Discover The Sea Ranch Homes, Now Selling for Up to $12 Million: From Hippie Haven to Luxury Enclave 


The Pacific Ocean is bustling down below, waves hitting hard against the cliff base. Yet, it is high above the water, an enclave of homes clusters sits in serene harmony with nature.  

The Sea Ranch is a unique spot with 1,788 modernist homes, founded in the 1960s as a second-home community, located at north of San Francisco. Renowned for its privacy and environmental consciousness, the community is highly sought-after, innovative homes designed by a remarkable array of architects. Preserved land stretches between houses, allowing the architecture space and rooms to breathe, while strict guidelines maintain the community’s unique and aesthetic design. 

“There is truly no place like this anywhere,” says Ralph Jackson, 77-year-old general contractor, who estimates that he has constructed approximately 70 Sea Ranch homes since his arrival in 1968.  

Homes in the community are premium investment. Currently, about seven homes are on the market with prices ranging from $930,000 to $8 million. The most expensive home ever sold in The Sea Ranch was the residence of landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, which went for $12 million in 2021, says local real-estate agent Hanne Liisberg. She mentioned that her business quadrupled during the pandemic: We’d receive 15 offers on a listing, which we weren’t used to.” Now the pandemic rush is mostly over. According to broker Kristen Winant, in the last six months, only 29% of the homes sold in The Sea Ranch got multiple offers. 

Getting to this unincorporated community isn’t an easy task to reach. Going there requires driving along Highway 1 with waves crashing on the rocks below a road without guardrails making it hard that you can’t even blink your eyes, because there is no shoulder either. The nearest hospital is about two hours away, and there is no mail delivery or grocery store. Residents must collect their mail from a post office box at The Sea Ranch Lodge, a historic hotel and restaurant, or drive about 10 miles to the town of Gualala for groceries. The community features a private airstrip, tide pool beaches, hidden waterfalls, a golf course and a charming barn from the 1880s where The Sea Ranch Thespians perform. The area used to be a sheep ranch, sheep grazing behind old fences.

The Sea Ranch was established in 1963 when the architect and developer Al Boeke acquired a roughly 10-mile strip of coastline. His vision was to create a progressive community in collaboration with other architects, many of whom taught at the University of California, Berkeley. Halprin, inspired by his time on a kibbutz in Israel, came with the utopian master plan. 

The original architects thought about making The Sea Ranch look like a Greek town with white stucco homes, but they changed their minds and went for modern architecture that fits into the landscape, according to resident Scott C. Nevin, a software engineer and board member of The Sea Ranch Association. This association handles everything from community affairs to land-use and design restrictions to issuing parking permits, as unregistered visitors are not permitted on the community’s private roads. 

Source: JOURNEY TO THE SEA RANCH | WilliamTurnbull, Jr./MLTW Collection

Condominium 1, the first building occupied in The Sea Ranch, is now on the National Register of Historic Places. It was designed by the architectural firm Moore, Lyndon, Turnbull and Whitaker, also known as MLTW. Back thencondominiums were a relatively new concept of ownership, says Donlyn Lyndon, the “L” of MLTW, who has lived in The Sea Ranch intermittently and was the first chair of the commons landscape committee. “People were anxious because they didn’t understand what it meant to live in a condo, according to Lyndon, 88 years old who has designed about eight homes in The Sea Ranch. “They might get stuck in the condominium units with other people.” Shortly after,  they constructed a second condominium. Today, The Sea Ranch has about 14 condo units, which typically sell for $900 to $1,800 per square foot, according to Liisberg. 

In the early days, the architecture firm of Joseph Esherick & Associates designed “hedgerow houses,” placing them within existing hedgerows to keep meadowland untouched and sea views open for everyone. Architect Obie Bowman designed walk-in cabins, situated away from parking areas and accessible via a foot trail through the wooded hillside. Even now, new homes in The Sea Ranch are constructed with fencing to conceal cars and trash bins. The next round of housing, cluster houses designed by architect William Turnbull, were placed closely together but adjacent to large swaths of undeveloped land with hiking trail access. Finally, various architects designed single-family homes. There were all created and focused with the idea of “living lightly on the land,” The Sea Ranch Association still works hard to prevent what it calls “creeping suburbanism.” 

Photo by Craig Tooley

In 1985, artist James Hubbell led the local artisans in the creation of a unique curved wood-and-stone chapel. This asymmetrical structure, which looks a bit like Joan of Arc’s helmet, was built over nine months using just a model, with no official blueprints. There is jewel-toned stained glass illuminates redwood seating and wood embedded with seashells inside the nondenominational space. 

The Sea Ranch originated as a weekend retreat for architects, designers and artists from the Bay Area. “Everyone used to dance freely and naked on the beach,” According to Nevin. “It was a group of free-spirited individuals who settled in this place. I’ve heard some fascinating stories.” 

Despite the community’s progressive vibe, “we never saw it as a commune,” says Lyndon, whose assistant, Susan Quinn, calls him The Patriarch of The Sea Ranch. “We thought of it as a place to live by the ocean.” 

These days, approximately one third of homeowners reside in the community full time, another third rent out their properties, and the remainder use them as weekend or vacation homes. According to Liisberg, the pandemic attracted many tech people from the Bay Area. A few years back, The Sea Ranch Lodge was acquired by a group including Patrick and John Collison, co-founders of Stripe, along with venture-capitalist Robin Chan and Justin Kan , co-founder of Twitch, according to some insiders. 

Lyndon and his wife, artist Alice Wingwall, live in a house in The Sea Ranch that he designed back in 1992. According to property records, they purchased the land in 1990 for $33,000, they choose this property because of a significant boulder in the yard. “The rise of land and the various geologic processes here reminds us that we’re very new to this place,” According to Lyndon. His studio at home has bookshelves, flat files of architectural plans, and a George Nelson table filled with the five books he wrote, including “The Sea Ranch” with photographer Jim Alinder. 

Retired school superintendent, Polly Bove, 75 years old, resides full time in The Sea Ranch, where she’s owned three different houses over the years. She first came on a camping trip in 1972. “I couldn’t help myself stop looking at the stars, and then I just never stopped.” 

Bove purchased her first property in The Sea Ranch for $486,000 in 2002 and two years later sold it for $1.2 million. In 2020, she and general contractor Jackson, who has worked with her on other homes, acquired her current house for $1.7 million. She spent approximately $1.2 million renovating the circa-1984 house, removing a wall that obstructed the ocean view from the kitchen and adding vertical grain fire walls, a hallmark of The Sea Ranch. The home’s entry is through a courtyard with ponds full of pedigreed koi she rescued. The hillside home has amazing dramatic ocean views, allowing her to see migrating whales from her deck. There’s also a spring that attracts animals, from deer and quail to bears drawn to the huckleberries. 

Bove purchased the house to create an extended family compound. However, her new goal now is to get a smaller house in The Sea Ranch. Previously, she listed the house on the market for $4.5 million, and plans to re-list it at the same price.     

According to Liisberg, the community’s smaller, original post-and-beam structures are in high demand and usually sell faster and for higher prices than the larger. In the last six months, 34 homes in The Sea Ranch were sold for an average price of approximately $1.5 million, according to Winant. only one of those was post-and-beam, “and a beautiful specimen at that,” Winant says, which went for $2.11 million.    

Renovating or building a home in The Sea Ranch can take a while because of its strict design guidelines and the community’s covenants, conditions and restrictions, or CC&Rs. “There are CC&Rs, bylaws and rules,” According to Linda McCabe, 60-year-old, full-time resident and laboratory technical consultant. It can take anywhere from one to two years to get design approval. 

These couple architects Doug and Marilyn Thompson, who reside full-time in The Sea Ranch, are preparing for a major renovation of their 1979 home, which will include adding a primary suite, new kitchen, garage and courtyard. They acquired the 1,000-square-foot home in 2021 for $1.1 million. According to Thompson, big projects like this typically undergo three to six design-committee review meetings, each space three months apart, starting with sharing sketches. The process addresses issues such as honoring neighbors’ view corridors. Committee members have a ton of knowledge of The Sea Ranch, says Doug, 67-year-old. “If you’re smart, you’ll use them as a resource, not a hurdle.” 

Doug compares The Sea Ranch to “a wonderful Italian hill town where the entire community exhibits architectural integrity at every turn, a consistency that permeates everything,” he says. “It doesn’t mean everything looks the same. There is just a real appreciation for place-making.” 

The Thompsons used to own a 567-square-foot walk-in cabin from 1973, which they purchased in 2019 for $475,000. “These walk-in cabins were built before ‘tiny homes’ became popular,” says Marilyn, 65 years old. “They are simply designed structure in the redwoods.” After attempting to live in the cabin full time, they realized it was too small and sold it in 2021 for $725,000.     

McCabe first visited The Sea Ranch for a weekend getaway and was enchanted. She brought her husband, Nevin, to see it, and he became fixated on the idea of live here.” In 1999, They bought a land for $60,000, and then later they sold their five-bedroom home in Windsor, California, to fund the building of a two-bedroom house in The Sea Ranch, which they finished in 2021 after 16 months. 

The design-review process took three meetings. “We hired Bob Hartstock, who has been constructing houses for 30 years,” says Nevin, 60. “He understands the style and respect the limits.” They invested approximately $800,000 in the project. 

“How many places allow you sit on your patio and hear the wind passing through a bird’s feathers?” Nevin asked. It’s incredibly quiet. You can really enjoy your Milky Way while you’re having dessert. The stark beauty of the place literally brings me to tears.” 

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