The Sea Ranch is a planned unincorporated community located in Sonoma County, California, United States. It is a popular vacation spot. The community's development played a role in the establishment of the California Coastal Commission.
About 12 mi (19 km) north of The Sea Ranch is Gualala, California, a small town of about 1,900 people which supports and is in turn supported by The Sea Ranch.
The U.S. Census Bureau counted 751 residents in the 95497 ZCTA in 2000. The Sea Ranch Association conducted a member survey in 1996; 297 respondents indicated that they live at The Sea Ranch full time.
Of the residents in the census tabulation, 365 (48.6%) were male and 386 (51.4%) were female. The median age was 61.3 years. Nine residents (1.2%) were aged under five years, 713 residents (94.9%) were aged 18 years or more, and 287 (12.4%) were aged 65 years or more. The census categorized 732 (97.5%) as white, 8 (1.1%) as black or African American, 2 (0.3%) as Asian, and 9 (1.2%) as two or more races. The census counted 13 residents as Hispanic or Latino. The average household size was 1.88, and the average family size was 2.17. The census counted 1,211 housing units, 365 of them owner-occupied, 35 renter-occupied, and 811 (67%) vacant. The median reported household income was $69,327, and the median per capita income was $21,587. There were 25 people (3.3%) living below the poverty line.
In the early 1900s, Walter P. Frick bought up the pieces to create Del Mar Ranch, which was leased out for raising sheep. In 1941, the land was sold to Margaret Ohlson and her family.
Architect and planner Al Boeke envisioned a community that would preserve the area's natural beauty. In 1963, Oceanic California Inc., a division of Castle and Cooke Inc., purchased the land from the Ohlsons and assembled a design team. Principle designers included American architects Charles Willard Moore and Joseph Esherick and landscape architect Lawrence Halprin.
The project met opposition that led to notable changes in California law. While the County Board of Supervisors initially regarded the developer's offer to dedicate 140 acres (0.57 km2) for public parkland as sufficient, opponents felt more coastal access was necessary. The site, containing 10 miles (16 km) of shore, had been available to the public but would be reserved for private use under the developer's plan. Areas below high tide were and would remain public property, but the plan provided no access through the development. In addition, California's coast at the time was only open to the public along 100 of its 1,300 miles (2,100 km).
Californians Organized to Acquire Access to State Tidelands (COAST) was formed in response to this issue, and their 1968 county ballot initiative attempted to require the development to include public trails to the tidelands. While the initiative did not pass, the California legislature's Dunlap Act did pass that year and required that new coastal development dedicate trails granting public access to the ocean. This episode led to the establishment of the Coastal Alliance, an organization of 100 groups similar to COAST, that placed Proposition 20 on the statewide 1972 ballot. The initiative passed, and it established the California Coastal Commission, which continues to regulate land use on the California coast.
The Sea Ranch is noted for its distinctive architecture, which consists of simple timber-frame structures clad in wooden siding or shingles. The majority of the homes are large, fully-furnished rental houses, though there is also a sizable contingent of full-time residents. The buildings could be considered as a hybrid of modern and vernacular architecture in the Bay Area Tradition, commonly referred to as "Sea Ranch" style.
The original design guidelines suggest that buildings merge into the landscape. Local building codes include various design guidelines such as exteriors of unpainted wood, a lack of overhanging eaves, and baffles on exterior lighting.
Landscaping in The Sea Ranch is regulated by a design manual which prohibits perimeter fences and limits non-indigenous plants to screened courtyards. A herd of sheep is used to keep grass cut low to the ground to reduce the threat of fire during the summer months.
The Sonoma County Regional Parks Department provides coastal access from six places along State Route 1 in the Sea Ranch area: