Although they are only a three hour drive from San Francisco, the coastal communities of Sea Ranch and Gualala, CA offer a respite from the city. Imbued with their own sense of Cali cool, these towns meld nature and relaxation with an aesthetic that’s truly unique to the area. Whether you want some chill downtime or active outdoor adventure, both can easily be accessed. Of course, there is also wine.
The tiny hamlet of Sea Ranch, CA will be your home base for the trip. This planned community was created in the 1960s by architect Lawrence Halprin. Drawing on the Pomo Indians’ philosophy of “living lightly on the land,” Sea Ranch is designed so nature is felt both inside and out, from the ocean-facing views to the redwood construction of the buildings. Rent one of Sea Ranch Escape‘s houses for a truly private escape. If you’re looking for more of a resort-like experience, The Sea Ranch Lodge offers an on-site spa and restaurant.
Except for The Sea Ranch Lodge, Sea Ranch itself does not have amenities, so head into the neighboring town of Gualala, CA for dining options. Twofish Baking at Stewart’s Point offers a bevy of freshly made pastries and sandwiches. Pull up a seat at Trinks Cafe for comforting breakfast and lunch favorites as well as a rotating selection of entrées Wednesdays through Fridays evenings. For dinner, Saint Orres offers two experiences: fine dining in the main restaurant, or casual small plates in the bar and solarium. In Anchor Bay, located five minutes north of Gualala, Anchor Bay Thai Kitchen incorporates local California ingredients into their menu.
There’s a booming arts scene in the area and the 15,000 square foot Gualala Arts Center offers an immersive experience, from the sculpture garden to the gallery to the loaded events calendar. There are dozens of independent galleries in the Gualala community as well; spend an afternoon gallery-hopping and viewing the works of various local artists. Studio 391 rotates exhibits featuring different media, and Alinder Gallery showcases photography. Meanwhile, Placewares + LyndonDesign presents art and design for domestic spaces.
Load up on reading materials at Four-Eyed Frog Books, a community-owned bookstore that counts about 24 bibliophiles as shareholders. After, take your paperback treasures to one of the Sea Ranch’s area beaches, such as Black Point Beach for a relaxing day of reading alongside the surf.
In addition to beaches, Gualala and Sea Ranch are prime territories for outdoor adventures. Hike the trails in the numerous area parks, such as Gualala Point Regional Park, for a close-up of the region’s terrain. Or, follow the Gualala Bluff Trail for beautiful views of the Gualala River. Aquatic activities also reign on the Gualala River: canoeing, kayaking and paddle boarding are popular sports, especially in the calm morning hours.
Neighboring Point Arena is home to the Point Arena Lighthouse, which still operates today. The historic site offers daily tours, including full moon night excursions, and is considered the primo spot for whale-watching in California.
For land-bound animals, visit B. Bryan Reserve, which offers an unexpected viewing experience. Giraffes, zebras, and antelope — all native to Africa — roam this California conservation center, which is dedicated to preserving and breeding these hoofed animals.
The non-denominational Sea Ranch Chapel is part meditative space, part art exhibit. Designed as a collaboration among local residents, local materials were used to create a symbiotic relationship with the natural surroundings.
On the culinary front, arrange a tour of the locally famous Pazzo Marco Creamery in Gualala, which sells its gelato and cheeses in area restaurants and markets. Tours are by appointment only, so make sure to arrange ahead of time.
Some of Sonoma Coast’s most famous wineries are a short drive (one to two hours, depending on how you map it out) from Gualala and make for a great day trip. Pinot noir, chardonnay, and syrah dominate many of the plantings, and winemakers like to explore the similarities between Burgundy and their oceanside vineyards. For most wineries, you’ll need to call ahead and book a private tasting appointment.
Fort Ross Vineyards, located in the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA, has made pinot noir their focus, but they also produce some of the only pinotage is the U.S. — a nod to the winemaker’s South African heritage. On a map, Hirsch‘s vineyards, which are also located in the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA, nearly kiss the ocean, but their tasting room is situated in the visitor-friendly Healdsburg area. This winery is an arbiter of quality Sonoma Coast wines and are best known for their elegant and structured pinot noir and chardonnay.
Hirsch‘s estate vineyard sells grapes to other producers, such as Siduri, who also have a wine lounge just off of Healdsburg Square. This casual wine bar/tasting room hybrid offers light bites in addition to Siduri’s impressive lineup.
A quick one-minute jaunt will take you to Arnot-Roberts winery. They source grapes from all over Napa and Sonoma and focus on syrah and pinot noir from their Sonoma Coast plots. In nearby Sebastopol, taste through Red Car‘s full lineup of their sustainably produced wines in a fun and modern tasting room slash lounge. Like other Sonoma Coast producers, the majority of their portfolio consists of pinot noir, chardonnay, and syrah, but they also experiment with cabernet sauvignon and roussanne. To get a closer look at the vineyards themselves, Littorai Winery offers the choice of a single vineyard tasting or an estate vineyard tour.
Whether you’re visiting this coastal area for a quiet retreat or for an activity-packed adventure, the natural beauty of the region is sure to satisfy your vacation itch.
Cover image courtesy of Facebook: Sea Ranch Escape