Mind on MendonomaMendonoma is a made-up term for a magical place in the middle between Sonoma and Mendocino counties, about 100 miles north of San Francisco. That’s where you’ll find The Sea Ranch, an unincorporated area of coastline perfect for seekers of Pacific peace and serenity. The place, at the very top of California’s Sonoma coast, features plenty of big nature and low profile lodging meant to blend in with the landscape — often with ocean views. You won’t find many shops or restaurants in The Sea Ranch proper. For that, you’ll want to head just a few miles north to Gualala (pronounced wa-LA-la) in Mendocino. More about that in a bit. First time visitors to The Sea Ranch often confuse the place with its namesake hotel called Sea Ranch Lodge, which is the first building you’ll see as you enter the area from the south after a long stretch of wild highway that winds around the cliffs. The Sea Ranch Lodge is currently closed. Fortunately, I wanted to recommend staying at one of the many amazing vacation rentals instead of the old Sea Ranch Lodge, which is where I stayed last time. The buzz is that the lodge is up for sale. I’ll post updates here. (More about vacation rentals below.)
But you should know that some of the best coastal views are from walks you can take from just behind the lodge, so keep it on your radar for a starting point, wherever you stay.
The Sea Ranch ArchitectureDue to architectural guidelines drawn up in the 1960s, all houses feature low profiles and must be built from natural wood materials. The community association sees that all of The Sea Ranch’s 1,800 or so rustic homes are situated and designed to honor the natural landscape. All private homes must have their parking areas hidden from view by low walls. And no streetlights are allowed. This minimalist approach to “living lightly on the land” gives the place a sense of calm and natural dignity, but may seem stifling to potential residents.
Things to Do in The Sea Ranch CaliforniaFor The Sea Ranch getaway, you will need a car. And getting there during the daytime is a good idea or you’ll miss the spectacular ocean views. Also, the windy roads to this Mendonoma destination look a lot scarier in the dark if you’re not used to them. Whatever you do, the idea is to just breathe deep, chill out, and get into The Sea Ranch state of mind.
Find The Sea Ranch Trails with Coastal AccessOne of our favorite things to do in The Sea Ranch is to walk the coastal trails. You’ll find six public trails worth walking, managed by Sonoma County Regional Parks. Bluff Top Trail, Walk on Beach, Shell Beach, Stengel Beach, Pebble Beach, and Black Point. You can park at one of these access points, and hike from one beach to another.
All of the trails are up high on the bluffs, so you’ll need to walk down staircases or steep paths. The easiest may be Shell Beach, which also features fun tide pools during low tide.
Bang Tip: The bluff-top trail is dog-friendly!Watch for the “Do Not Disturb” sign along the trail, a tip off that you’re passing the seal preserve, or you may hear the seal’s distinctive bark.
Guests renting vacation homes have access to the community swimming pool, tennis courts, golf course, and private neighborhood roads.
BANG’ TIP: November through December are the best months for seeing whales migrating south. But in March and April you’re likely to see whales returning north plus the wildflowers are in bloom.
See the Sea Ranch ChapelThe quirky Sea Ranch Chapel is one building that stands out from the rest, Or is it just a variation on a theme? To me, it looks like a cockeyed witch’s hat, and a stark contrast to the simple exteriors that characterize the town. Others say it looks like a bird in flight, a shell, or a cresting wave. All in good fun, say the locals sitting on redwood benches beside me. Everyone looks amazing bathed in the golden light pouring through the chapel’s colorful stained glass.
Look up and you’ll see the sculpted floral ceiling embedded with sea shells. The floor is natural stone inlaid with a floral mosaic. A beloved local attraction, the chapel is a favorite stop for visitors looking for a quiet place to pray or meditate.
Things to do in nearby GualalaIf you’re staying in The Sea Ranch, going to Gualala is a given. Gualala is an artist’s community just a few pleasant miles up the coast in Mendocino County. Go for breakfast or lunch, pick up groceries, or browse the shops and art galleries. If you have a day to kill, check out Gualala Point Regional Park. On Gualala Point at the mouth of the Gualala River in Sonoma County (south of Gualala between The Sea Ranch and Gualala), this 195-acre park boasts a campground, trail system, ocean views, and beaches worth visiting. You can also go kayaking on the Gualala River, which also runs through The Sea Ranch. The Gualala River is a fun place to go kayaking or canoeing, no matter what your activity level. Adventure Rents is the go-to place to rent a top quality watercraft, single or tandem kayak or canoe. You can take a self-guided two-hour paddle. Or book a half-day tour, which gives you time for time to picnic lunch. Or plan a full-day river adventure tour. (See contact info at the bottom of this page.) Gualala also has a vibrant little local art scene. Start at the 15,000 square foot Gualala Arts Center. Walk the sculpture garden, visit the gallery, or attend an event. You’ll also find many independent galleries around town.
Go Wine Tasting at Annapolis WineryIf you’re up for an afternoon drive, take the twisty country road eight miles up the hill to Annapolis Winery for some free wine tasting with panoramic vineyard views. Owned and operated by the Scalabrini family, the winery produces small amounts of locally grown hand-crafted, award-winning ultra-premium wines.
Bang’ Tip: Bring a picnic lunch or snacks from Surf Market and set up on one of the winery’s family and dog-friendly patio tables.
Where to Eat on the Mendonoma Coast
BANG’ TIP: Skip down to the bottom of this page for links and locations of resources mentioned here.The Ranch Cafe is new and already a favorite with locals. Located in the Ranch Center in The Sea Ranch, the cafe serves pastries, and an ever changing specials menu for breakfast and lunch. You won’t find many dining options in The Sea Ranch, but it’s a short drive north to the town of Gualala. In Gualala, Trinks is a popular local hangout with great food and coffee. This is my favorite spot for breakfast. Trinks features specialty sandwiches, bakery items, and good coffee. Gualala Pizza & Bakery: this is a good spot for Pizza, Chinese food, and Mexican baked goods. Twofish Baking Company, popular with both locals and tourists, was a popular Sea Ranch restaurant and bakery for 14 years. Recently they moved four miles south, to Stewart’s Point. Still worth a visit, especially for the sticky buns (“big, caramel, walnut sticky goodness”). Also, pizza night is a party (every Friday from 4 pm until 8:30 pm). And the calzones aren’t bad either.
St. Orres features locally sourced ingredients with specialties like wild game, a great choice for fine dining and special occasions.
Local Markets in and around The Sea RanchStewarts Point Store Stewarts Point Store serves up local artisanal breads and pastries, with a small breakfast and lunch menu with popular items like the breakfast burrito, calzones, and the pilgrim turkey sandwich. On Friday they stay open late for Pizza Night, popular with the locals. The store is now owned by the former Two Fish Baking Company folks. Surf Market Surf Market features a full-service deli with sandwiches and decent coffee. This is the go-to place to pick up groceries, local organic produce, meats, cheeses, wine, and beer.
Is Bolinas a Serene Destination for a Weekend Getaway?
Planning on spending a weekend in bolinas? Get ready for a serene getaway! Nestled on the picturesque California coast, Bolinas offers a tranquil escape from bustling city life. Relax on its uncrowded beaches, explore the charming local shops and art galleries, or indulge in delicious seafood at waterfront restaurants. With its untouched nature and laid-back vibe, Bolinas is the perfect destination to unwind and recharge.