With nearly 656 miles of road that trace the wondrous California coastline between Dana Point in the south and Leggett in the north, it’s no secret that Highway 1 is one of the nation’s most majestic scenic drives.

But for years, as motorists have flocked to Monterey, Big Sur, and Carmel-by-the-Sea, they have mysteriously overlooked The Sea Ranch, a secluded stretch of rugged shoreline that sits 100 miles north of San Francisco. It’s a place to retreat, unwind, and escape the pressures of the outside world for the weekend—especially if you follow these suggestions for things to do in Sea Ranch.

1. Hike the Bluff Top Trail

Sea Ranch bluffs and waves
Looking down at the cliffs from the bluffs | Photo courtesy of Spiros Vathis

Conceived in 1963 by architect Al Boeke, Sea Ranch is a groundbreaking community of architectural artistry in which residents commit to living “lightly on the land.” The homes blend into their natural surroundings, allowing the ocean bluffs, golden meadows, and local wildlife to take center stage. And nowhere can you better survey the scene than the Bluff Top Trail, a seven-mile path that follows the ocean between Black Point and Gualala Point Regional Park. You’ll see playful harbor seals, whale spouts punctuating the horizon, and incredible views of the sun setting over the ocean.

2. Hit the Beach

shell beach park in sea ranch
Shell Beach sunset | Photo courtesy of Chris D 2006

With treacherous tides, frigid water temperatures, and just enough great white shark activity to alarm the casual observer, the beaches in Sea Ranch aren’t exactly havens for swimming and sunbathing. So why go, you ask? These gorgeous natural coves are laden with sea life, creating the ultimate scenic escape into nature. Visit the quiet stretch of Shell Beach to view starfish, anemones, and urchins clinging to the rocks at low tide, or stop by Stengel Beach at sunset to watch the light filter through the seasonal waterfall. The best part? You’ll almost always have these beaches entirely to yourself.

3. Practice Your Drive…

golfer at the sea ranch golf links
Golfing on the North Coast | Photo courtesy of C Jill Reed

Designed by the famed American landscape and golf course architect Robert Muir Graves, the Sea Ranch Golf Links made a name for itself as the first golf course on the west coast to adopt the Scottish links-style design. But the experience here is entirely unique to Northern California, as golfers play 18 holes in a rolling seaside landscape lined with towering redwoods, natural seagrass, and windblown cypress. After a morning round, you’ll also be just one mile south of downtown Gualala, where you can pick up tasty ribs, tri-tip, and chicken from the seasonal Saturday barbecue out in front of the Surf Market.

4. …Before Taking a Jaw-Dropping Drive

mendocino headlands state park
Mendocino headlands | Photo courtesy of Don DeBold

Fifty-five miles north of Sea Ranch is the unincorporated community of Mendocino, a charming seaside hamlet that—fun fact—served as the filming location of Cabot Cove in the television series Murder She Wrote. But what connects Sea Ranch with this artistic village is one of the most beautiful stretches of Highway 1, where you can take a leisurely afternoon drive to admire immense sea stacks and hillside redwood forests. Make a pit-stop at the Point Arena Lighthouse to soak in the golden hour view and sit down for dinner at Cafe Beaujolais in downtown Mendocino—you’ll enjoy a French-inspired meal made with the most local of Northern California ingredients.

5. Just Breathe It All In

Sea Ranch evening walk
Taking an evening walk in Sea Ranch | Photo courtesy of Chris D 2006

Despite all of the things to do in Sea Ranch, perhaps one of the best activities is simply breathing, taking in your incredible surroundings, and letting the rest of the world melt away.

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Author: Maura O'Brien

Born and raised in Northern California and now based in Portland, Maura credits her mom with her sense of adventure. Maura has a special affinity for national parks, the Greek island of Folegandros, and a three-month trip across Europe with her sister that opened her eyes to the magic of travel.