Out on the northern Sonoma Coast, where the churning Pacific meets the rocky shore, life is about perspective. Expanse invites reflection. Fog softens glare. Even the curves of Highway 1 inspire focus.
Against this backdrop, with the right attitude and a winning amount of creativity, anyone and anything can undergo reinvention and become new again. This is the spirit from which springs a revitalized Sea Ranch Lodge. In October, the 1960s-era main building, the centerpiece of Sea Ranch community life, reopened with new public spaces open to all, including a redesigned restaurant, a new café, and expansions to the bar, lounge, and general store—all places where homeowners, weekenders, locals, and day-trippers interact daily.
“This is a one-of-a-kind spot, and it deserves a one-of-a-kind lodge,” says Kristina Jetton, the lodge’s general manager.
A California classic
The Sea Ranch certainly has a rich history. The 2,200-home planned community was built in 1965 and conceived as a second-home destination unlike any other. Homes here are required to adhere to strict design guidelines and to live lightly on the wider landscape, which is marked by dramatic cliffs, wide meadows dotted with coastal scrub, and cypress hedgerows for privacy and protection from the wind. A handful of Sea Ranch homes still boast original sod roofs installed in the 1960s.
For decades, The Sea Ranch was a lovable blend of quirk and luxury with a mix of full-time residents and weekend owners. Things started changing gradually last decade; as real estate prices soared in the city, growing numbers of part-time Sea Ranchers came to the coast to live full-time. And the rise of vacation rentals brought a new type of traffic to the North Coast—visitors that long-time locals weren’t necessarily keen on welcoming.
The pandemic changed much about life in the Sea Ranch community. With people forced to quarantine, many with second homes in The Sea Ranch chose to do move north full-time. Some early founders of the community seized the opportunity and sold their homes to new owners. Others were able to obtain permits to build new homes.
Architect Alan Cohen fell into the latter category. He and his wife Manok expect to move into their new coastal home next spring. “To see how that community has changed over the last few years, it’s pretty remarkable,” said Cohen, whose primary residence is in Healdsburg. “I’m glad we’ll have the chance to establish lives there as all of these changes are happening. There’s a real growing sense of community.”
Collaboration and care
A collection of designers participated in the reimagining of the lodge’s public spaces, including architectural design firm Mithun, landscape architects Terremoto, interior designer firm The Office of Charles de Lisle, and contractor David Hillmer. Inside, principals from Mithun took the old floor plan that comprised different levels and “nooks and crannies,” and “evened everything out” to create a cohesive flow, says Jetton.
What used to be a hallway and storage room is now the chef’s table and an alcove with an inviting window bench. The solarium, which used to be walled off from the rest of the building, is now open and connected to the lounge, which boasts a new fireplace. The new café, with counter seating for quick meals, now exists where the front desk was. The expanded general store sells snacks, gifts from local makers, and books on the history of The Sea Ranch and the Sonoma Coast. And out front, there’s new outdoor space protected from the elements by a wide overhang.
But without question, The Dining Room, where every table has a view of the sea, is the center of the new lodge. Executive Chef Eric Piacentine, formerly of Big Sur Bakery, has put together a menu of elevated contemporary comfort food such as Sonoma duck with wild rice, beets, and huckleberries. Daily specials will feature freshly-caught fish, mushrooms, seaweeds, and produce foraged or grown nearby. “I am constantly inspired by this seemingly untouched part of California where land and sea become one,” says Piacentine. “I’m excited to work with local farmers, fisherman and foragers and create a fresh new menu that naturally complements the majestic landscape.”
Now that renovations to the public spaces are finished, crews will turn their attention to improvements to the lodge’s guest rooms—those new guests rooms will debut in 2023 as part of the next phase of construction. (In the meantime, Sea Ranch visitors can stay overnight in one of the community’s many vacation rentals.) Plans for events and celebrations in the lodge’s new spaces are starting to take shape, including regular jazz piano concerts in the lounge.
General manager Kristina Jetton says she’s looking forward to seeing The Sea Ranch Lodge hopping again. “What we hope that will happen is that it will go back to being what it was originally intended to be: a waystation for travelers, and a local hub for the community and for our neighbors to the north and south,” she says. “The way we see it, there’s no better place on the coast to relax.”
When you go
The Sea Ranch Lodge: The renovated restaurant, café, lounge, store, and post office are now open to the public. The restaurant and bar/lounge are open Thursday-Monday in the evenings only; the café is open daily from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. 60 Sea Walk Drive, Sea Ranch. thesearanchlodge.com
Stewarts Point Store: On the coast about 15 minutes south of Sea Ranch, this lively general store and community hub is also the home of Twofish Baking, which got its start at The Sea Ranch. Go early on Sundays for mouthwatering sticky buns from co-owner Margaret Smith. 32000 Highway 1, Stewarts Point. 707785-2011, twofishbaking.com
Salt Point State Marine Conservation Area: Low tides at this popular state beach reveal tiny pools in the rocky coastline teeming with life. Located 30 minutes south of The Sea Ranch, the park also has a campground and nearly two dozen miles of hiking trails. parks.ca.gov
Point Arena Lighthouse: About 40 minutes north, this beacon celebrated its 151st birthday in 2021. The light station and fog-signal building museum are open, but the tours that climb into the tower itself are currently on pause. There are also seven cottages available as vacation rentals. 44500 Lighthouse Rd., Point Arena. 707-882-2809, pointarenalighthouse.com