Sea Ranch

A note from January 2023: I found this post from a year ago in my drafts. In the mess of last year I forgot to ever hit publish on this one so I’m doing it today. Better late than never when it comes to Sea Ranch! Time traveling all the way back to January 2022…

At the beginning of the year we took our first family trip in 2+ years to a place that’s been on the travel wish list for awhile: the Sea Ranch! The somewhat isolated, off-the-beaten-path community on the northern California coast was perfect for a cautious re-entry into traveling, and a much appreciated change of scenery. If hiking beautiful places and gawking at interesting architecture is your idea of a good time, Sea Ranch has it ALL. Architectural delights at every turn, with the rugged California coast to the west and a lush redwood forest to the east.

Sea Ranch was developed as a masterplanned community of mostly second homes in the early 1960’s with the goal to live “lightly on the land.” The architecture reflects that intention; the landscaped is unobtrusively dotted with carefully sited shed roofed, redwood clad homes that are meant to endure the harsh coastal climate while offering a modern take on the vernacular barn structures common in the area. Sea Ranch buildings, especially on the more exposed windy bluff, are both expansive and fortress-like. They open to sweeping views of the wild landscape while buttressing against it. Homes feature site-specific multi level designs that often incorporate surprises like hidden nooks/ladders/sleeping lofts/bunk rooms. If you are a floor plan enthusiast, take a fall down the Sea Ranch floor plan rabbit hole. It’s a fun one.

We had only previously passed through Sea Ranch on our way to other destinations, so it was nice to stop and spend a few quiet days exploring on foot. The highlight for sure, and the architecture we really got to soak up, was the cabin we rented, one that has long been on my vacation rental wishlist: the Esherick Mini-Mod #3. Designed by Joseph Esherick in 1967, the cabin was one of several built to be demonstration homes for prospective buyers. Though only 683 sf, the home lives large. The original architecture and thoughtful updates by the current owners are quite inspiring. Super graphics will delight design nerds and the Endor references throughout will delight Star Wars fans. Plus, and maybe best of all for without this our trip wouldn’t have happened: the rental is very dog friendly!! Rusty came along and happily picked up every stick in the forest.

During some raining day reading from the cabin’s excellent architectural library, I was excited to learn that Joseph Esherick not only designed the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but also one of my favorite and often frequented local San Luis Obispo buildings – the very brutal Cal Poly Student Union, pictured below, which houses the pottery studio I use :)

We spent most of our days hiking the redwood and bluff trails and walking the neighborhoods. I didn’t take any photos of the famed rec centers (dog and kids in tow made it hard!), but they are must sees too.

The newly renovated Sea Ranch Lodge was beautiful. I didn’t take any photos inside for same reasons, but google it.

The Sea Ranch Chapel, though a later 80’s addition to the community, is a wonder and worth a visit:

If you have never been and like some stellar architecture with your travels, I highly recommend adding Sea Ranch to your travel wish list! Vacation rentals in outstanding architectural homes are plentiful, with sunnier options close to the beaches out on the bluff and cozy cabins tucked into the redwoods up in the forest. Either way, I would focus on the south end of the community where the original and oldest homes and infrastructure are located. I very highly recommend the cabin we stayed in. It was pretty perfect. I will caution that the road to Sea Ranch is GNARLY with hairpin turns over ocean cliffs and the densest fog we’ve ever seen – like 10 ft visibility. We hit it at dusk, very bad move, so plan better than us. But the town, especially in winter, is sleepy and quiet, leaving you all alone with the architecture to be the creep you are :)

Bonus travel notes:

On our drive up we stopped at (a very flooded) Heath to grab some tile samples and seconds and you should too if passing through Sausalito!

And on our drive home we made a random dog park stop at what turned out to be the amazing 1957 Frank Lloyd Wright designed Marin County Civic Center, a sprawling campus of futuristic civic buildings and fairgrounds. This was the last commissioned project for the architect and one that was mostly completed after his death 1959. It’s pretty incredible and definitely worth a stop if you are ever in the area. I hope to return on purpose one day and take a tour. Here’s a peek at a small sliver of the campus I walked: the Exhibit Hall and the Auditorium ticket booth.

Happy travels!

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