Jettison the distractions: Take a walk on the idle side at Northern California’s Sea Ranch
Story and photography by Scott Nishimura
We’re all about avoiding the chaos of last year as we head into 2023’s summer travel season. Want the California oceanfront without the crowds of the Monterey Peninsula or Southern California? Head to The Sea Ranch, about 110 miles north of San Francisco.
This 1960s community of 2,200 properties — largely second homes, with some of them available as rentals on terms that may include minimum stays — is a throwback.
Don’t call it a resort, for that implies “no liability” from visitors, says The Sea Ranch Association, which represents the property owners and development. Owners have spent decades serving as caretakers in the community and ask for the same deference from visitors. The homes, mostly luxury, are clad in weathered redwood, blending with the oceanfront flora, and are modest in appearance outwardly.
First things first. If you need the extra stimuli of the Monterey Peninsula — the oceanfront drives; top-flight restaurants, boutiques and wineries; the world-class Monterey Bay Aquarium; the aura of John Steinbeck lurking — you might head there instead.
At The Sea Ranch, the attraction is the property. In the 1960s, a developer and a team of landscape designers, architects, lawyers, planners and ecologists started the community on a 10-mile stretch of land that had been part of a Sonoma County sheep ranch.
While the community is still a bit remote today, you’ll find fine galleries, shops and restaurants in the nearby coastal town of Gualala. The wineries of Sonoma County are a long day trip. We recommend instead that you stock your rented home with groceries and wines from Gualala’s stores, settle in and forget the distractions.
Several companies represent rentals in The Sea Ranch, and the finest properties may be exclusively represented by one agency, so you’ll need to do some homework. You can find everything from one-bedroom, one-bath cabins to luxury homes with multiple bedrooms and baths that can house large families. The Sea Ranch rental agencies especially like to market themselves as “girls’ retreats.”
If you’re staying on the water, walk out the door to 70 miles of oceanfront hiking. Expect afternoon visits by lazing seals and sea lions bobbing in the surf or sunning on the rocky shore. And don’t miss the sunsets.
For context, about 500 people live in The Sea Ranch full time, estimates Diana Nicholas, manager of Sea Ranch Rentals. “The rest are second homes, and many are rented out,” says Nicholas, a onetime North Texan who was lured to California by the ocean and has lived there 40 years.
Nicholas estimates there are about 200 homes for rent in The Sea Ranch. Her agency represents 74. She considers about two-thirds of the homes in the development as luxury properties. Far fewer are on the ocean. “Seventeen of mine are oceanfronts.”
HOW TO GET THERE
Airports with scheduled passenger service: San Francisco, Oakland, Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County
Fly private: The Sea Ranch private airstrip is closest. It has no control tower or ground services, and “very limited” ride-hailing and car services. Airstrip operators strongly advise that you arrange for a friend, property owner or rental manager to pick you up or have a rental car delivered on-site.