A View with a Room
The Sea Ranch Lodge knows how to put on a show. Sort of. During the three-hour drive on Highway 1 north from San Francisco, we expected our destination near the Sonoma/Mendocino county border, to be many things. Lively wasn't one of them. Yet, vibrant it was.
Consider the setting. The stretch of Pacific coast north of San Francisco is a quiet, secretive place. Life's drama plays out among the calm whispers of redwood forests, foggy farmland and the turning of the ocean's tides. With no major cities to speak of, the sleepy fishing villages that dot the coast provide urban necessities, a robust arts scene, some quality dining options, but not very much more for the sophisticated traveler.
It is an area without a true center whose charm is its endless natural beauty. Outdoor adventurers will find much to fill their days with hiking, fishing, kayaking and all the other related “ings”. The less active, well, won't. But that's the whole point. And one that Sea Ranch understands perfectly well.
Nestled on a series of grassy oceanfront bluffs, the Sea Ranch Lodge was built in the 1960s as one of the first eco-communities. Its trendsetting alliance of architecture and nature was created by noted American architects Charles Moore, Joseph Esherick and Lawrence Halprin. A familiar formula whose influence can be seen in similar looking structures up and down the Northern California coast. But Sea Ranch was one of the first.
Recognized for its distinctive architecture, Sea Ranch consists of simple, weathered-wood structures. Rather than dominate, buildings are merged into the landscape with the intention of harmonious coexistence with nature. In addition, landscaping is also regulated in order to allow for the growth of only indigenous plants. So well does the development's design preserve this harmony that from the highway it is easy to miss. You can barely see it because you're not supposed to.
The result is a tranquil refuge that offers understated comfort in a setting where the serenity of nature takes center stage. A welcome contrast from the rapid bustle of modern life, a place for guests to simply relax, reflect and rejuvenate. Where the rhythms of the natural world direct us, rather than us them.
A mandate that is evident immediately upon arrival. For example, just as important as what you see (open ocean, grassy meadows, coastal trails) is what you don't (swimming pool, gymnasium, conference rooms). However, a major expansion is underway that includes a plan for a full-service spa, swimming pool and other updates ubiquitous in new hotels. It is an ambitious renovation that addresses current hotel trends while maintaining the ecological spirit of the original.
For the time being, all is as it has been for decades at Sea Ranch. Our daylight was spent exploring the colorful tide pools along the ocean, walking along the windswept bluffs to neighboring beaches and pondering a brilliant sunset. The night, dedicated to the enjoyment of a fine dinner of seasonal foods, paired excellently with local wines and even better company.
After our dinner at the lodge's award winning restaurant, we glided back to the view from the window-side sofa in our room, glasses of port in hand. With lights down low and the soft crackle of a fire we settled into the warm comfort of a priceless moment. And that's when the show began.
The new moon's evening sky twinkled before us like an incandescent canvas. Heads inclined to the heavens, we waited for shooting stars and considered the kind of milk in the Milky Way above (skim or soy?). Shoot they did. But, see them we didn't. Our minds and bodies, taut like guitar strings from the stresses and rigors of our metropolitan hustle, surrendered, slowly succumbing to the undeniable harmony of the pristine evening, drifting off into dreams.
Alvaro Eduardo Rojas
Images courtesy of Sea Ranch Lodge