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Sea Ranch, California: Off Sonoma County's Beaten Path

Updated Oct 10, 2016

The North Sonoma Coast is a rugged land shaped by wind and water. In the winter, big storms out at sea send their messenger waves crashing on the shoreline. Summer brings hummingbirds and other migratory winged travelers to feast on the bounty nature provides. Human city dwellers also come, and The Sea Ranch is a favorite destination to get away from the hustle and bustle of urban landscapes.

A new type of subdivision

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The plat map of The Sea Ranch looks like a trendy subdivision on the outskirts of a typical American city. What it primarily is known for is providing short term lodging for the vacation crowd. The Sea Ranch community stretches from just a few miles north of Fort Ross all the way to the Mendocino County line, a distance of 10 miles/16 km. Formerly the Del Mar Ranch, Oceanic California Inc. bought the ranch and set about creating a new type of subdivision. This new planning model sought to preserve the look and feel of the wild Sonoma Coast. What followed after years of legal wrangling was the development we see today. The Sea Ranch now consists of approximately 2,288 lots spread out over 10 miles/16 km of scenic coastline.

Some of the homes are occupied by full-time residents. Many of these residents are artists, authors, composers, or just those wanting to live in a natural environment by the sea. Several hundred of the homes are leased by the owners or their appointed managers for short-term rentals. The vacation rental market is a way for some owners to keep making payments on their mortgages while providing a high-end home for rent in Sonoma County.

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Birds and bees

Activities in and around The Sea Ranch cater to most everyone’s interest. There are miles of hiking trails where hikers might see bobcats, wild turkeys, foxes, raccoons, seals, whales, and numerous birds. Wildflowers are in bloom many months of the year, coloring the fields and forest ground attracting birds and bees. There is a special seal colony overlook where seals give birth to their babies and raise them on the haul-out, safe from great white sharks. The seals lounge about providing excellent photo opportunities for photographers and tourists alike.

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Parks and activities

At the north end of The Sea Ranch is the 195 acre/78.9 hectare Gualala Point Regional Park where the coastal forest meets the sea. Rent a kayak and paddle about for an afternoon of waterfront fun. Take a walk on the beach where the Gualala River joins the Pacific Ocean. Six park entrances spread along Highway 1 are open to the public with beach access. Rarely will you encounter crowding on these remote beach areas, and wildlife is found often. Annapolis Winery is located high above The Sea Ranch. Take the steep and winding Annapolis Road 8 miles/12.8 km up into the forest and enjoy a lush pinot noir while the wind rustles the trees above.

See our full list of recommended Hotels in Gualala and also compare the prices with Vacation Rentals in Gualala

Lodging choices

With the metropolis of San Francisco and Oakland just three hours away, Sea Ranch beckons to residents by the bay to come and get a dose of rest and relaxation. Out-of-town visitors can fly into either San Francisco or Oakland airports then rent a car for the drive north. Several rental companies handle reservations between owners and vacation renters. For my stay, I enjoyed three nights at a vacation rental. You can choose from hundreds of other owner-leased homes or even stay at The Sea Ranch Lodge where you will also find a restaurant. Gualala has several hotels if you don’t want to stay in The Sea Ranch. Any of the above lodging choices will give you a great escape to this lesser known part of California’s dramatic coastline.

See our full list of recommended Hotels in Gualala and also compare the prices with Vacation Rentals in Gualala

Good to know

Some words of caution since the great outdoors is what attracts most visitors. During the summer season beware of ticks. If you stay on the maintained trails, your chance of picking up these unwanted hitch-hikers is lessened. The weather on the coast is unpredictable with storms and fog appearing often throughout the year. For many, the foul weather adds to the attraction of the area. Dress in layers; rain resistant or rain-proof clothing is a good idea, and wear good hiking shoes. Pay attention to No Trespassing signs, especially if you are not staying as a guest of The Sea Ranch. If you are a guest, you will have a parking pass that allows access to most areas of The Sea Ranch. Bring your camera, hiking shoes and a good book for a vacation to remember.

This article was originally published on Oct 10, 2016

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Kurt Jacobson is a former chef traveling the world in search of great food, interesting people, fine wine, nature, fishing and skiing. New Zealand, Japan and Europe are his favorite international...Read more

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