Since the 1960s, this beautiful planned development has created a strong sense of community among its members. Located in Sonoma County, California, along miles of a former sheep ranch, The Sea Ranch boasts 2,200 acres of common space; over 50 hiking and walking trails; and stunning homes that blend into the natural beauty of the area. Interested in learning more? We’re breaking down five facts about The Sea Ranch.
In 1964, Oceanic Properties, Inc. sent its vice president, Al Boeke, to explore Northern California. His duty? To identify land that could be developed. Boeke immediately fell in love with Rancho Del Mar, the stretch of coast that would become The Sea Ranch. It’s important to note that it wasn’t just money or value that motivated Boeke. Rather, he envisioned a more specific goal for the development. Boeke wanted “harmony between inhabitants and nature.” This was the driving goal behind every aspect of the development’s design, starting with the team Boeke hired. His landscape architect, Lawrence Halprin, wanted to unify the area’s history and its unique topography. From his research and vision came the team’s core principle: “living lightly on the land.”
It’s easy to have good intentions, but implementing those intentions is another story. When it came time to build The Sea Ranch properties, the architectural firm of Moore, Lyndon, Turnbull, and Whitaker wanted all of their materials to be sourced from nature. Every element of the landscape — from its shape to its movement to its lines — needed to inform the homes’ designs (and not vice versa). This “territorial partnership” put the integrity of the land first and the design of the development second.
Together, Moore, Lyndon, Turnbull, and Whitaker were trying to prove that humans could inhabit an untouched stretch of land without destroying it. The Sea Ranch was an exercise in “environmental stewardship,” which was groundbreaking at the time.
The Sea Ranch logo — which looks like a take on sheep horns — was designed by the graphic designer Barbara Stauffacher Solomon. Her experience studying design in Switzerland highly influenced her design style, and it is evident in the logo. She noted the sheep all over the property and was struck by the movement of the waves. And so, the logo was born.
The Sea Ranch logo was Solomon’s first independent graphics job, but it wouldn’t be her last. The Sea Ranch team loved her work. At one point, when money was running low, they asked Solomon to paint designs on the rustic wooden houses. Again, the natural elements influenced her. She painted lines along the building in ultramarine, which paid homage to the ocean. She used a contrasting bright red to paint upward-moving arrows. The result was a combination of “California Abstract Expressionism and hard-edged Swiss graphics.” For Solomon, a former dancer, the process was like coordinating an intricate dance. A discussion about her design was later published in Progressive Architecture magazine under the title, “Where Graphics and Architecture Meet.” Solomon had officially made a name for herself as a designer thanks to her work at The Sea Ranch.
Intention versus reality
Originally, The Sea Ranch was intended to be an entire town, complete with schools, businesses, a post office, and the like. The area was also meant to include a large subset of affordable housing. However, due to the beauty and coveted peacefulness of the location, The Sea Ranch quickly became a high-end community.
Today, The Sea Ranch remains an incredible example of architectural originality in nature. It is “bound by a shared vision of respect for the natural environment” and remains the antithesis of a suburb. Several rules maintain the community’s integrity. For example, homes must fit seamlessly into their surroundings (i.e., can’t be too monstrous). Any plants should be native species, and there are no streetlights, mailboxes, or flower gardens. Brightly colored amenities that distract from nature are not encouraged, and no fences or property lines are allowed.
The Sea Ranch is primarily a vacation spot for people in Northern California. There are community tennis courts, pools, 50 miles of private trails, and private beach entrances. Vacationers can rent homes in the area, and they automatically have access to all of these amenities.
Although private, The Sea Ranch does have some public aspects. Sonoma County Regional Parks manages six public access trails along the area’s 10 miles of the coast. Day-trippers can explore Black Point, Pebble Beach, Stengel Beach, Shell Beach, Walk On Beach, and Bluff Top Trail. Each of these has soft sand, panoramic views, and magnificent landscapes. There’s also the 195-acre Gualala Point Regional Park, which features a beach, estuary, and campgrounds. It’s a quiet area, perfect for walking, beachcombing, birdwatching, and relaxing. There’s also a visitor’s center where you can learn more about the entire area’s history.
One of the most defining features of The Sea Ranch is The Sea Ranch Chapel, which is open to the public. The building is visually stunning and consists of a shell-like form that is covered with redwood and adorned with stained glass windows. Take a moment to sit awhile and reflect.