1968, this iconic spot in the Sea Ranch community has been thoughtfully rejuvenated, offering 17 specially crafted guest rooms in its North Building. But it’s not just about the rooms; the South Building is a hub of activity, complete with a restaurant and dining room overlooking the sea, sunlit solarium, chic bar, cozy lounge, and a café that feels like a local secret. A stay at the lodge is a great opportunity to dive deep into the Sea Ranch ethos, where architecture meets nature, and every corner invites you to connect with the area’s wild coastal beauty. Book the best rates here.

Where to Eat in Sea Ranch

Coast Kitchen at Timber Cove Resort (Jenner)

On your way through to Sea Ranch you’ll pass by Timber Cove Resort which is home to Coast Kitchen. It’s one of my favorite spots on the coast for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Their seasonal fare and fresh ingredients are always lovely. A great spot to stop at on your way back, or even backtrack down the coast for a meal there, it’s around a 25-minute drive from Sea Ranch.

The Sea Ranch Lodge Dining Room

The recently renovated Sea Ranch Lodge opened up its cafe and restaurant, called the Dinning Room. During the day, the cafe is open with baked goods, a light lunch fare, and coffee. We popped in twice for this. Then at night, the restaurant (make sure to reserve) is open with a wonderful all-around menu. I’d recommend even popping down for sunset drinks from the bar and then eating dinner after.

The Restaurant at The Harbor House Inn (Elk)

Now if you’re looking for a major foodie spot to go eat at, I cannot recommend the two-Michelin Star Restaurant at The Harbor House Inn enough. It’s about an hour’s drive, but if you’re going up the coast, it’s well worth it (I would even drive for the evening to go eat there, it’s that good). Make sure to reserve in advance, the experience is top-notch and the food is poetic. I have this story about my last stay as well to get an idea of the experience.

Upper Crust Pizzeria (Gualala)

Casual spot to grab pizza to-go or in person.

Twofish Baking (Stewards Point)

Just down in Stewarts Point is this quaint little bakery, they serve pastries, fresh sandwiches, and have a small market. Great spot to grab some food to go for hikes.

The Surf Market (Gualala)

This is such a great market for picking up everything you may need while visiting. They source a ton of local groceries which we love that they support.

Things to Do in Sea Ranch

On the Way to Sea Ranch

There are so many gems to find along the way to Sea Ranch. If you’re coming from the south or the east, I have a few favorites that I think you’ll love. furthest south, one of my favorites is Point Reyes. I would even suggest a night or two there before Sea Ranch to make a road trip of it. While in the area, if you’re looking for a bite to eat, I’d suggest The Restaurant at Nick’s Cove, The Marshall Store for the best seafood, or Due West Restaurant at Olema House.

As you make your way through, you may take the road that passes out to Bodega Bay. Two pitstops that I adore are Bodega Bay Oyster Company for fresh oysters and Wild Flour Bread for fresh bread and pastries. Both are easy pitstops along the way. And if you have a sweet tooth, Valley Ford Cheese & Creamery has some wonderful soft serve. In Bodega itself, Spud Point is a classic for Dungeness crab rolls — my goodness these are delicious. I have a ton more on this section of the coast on this guide. I’ve also put together a list of my favorite Bodega Bay restaurants.

Further north, Cafe Aquatica in Jenner is lovely for lunch and they often have live music. If you’re looking to rent kayaks and go up the river, Jenner is the spot to do it. And as you make your way more north, Coast Kitchen at Timber Cove Resort is another favorite spot for food.

Take a Hike

There are so many hikes to enjoy in the Sea Ranch area, from coastal trails to the redwoods. Sea Ranch has a network of walking trails, I would refer to this map for the available coastal trails. We enjoyed walking near Black Point Beach and in the redwoods. For a hike in the redwoods, the Fernwood Trail and Ridge Trail are beautiful. Do reference the map for your time.

Explore the Beaches

Turquoise waters and beautiful coves await in Sea Ranch and so many to choose from. One of my favorites was Black Point Beach, walking down and enjoying the dark tones of the sand contrasted with the blue water. Other popular beaches in Sea Ranch that we have enjoyed over the years are Shell Beach (great for a walk) and Walk-On Beach.

See the Sea Ranch Chapel

A Weekend Guide to Sea Ranch, California

A must-stop for us every time we are in the area, the unique Sea Ranch Chapel is a petite and whimsical building shaped almost like a seashell. Non-denominational and open year-round, it’s well worth a visit to soak in the unique architecture.

Address: 40033 CA-1, Sea Ranch, CA 95497

Go for a Coastal Drive

This entire coastline of California is worth a scenic drive alone. You may have caught some of it on your way through, but I recommend giving it another go, pulling off on the side to soak in the views. You could stop down at Salt Point State Park or continue making your way more north. Either way, a drive on Highway 1 is a wonderful way to take in the scenery.

Take a Stroll in Gualala Point Regional Park

Another great area to go explore is located near the town of Gualala. The Gualala Point Regional Park has several walking paths and nearly 3 miles of walking trails here.

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