Weekend trips feel like weeklong getaways at Innishfree, a blufftop rental on the Sonoma coast.

By Logan Ward
May 04, 2005
Jon Jensen

In June at Innishfree, perspectives shift. Instead of scanning the ocean for spouting gray whales migrating north to Alaska, eyes lift skyward in search of kites, hawks, and hang gliders held aloft forever, it seems, by the breezes buffeting the steep bluffs.

Innishfree, a home set 80 feet above the Pacific on the rugged Northern California coastline, mixes coastal brightness and mountain coziness in one stunning setting. In the Sonoma County community of The Sea Ranch, houses cluster behind hedgerows, leaving wide swaths of meadow where sheep graze behind ancient grape-stake fences. The developers who planned The Sea Ranch beginning in the 1960s followed the local Pomo Indian philosophy of living lightly on the land. From a distance, Innishfree's gray-stained wood and blocky massing resembles a group of boulders.

Inside, however, the soaring ceiling, towering stone fireplace, and wide, flowing space of the great room beckon guests to relax. "It's the perfect hangout spot," says Jeff Reiner, who escapes to Innishfree several times a year with family and friends. "Even on a cloudy day, it's just so peaceful."

Creating a tranquil home was the chief goal of the owners, M'Lu and John Wilhelmy, who named their getaway for a William Butler Yeats poem about a dreamy cabin where "peace comes dropping slow." The couple rented at The Sea Ranch for more than 20 years before buying the cypress-shaded lot on Gualala Point. "We knew what we liked in a rental home and what we didn't like," says M'Lu, who wanted a place of uncluttered simplicity. None of the bedrooms disappoints. Two boast king-size beds and gas fireplaces; the other two, queen beds and broad rain-style showerheads in the baths. The seasons inspired accent colors in each, with the summer room dominated by sea blue and the yellow of dune-sprouting lupine, the fall room by the green of the grasses, the winter room by browns, and the spring room by wildflower hues.

Though only three hours from the Golden Gate Bridge, The Sea Ranch feels remote, as it's reached after a breathtaking drive past cattle ranches and quaint towns on precipitous Highway 1. Guests venture to sleepy Gualala, a few miles away, to grocery shop and browse galleries.

When bones ache from kayaking in the Gualala River or hiking, vacationers often slip into the hot tub or spark a fire and watch the sun dip below the watery horizon. M'Lu encourages guests to follow her lead: "Walk, eat, read, sleep. We try not to complicate things."