(Photo credit by local photographer-artist Phil Wendt)

Top 5 Things to do in The Sea Ranch

If your idea of a spectacular vacation destination is the dramatic coast of Northern California, then The Sea Ranch should definitely be on your list of places to go. A short three hour dive north of San Francisco, it is set along the gorgeous Sonoma County Coast, where you can find all kinds of fun and exciting ways to fill up your day, whether you enjoy tasting incredible and interesting architecture, walking along windswept cliffs or taking in local art.

This incredible community was designed in the 1960s, with strict development guidelines to ensure wide open protected spaces and buildings with low environmental impact. You won’t see streets cluttered with mail boxes, cars on the streets or houses with street-facing garages here. Instead, picture grassy hills with happy cows dotting the landscape, funky houses with flowers and herbs growing on the roofs, cheese tasting rooms, and a quaint downtown with award-winning restaurants, boutiques and art galleries.

1. Explore Shell Beach

If you love sea life and hiking trails, Shell Beach is the an amazing place to spend the day. Shell Beach boasts amazing cliff top vistas of the sea below. From the cliffs, you can watch baby seals on the beach. Follow trails down to the beach and collect shells of all shapes and colors.

You can also follow the trail into the surrounding woods and spy on birds, squirrels and the occasional deer. The forest is home to the famous Coastal Redwoods, smelling of loam and deep forest scents. Take your wild flower book with you to identify the myriad of beautiful spring and summer flowers along the path and in the meadows.

Venture down to the beach in late afternoon and build a fire to watch a multicolored sunset. Make sure you pack a sweater or blanket, since even in summer the wind can be quite brisk. Enjoy a bottle of wine from nearby Hirsch or Annapolis wineries, some cheese from Vella Cheese Company, Pazzo Marco Creamery or William Cofield Cheesemakers, or a picnic basket full of local goodies from nearby Surf Market.

2. Check Out Marine Life at the University of California Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory

Just a few miles south is the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory, where you can participate in an educational tour of the local sea life and view research conducted at the Lab. Docents will show you examples local tide pools full of sea anemones, crabs, mussels and more. You can look at displays of colorful marine life and a large kelp forest. Enjoy learning about the unique biodiversity of coastal Northern California and Bodega Bay.

Drop-in guided tours are available on Fridays from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Group guided tours can be reserved for other weekdays, up to four times a week.

3. Go to a Festival

The Sonoma County Coast is a wonderful place to enjoy one or more of the multiple festivals that take place throughout the year. Plan ahead and schedule your vacation rental to coincide with the festival of your choice to get in on the fun.

The Whale and Jazz Festival is one of the highlights of the year and is sponsored by Gualala Arts. As part of the Smithsonian Institute’s Jazz Appreciation month in April, this festival takes place in various locations across the entire month. Participate in the Chowder Challenge, listen to poetry from local writers, learn about whales and listen to great jazz. Visit local wineries, taste food from local restaurants and farms, and shop for beautiful art created by local craftspeople.

The Almost Fringe Festival celebrates spring in an original and unique way. Based on the International Fringe Art Movement, the Almost Fringe Festival includes food, cutting edge art, music and more. It takes place across all of Sonoma County and is a great way to enjoy the diversity and unique creative expressions of the vibrant community.

4. Take an Architectural Tour

The Sonoma coast has some of the most acclaimed architecture in the United States. As one the first planned communities in the nation, development guidelines were specifically designed to maintain the geographical biodiversity and natural beauty of the region. Famous modern architects such as Charles Moore, Buzz Yudell and Lawrence Halprin designed homes and other buildings to showcase the natural environment and integrate functional modern materials.

Unbeatable Path Tours offers an “Architecture, Landscape & Nature Tour” for groups of at least two people and corporate retreats. The guided tour explores some of the most famous buildings in the area, including classic “sod-roofed” houses of Joseph Esherick, Phase One of the early planned community development and Condo 1.

You can also go on your own architectural tour by visiting some of the most famous buildings in the area. For example, go to the The Sea Ranch Chapel, made most famous for its unique wood sailing roof design and sculptural interior that integrates the skill of local craft designers and local natural materials. Other interesting examples of fascinating local architecture include the Moonraker, Ohlson (also contains the library) and Del Mar Recreational Centers and the General Store, Restaurant & Land Sales building.

5. Explore Fort Ross State Historic Park

Fort Ross State Historic Park is a National Historic Monument and National Historic Landmark, and was established by Russian fur traders in the early 1800s. From 18312 through 1841, Fort Ross was the most eastern outpost of the Russian Empire. It was home to fur trappers and traders, operated as a ship yard. The buildings and ships were constructed from timber harvested from the nearby redwood forest. The windmills are examples of some of the earliest constructed in the Western United States.

The buildings are an excellent example of Russian history in North America and include windmills, wooden stockades and Russian-style buildings constructed of local timber.

Explore the original 1836 Rotchev House, along with many accurately restored buildings. The cliff top Russian cemetery is mostly intact, so you can take paper rubbings of the headstones. Historic orchards still produce fruit from the originally planted trees, so have fun walking around between the trees. You can also hike down to the beach below and collect shells, look into tide pools and take a walk.

Whether you are planning a short weekend trip from San Francisco or an entire week-long holiday, booking a vacation rental along the coast of Sonoma County will make memories for a lifetime. Plan on relaxing with good food, great scenery and all kinds of fun places to explore and admire.