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A little over 100 miles north of San Francisco, The Sea Ranch is a sinewy stretch of coastline that offers the ultimate Northern California nature escape. Rocky bluffs cascade into the Pacific, and miles of dirt trails meander through coastal woodlands. Architects have fashioned a secluded community of midcentury oceanfront cabins. The Sea Ranch was conceived as an intentional community in the 1960s, with housing that harmonized with the natural landscape. The result became a sprawl of contemplative cabins tucked away in the woods or on coastal cliffs. Though the population is barely more than 1,100, there is no shortage of things to do in Sea Ranch — especially if you have come for the landscape.
The Sea Ranch sits on the northern cusp of Sonoma County. San Francisco Airport (SFO) is the most convenient airport to fly into, and offers the most flights. From there, it's best to rent a car. The trip takes approximately 2.5 hours, depending on the traffic. (Keep in mind that the last 15 miles of the drive are on a very windy coastal road.) The closest airport to Sea Ranch is the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport (STS) in Santa Rosa, 37 miles south of The Sea Ranch, but note that it's a small regional airport. The other airport option is Sacramento International Airport (SMF), with a driving time of 3.25 hours.
You can visit The Sea Ranch year round thanks to its moderate coastal climate. July is the warmest month, when highs can reach 96 degrees Fahrenheit, yet the hot days give way to cool nights in the low 50s. Nights are coldest in December, when temperatures can hover around freezing, though it almost never snows in Sea Ranch. Springtime can be rainy, making it difficult for hiking. For outdoor activities, late summer and fall offer the most pleasant and predictable weather with the slimmest chance of rain. Fall is also the best time for whale watching, when humpbacks and blue whales are migrating along the coastline. Coastal fog or winds can creep in any time of year, so pack plenty of layers.
There are six public trails in Sea Ranch, but the Bluff Top Trail offers the most rewards for your efforts. Running south from Gualala Point Regional Park along the rugged headlands, the route encompasses three miles of windswept views of cypress groves, sandstone formations, and — if you're lucky — migrating whales and sea lions.
Built by local artisans with natural materials, this tiny nondenominational chapel is sculpted like a cresting wave. It integrates craft, art, and architecture with redwood pews, floral stained glass, and sea shells embedded into the structure.
Swimmers beware: The waters in The Sea Ranch are not for the faint of heart. Cold choppy surf, undertows, and riptides make it better to admire the ocean from the shore. A flight of stairs leads down to Pebble Beach, where a sandy cove offers tidepools teeming with anemones and starfish. It’s the perfect place to lay out a towel and watch the sunset over the Pacific.