Words by Lotus Abrams
There really isn’t much to do at The Sea Ranch—a predominantly residential community located on a remote, ruggedly beautiful 10-mile stretch of coastline at the northern boundary of Sonoma County—but that is precisely the attraction. It is, rather, a place to watch the waves crash against the shoreline below the cliffs; explore rocky tidepools; wander unspoiled beaches strewn with seashells; feel the power of the wind as it rushes over the grassy bluffs and through the cypress, pine and fir trees; and listen to the plaintive bleating of sheep grazing on the hillsides, part of the community’s wildfire mitigation efforts, which also happens to add to the pastoral atmosphere.
About a two-and-a-half-hour drive north of San Francisco, Sea Ranch encompasses only about 2,200 private homes and undeveloped lots; a few resident recreation centers; a handful of small businesses; a private airstrip; and The Sea Ranch Lodge, one of the oldest buildings in the community, built in 1968.
For a long time, the land that is now The Sea Ranch was only visited seasonally by the native Pomo people, who gathered shellfish and kelp from the shoreline. Starting in the 1800s, it was used for ranching. The Sea Ranch was conceived in 1964 when Oceanic Properties architect and community planner Al Boeke visited the area and recommended that his firm purchase the land—then called Rancho Del Mar—to build a coastal town that would be designed in harmony with its natural surroundings.
Cover Photography: Courtesy of Adam Potts / Photography: Courtesy of The Sea Ranch Lodge
Guided by the overarching principle of “living lightly on the land,” Boeke and an esteemed team of architects and design professionals embarked on plans to bring the community to life. Landscape architect Lawrence Halprin studied the area’s topography, weather and vegetation. Architectural firm Moore, Lyndon, Turnbull and Whitaker designed the first condominium building along the bluffs. And architect Joseph Esherick designed Sea Ranch’s first houses. Abiding by the philosophy of dynamic conservation, each landscape element was acknowledged and nurtured, reinforcing natural forms and scale, while building materials were kept simple and drawn from nature.
The environmentally-focused sensibility of the community as well as its distinctive architecture has inspired numerous articles in publications ranging from Dwell to The New York Times, as well as a major exhibit at SFMOMA. Not surprisingly, like-minded individuals continue to be drawn to the setting.
Maynard and Lu Lyndon have been “Sea Ranchers” for over five decades. “Even before we knew each other, we both came up to The Sea Ranch in the 1960s,” recounts Maynard. After meeting in 1972, the couple bought their own lot in The Sea Ranch in 1997, and designed and built a house with the help of Maynard’s brother, Donlyn Lyndon, one of the community’s original architects. “We live here full-time and are quite connected to The Sea Ranch in various ways,” he says. “We love it.”
Cover Photography: Courtesy of Adam Potts
Maynard and Lu own LyndonDesign Gallery, which showcases the work of many local artists. They also curate the rotating art shows that grace the walls of The Café at The Sea Ranch Lodge. Thoughtfully revitalized from top to bottom after new owners bought the property in 2018, The Sea Ranch Lodge recently unveiled 17 refreshed guest rooms.
The lodge even features new “supergraphics”—boldly colored graphic stripes, shapes and symbols—designed by 94-year-old San Francisco artist and graphic designer Barbara Stauffacher Solomon.
In addition to the restaurant, bar, cafe and general store, the lodge is also home to the local post office and functions as the de facto community hub. Locals and visitors alike flock to the lodge for events like Trivia Night on Tuesdays and live jazz on Thursdays.
Undeniably, a sense of community and respect for nature coalesce at The Sea Ranch. “The overall reason to visit The Sea Ranch is the joy of place—obviously, for the natural coastline, meadows, forests and hills, but also for the spirit and vision and reality of people living and respecting what they have in this 10-mile stretch of the Northern California coast,” Maynard reflects. “Come visit, stay, walk, observe, record and partake in the quiet and respect for place and nature.”
Photography: Courtesy of The Sea Ranch Lodge - Carlos Chavarría
The best way to experience The Sea Ranch is by bike or on foot. So ditch the car and have Sea Ranch Supply drop off rental bikes at The Sea Ranch Lodge or your vacation rental. Pick up maps for The Sea Ranch’s six public access trails—Black Point, Pebble Beach, Stengel Beach, Shell Beach, Walk on Beach and Bluff Top Trail—at The Sea Ranch Association office.
Hit the greens at The Sea Ranch Links, an 18-hole golf course designed by Robert Muir Graves that blends the undulating seaside landscape with Scottish links-style architecture while maintaining the original lay of the land.
Don’t forget to visit Maynard and Lu at LyndonDesign Gallery, a small, design-focused gallery showcasing many local artists’ work (open Saturdays or by appointment). While you’re there, head over to neighboring business, The Wine Shop, which holds occasional tasting events. You’ll also want to swing by the fanciful Sea Ranch Chapel. Although it looks like a fairy cottage in the woods, it was designed by artist and architectural designer James Hubbell, and is open daily to the public from sunrise to sunset.
Photography: courtesy of the sea ranch lodge
Enjoy ceviche, seared scallops and steak frites at The Sea Ranch Lodge Dining Room. Surrounded by stunning sea views and layered in light-toned wood, the lodge serves refined, seasonal fare with locally sourced-ingredients, including ocean-fresh seafood. Other options on the property include the Bar + Lounge, with locally-inspired craft cocktails, beer, local wines and light bites; The Café for light breakfast and lunch fare; and BBQ 42000, offering house-smoked meats over at The Sea Ranch Links.
Twofish Baking, located inside the historic Stewart’s Point Store, is a must for delectable sandwiches, sticky buns and daily danishes. Go-to eateries in nearby Gualala include Anchor Bay Thai Kitchen, Upper Crust Pizzeria and Trinks Cafe.
Photography: Courtesy of the Sea Ranch Lodge
Featuring breathtaking views of the natural surroundings, The Sea Ranch Lodge offers 17 rustic-contemporary rooms featuring stove-pipe fireplaces, cushioned window benches and thoughtful amenities like local hiking guides and binoculars.
The Sea Ranch also offers distinctive rental homes designed by acclaimed architects. Like the forest-ensconced Tarp House with expansive outdoor decks, walls of glass and dramatic skylights to more deeply appreciate all the trees. Or the spacious Hines House, which sleeps eight, while offering a courtyard terrace and sweeping Pacific views.
Home rentals can be booked through Sea Ranch Escape as well as websites like Airbnb, Vacasa and VRBO.