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New trails to Sea Ranch beaches.

The long battle over beach access at Sea Ranch, on the Sonoma County coast, has resulted in six public trails, two of them new last year, between State Highway I and the ocean.

Sea Ranch, widely touted for the unobtrusive architecture of its award-winning houses, sits on 5,000 acres of bluffs and forest the largest block of private land on the Sonoma coast. Its 11 miles of scenic benchlands line State 1 about 120 miles north of San Francisco. The new trails mean that Sea Ranch has access to beaches where you can picnic, look for shells, fish, or dive for abalone. From Sea Ranch north to Gualala Point Regional Park, there's a trail about every 2 miles.

Here's a south-to-north rundown on the trails and the beaches they reach. Signs on the highway indicate where the trails are. Keep to marked trails-everything else is private land. April can bring sunny days, but it's often windy so dress warmly. Also, note that trails are open for day use only, that parking lots are small (holding four to six cars and no RVs) and charge a $2 use fee, and that there is no parking along State I or in Sea Ranch itself.

Black Point Beach Trailhead. This path gets you to the biggest and perhaps most dramatic beach of the bunch. A 1/2-mile trail leads to a 1/4-mile beach good for beachcombing, surfing, fishing.

Pebble Beach Trailhead. A 0.3-mile trail leads to a small, sheltered cove popular with abalone divers (some say it's been picked over in recent years). You can explore some small tidepools here.

Stengel Beach Trailhead This is one of the two new access trails, where you'll find a new bridge and stairway at the end of a 0.2-mile trail down to rocky Stengel Beach. (The stairway ends at a rock outcrop, so watch your step.) The tiny beach has a delicate little intermittent waterfall and offers wind-sheltered picnicking. Make sure high tide doesn't trap you on any of this cove's rocky arms. Shell Beach Trailhead A 0.6-mile walk through hummocks of beach grass and past windswept cypress brings you to curving Shell Beach. Good for abalone diving and picnicking, it's sheltered from the wind and has driftwood logs to sit on. Walk-On Beach Trailhead Also new, this 0.4-mile trail is wheelchair accessible, with a short staircase and a ramp to a sandy vest-pocket beach, The trail hooks up to the south end of 3-1/2-mile Blufftop Trail, so you can go north to Gualala Point Regional Park for the longest walk along this stretch of coast.

Salal Trailhead. The trail begins in the day-use parking lot for Gualala Point park and follows a creek about 1/2 mile to a small cove, then winds along a grassy blufftop. You pass close to some big houses, hook around a point, then shoot south on Blufftop Trail to Walk-On Beach; backtrack to return.

Gualala Point Regional Park. This 75acre park has a small nature center (open 9 to 5 weekends from Memorial Day to Labor Day). Scramble out along the often windy point, then hike down to the Gualala River and beach below.

Lodging. Sea Ranch Lodge bas 20 rooms with fireplaces or ocean views; its restaurant, which has a new chef, serves breakfast from 8 to 11, lunch 11:30 to 2:30, dinner 6 to 9 daily. Call (707) 785-2371. Many Sea Ranch homes are available for rent; two night rates range from about $135 to $500 plus $100 deposit. Call any of these agencies: Beach Rentals, 8844235; Ram's Head Rentals, 785-2427; Sea Ranch Escape, 785-2426; or Sea Ranch Rentals, 785-2579.
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Apr 1, 1989
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