The Sea Ranch was conceived in the 1960s as a community development project harmonizing the built environment with the natural environment. Straddling a 10 mile stretch of California's Highway One along the northern piece of the Sonoma County coast (just south of Mendocino county), the Sea Ranch currently holds about 1800 homes. With a superstar design team including Landscape Architect Lawrence Halprin and architects Charles Moore, Joseph Esherick, William Turnbull Jr, and Richard Whitaker, the initial concepts and principals of the Sea Ranch were put forth: nature predominates, a rural setting, modest home sizes, simple exteriors, design guidelines, and a sense of community.
From San Francisco, the drive to Sea Ranch is about 2.5 - 3 hrs, depending on traffic and selected route. For the drive up, I recommend going via Healdsburg and stopping at a few wineries and grabbing a bite to eat before hitting the last stretch of the drive. My top two choices for lunch are the Dry Creek General Store (more relaxed and rustic vibe) and the Shed in downtown Healdsburg (more upscale but still casual and also has a small grocery to pick up items for the weekend). Perhaps my favorite winery I have ever been to for the wine itself, the setting, and the staff is Ridge Lytton Springs Vineyards. If you fancy a glass of zinfandel al fresco while overlooking rolling hills covered in 115 year old vines, this is the place for you. Ridge offers two tastings, a $5 indoor Zinfandel tasting and a $10 estate terrace tasting, but you can also purchase bottles and half bottles to enjoy at your leisure.
After your midday pick-me-up, continue on for another 1.5 hrs or so to reach the Sea Ranch. As there are only about 300 full-time residents at the Sea Ranch, many homes are available to rent through a variety of rental companies including Sea Ranch Escape, Sea Ranch Vacation Rentals, and Sea Ranch Rentals among others. There is also a small hotel-like lodge with a host of a rooms as well as a restaurant and a bar that also rents out some of the nearby homes (such as the Esherick House pictured below).
The rest of the weekend is at your leisure. Be sure to walk at least a portion of the Coastal trail that stretches the entire 10 miles of the Sea Ranch. From this walk you not only get stunning coastal views, but also can treat yourself to a mini architectural tour as the simple timber-frame homes characteristic of the Sea Ranch are scattered about throughout the walk. After not too long, you should be able to point out the homes that were built during the period that the design committee was less stringent on design principles and guidelines.
For a caffeine and pastry fix, head up to the Twofish Bakery, where Margaret & Hilla whip up fresh breads, cookies, granolas, pastries, scones, lunch items, and more. Don't miss the almost psychedelic Sea Ranch Chapel located right on Highway One for a bit of whimsy. If you need a larger grocery store, a restaurant, or a bit more of a "town," head north 10 minutes to Gualala.
Take the coastal route back to the city. On a clear day expect spectacular views as you wind down along the cliffs. Interesting stops along this route include Salt Point State Park, the former Russian establishment Fort Ross, and food stops in Jenner or Bodega Bay.
SEA RANCH PACKING ESSENTIALS