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As much as I look forward to the holiday season, it feels like the days speed up and before I know it, it’s already January. With how fast this year has gone, I didn’t want to blink and find myself putting up all the Christmas decorations.
One of the best ways for me to live in the moment and just focus on spending time with family is to get out of town. Though days away are often jam-packed for us, it also means I’m more mentally present and focused on what we’re doing that day. Plus, our move up to northern California was prompted by Aaron’s new job with a big retail company, which means November and December are going to be some of his busiest months at work.
About Sea Ranch, California
We decided to kick off the holiday season this year with a long weekend up in Sea Ranch before everything got too busy. Sea Ranch is about three hours up the coast from San Francisco in beautiful Sonoma County. This area is a master-planned, environmentally conscious community built in the 1960s with the intention to preserve the natural rugged landscape.
The homes up in Sea Ranch are simple, wooden structures with big windows opening up to ocean views. This included our Vacasa rental, which served as the perfect home away from home.
Sea Ranch has become a popular vacation spot, and even though it’s not far up the coast from the busy Bay Area, it feels like a world away. Sea Ranch is the perfect place to disconnect (though our home did have great wifi), and spend your days hiking the Sea Ranch trails down to the beach.
Booking a Home for the Holidays with Vacasa
If you’re not familiar with Vacasa yet, it’s a professional vacation home management service. Browse rentals, book confidently, and get the guaranteed best price for your getaways this holiday season on Vacasa.com. And, if you or someone you know owns a vacation rental, consider having Vacasa professionally manage your home.
There are about 100 homes in the Sea Ranch community that are professionally managed by Vacasa and available to rent. I scrolled through the Sea Ranch vacation rentals on the Vacasa website and all of the homes looked beautiful. One of the major pluses about booking with Vacasa is that all the photos are professional taken and you can even do a 3D virtual tour of the property, which means no surprises when you show up. To book the Vacasa home we stayed in at Sea Ranch, check the availability here.
Vacasa is North America’s largest vacation rental management platform, so chances are there is an amazing Vacasa vacation home available to book wherever you plan to spend your holidays. Vacasa has over 23,000 vacation rentals throughout the US and across the globe. Whether you need a little extra room to host family coming to visit for the holidays, or you’re planning a special trip, Vacasa can help take the stress out of getting a holiday rental.
There are a few reasons we love booking a home or apartment with Vacasa when we travel, and these are even more important if we’re booking a home for a holiday getaway.
Common space: If we’re meeting up with friends or family for the holiday, it’s so nice to rent a space that has some comfortable common space like a living room or family room. Then we have room to play games, cook and eat dinner, and just enjoy each other’s company without feeling cramped.
A fully stocked kitchen: Since there’s nothing like a good home-cooked meal during the holidays, we wanted to have a fully stocked kitchen for a fun, festive dinner. We decorated gingerbread houses, made raviolis (a long-time Christmas tradition in Aaron’s family), and ended the evening with a warm apple tart. Our Vacasa vacation rental not only had all of the pots, pans and dishes we needed, but also a few extras like spices and olive oil.
The cleaning is done for you: Sometimes one of the most stressful parts of the holidays is all the cleaning that needs to be done, especially if you’re hosting. If you opt for renting a Vacasa, the home will be professionally cleaned before you arrive, so you can just focus on the fun stuff!
Having a Vacasa customer care team: Booking a home with Vacasa means you have access to a customer care team 24/7, so if you need anything while on your trip, they’ll be there to help. This takes a lot of stress out of planning a trip, especially if you’re booking a home for other people.
Things to do in Sea Ranch
Sea Ranch is an amazing place to spend a relaxing weekend getaway, during the holidays or anytime of year. The coastline in Sonoma County is absolutely gorgeous, so we spent most of our time beach hopping, hiking, or just enjoying the views from our balcony. Here are a few ideas of things to do in Sea Ranch, California.
Take a walk to the beach
The Sea Ranch community stretches 10 miles along the rugged Pacific Coast, with miles of trails leading through cypress trees, grassy fields, and down to stunning beaches and tidepools.
Our Vacasa home, called the Ascona House, was just a short walk from Pebble Beach, which had some of the most colorful and healthiest tidepools I’ve seen in California.
You can follow the trails through Sea Ranch to visit Shell beach, Stengel Beach, and Walk on Beach. We drove a few miles up the coast to the public access point to Shell Beach, then took the trail down to catch the sunset.
Visit the Sea Ranch Chapel
The architecture of the Sea Ranch chapel is so unique with its curved roof topped by a plume, it reminds me of an exotic bird. The chapel was designed by architect James Hubbell, and built with local materials. The stained-glass windows create a light show indoors when it’s sunny out. The chapel is non-denominational and open every day from 8 am to sunset.
Go for a soak or swim
The beaches in Sonoma County are not known for being very swimmable, but you can go for a dip in one of the Sea Ranch community swimming pool, and many of the Vacasa homes have jacuzzis. Our Vacasa home had a private jacuzzi on the back deck. We hopped in during a misty morning, and it was amazing to watch the fog clear and the sky come to life.
Watch the sunset
Any spot in Sea Ranch is a pretty good view to watch the sunset, but for our first night we enjoyed it at Shell Beach.
Part of the beauty of the Sea Ranch community is that all the homes are built to blend into the landscape and not obstruct the views. Even though our home wasn’t the closest one to the beach, we could cozy up on the balcony and watch the sun go all the way down. Watching the sunrise from our rental home was beautiful too. We even spotted a few deer walking down the street.
Grab sticky buns or pizza at Twofish Baking company
There aren’t a lot of food options in the Sea Ranch area, so it’s so nice that the Vacasa rentals have full kitchens. There is a local grocery store called the Surf Market up in Gualala, but I would recommend bringing your food with you as the prices are pretty steep (which is saying something, since food in the Bay Area is already really expensive).
If you do want to go out to eat, we loved the Twofish Baking company. The bakery is known for its sticky buns, but it also has Friday night pizza night! You can eat in at the bar upstairs, which has a fun, communal vibe.
Kayak on the Gualala River
The calm waters of the Gualala River estuary (pronounced WAH-la-la) is a great place for a paddle. The river is home to waterfowl like ospreys, egrets, and herons, and you may even see some river otters. To rent kayaks, check out Adventure Rents, where two-hour rentals usually cost about $50 per adult.
Hike in Gualala Point Regional Park
Explore the Gualala river without getting on the water at Gualala Point Regional Park. This park has 2.9 miles of trails up on the coastal bluffs and around the river. The park is also a great place for a beach picnic.
Visit Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve
Next time we head up to Sonoma County, I want to visit the Kruse Rhododendron State Natural Reserve while the flowers are in blooms. The forest is usually bursting with pink rhododendrons between mid-April and mid-June.
Hike along the coast at Salt Point State Park
If there’s a state park in the area, we usually check it out. While we were living in Southern California, we had the California Explorer Annual Pass, which costs $195 and covers most of the 118 state parks in California. Check here for a map of all the state parks in California and to see which parks are included.
Since moving to northern California this summer, we opted to go with the Golden Poppy Annual Pass when it was time to renew. This state park pass is a little cheaper (it costs $125) because it does not include entry into the popular Southern California Beach Parks, like Huntington Beach, and our absolute favorite, Crystal Cove. Since we likely won’t be visiting those very much this year, the Poppy Pass was a good choice for us this year.
Entry into Salt Point State Park is covered by the Poppy Pass, otherwise it’s $8 per vehicle. The park features 20 miles of hiking trails, including six miles along the coast, and an underwater park. We took the Salt Point Trail, which starts at Gerstle Cove and ends at Stump beach. The out and back trail is 3.3 miles. The rock formations are really unique, there are lots of sea lions basking in the sun, and there are a lot of cool tidepools to explore if the tides are low.
Fun fact about Salt Point: much of the sandstone used in San Francisco’s streets and buildings in the mid-1800s was quarried from Gerstle Cove.
Visit Bowling Ball Beach in Schooner Gulch State Beach
On the north side of Schooner Gulch State Beach there’s a scattering of perfectly rounded boulders that look just like bowling bowls. These boulders were formed by a geological process called concretion, where minerals cement dirt and sand together, and over time, it creates a larger formation.
If the tide is high, these bowling ball boulders are likely under the water. When we were there, they were partially covered, so we didn’t quite get the full effect. If you’re hoping for some great photos, I’d recommend going at low tide.
To get to Bowling Ball Beach, follow these instructions. If you search Bowling Ball Beach in Google Maps, it’s going to lead you to a private home that’s high up on the bluff over the beach, and you cannot access the beach from here.
Drive along Highway 1 until you reach mile marker 11.41. You can park on the beach side of the highway facing south. From this parking spot there are two trails. The southern trail leads to Schooner Gulch Beach, and is separated from the Bowling Ball Beach part by some tall rocks which look like a dangerous scramble, especially if the tide is high. If you want to go to Bowling Ball Beach, take the north trail, which will lead you through a grassy meadow and then down some stairs to the beach. The bowling balls are about a 5-minute walk up the beach on the north side.
Admire the Sea Cliffs at Stornetta Public Lands
We spent a day up in Mendocino County’s southern coast, visiting Point Arena and the Stornetta Public Lands. The trails follow the bluffs where you can look out on rock islands and arches, with the raging waters crashing against the cliffs.
This area is a great place for whale watching; Gray whales migrate through here between late November and May.You might even spot a Humpback Whale, Killer Whale, or a Blue Whale if you’re lucky!
Climb up the stairs at Point Arena Lighthouse
The original Point Arena Lighthouse was built in 1870 on the cliffs towering 150 feet above the stormy seas below. The lighthouse was destroyed in an earthquake in 1906, and then rebuilt in 1908.
The Lighthouse is surrounded by the Stornetta Public Lands, so you can get a great view of the lighthouse on a hike. Entry to the lighthouse and the adjacent museum costs $8 for anyone 12 and up and $1 for children ages 5-11.