Mountain, Surf and Valley
From luxurious to rustic, these second homes offer completely different ways to experience the beauty and wealth of nature.
Dan and Kathleen Toney vacationed at Tahoe for years, but when they discovered Martis Camp, a forested 2,200-acre planned luxury community between Truckee and North Lake Tahoe, they found their home away from home — and, to Dan’s infinite glee, it’s right at the far end of the golf practice area.
“I can put on some steaks, hit some golf balls, come back and flip the steaks,” Dan says with a grin. “It’s really turned out to be one of the most desirable lots, and the house is beautiful.”
Charmed by the setting and impressed with the amenities, these San Rafael residents purchased their Tahoe lot in 2008. The couple chose Kurt Reinkens of MWA, Inc. to design the Maple Forest Cottage–style home featuring four bedrooms, a 1,200-bottle wine cellar and separate guest quarters. Gray Construction built the cottage, and Lila Friday & Associates — a Marin firm with whom the Toneys have worked previously — designed the interior. “We couldn’t have done it without Lila,” Kathleen says.
At the lake, Kathleen likes to relax. She hikes the various parts of the 26 miles of groomed paths that wind through the community, often stopping at the Lost Library, an elegant cottage at the end of a trail, to sit by the fire, sip coffee and check out a book. “I especially like the attention the developers have paid to preserving the natural environment and the respect for the flora and fauna, including the bears,” she says.
Full access to the amenities is accorded to members’ children and grandchildren. “It’s an unbelievably wholesome family experience,” Kathleen notes. Everyone in her family can find something to love, including a Tom Fazio–designed golf course (Dan made the first hole-in-one here) and an 18-hole putting park as well as two swimming pools, basketball and bocce ball courts, a three-acre catch-and-release fishing lake, a ski lift to Northstar-at-Tahoe, an on-call motorboat on Lake Tahoe, summer concerts, classes ranging from painting to fly-fishing and access to bicycles, snowshoes and cross-country skis. There’s also a post office, a fitness center and spa and three restaurants, and soon there will be a private ski lodge and tennis pavilion.
Their grandchildren enjoy bowling or playing pinball, ordering a snack at the soda fountain and watching family-friendly movies at the 44-seat theater. “Everyone wants to come up and see our new place; we tell them to take a number,” Kathleen jokes. “And, once we’re up here, there’s no reason to leave Martis Camp. We only leave to go to church.”
Big Sky, Big Beauty
From her Montana home in a quiet ravine between the Philipsburg and Flint Creek valleys, Martha Cherry glimpses scenes she never sees from her house in San Rafael: a night sky twinkling with countless stars, wild animals passing through her backyard and the noticeable absence of neighbors.
It was love at first sight when she introduced her husband, Bob, to the Montana wilderness in 1974. It might sound romantic, but Cherry lightheartedly concedes that with the area’s abundant rivers, creeks and fishing holes, the love “was mostly about the fishing.”
The couple lucked into their five-acre paradise in 1999 when a friend decided to sell it. “What we discovered — a small property set up for horses — is really hard to find in Montana,” she says. Part of an original sheep ranch, the property has wilderness views and a compound of five buildings including a two-story, two-bedroom log cabin built in 1932.
Over the past 12 summers, the Cherrys — with help from friends, their son Jason and daughter-in-law Michele — have remodeled and expanded the main house to include a family and dining room, mud porch and deck. Today, the old granary is an equestrian tack room, the old farm garage now protects the boat, the summerhouse — former sleeping quarters set in a cool Aspen grove — is a guest cottage, and a new garage was built for Bob’s woodworking.
The barn shelters the Cherrys’ horses (including a Shagya Arabian named Z, who was born on the ranch), who almost always travel here for the summers.
Grocery shopping and social opportunities are an hour away, but there’s always something to do around the ranch — trails to clear, grass to mow, buildings to repair — before fresh fish or pork chops are thrown on the grill for dinner and Cherry can sink into bed with a good book to read. “Sometimes I close my eyes before I even open the book,” she admits with a laugh. “I work harder here than I do in Marin.”
Cherry relaxes at home in Marin when she returns in autumn. That’s when the ravine, which doesn’t see the sun in wintertime, goes into a deep freeze and the ranch is closed.
Why do all this for a vacation house? “Because it’s absolutely gorgeous,” she says. “You’re surrounded by so much nature here. We hear coyotes on the mountain at night; see whitetail deer, elk, moose, and foxes in the pastures; watch little cottontails sit at the door and tease the dogs; and see sandhill cranes fly overhead,” Cherry says, adding, “and, as you know, Montana is ‘Big Sky Country.’ There’s this huge blue sky everywhere you look.”
Serenity on the Sea
The Sea Ranch, a community of about 1,700 private homes on a 10-mile stretch of rugged Sonoma coastline near Gualala, was always intended to be a place where the development paid homage to nature.
And even though that goal has been met, civilization and recreational activities aren’t far from hand: There are swimming pools, tennis courts and golf links, an airstrip and the Sea Ranch Lodge, a 20-room dog-friendly hotel with a restaurant, art galleries and a clothing and gift boutique. There are also playgrounds, picnic areas and hiking trails, and social activities for residents and guests. Grocery shopping is nearby, and fresh fish can be bought right off the boats on Bodega Bay.
“Everybody comes here for a different reason, and each season is different,” says Mill Valley resident and mother of three Susan Durham, who’s owned a Sea Ranch home with her husband, Ben, for 12 years. The couple recently renovated their three-bedroom contemporary oceanfront home and rent it out when they’re not using it themselves.
How to spend the summer, she says, “is obvious, with kayaking on the Gualala River, swimming in the swimming holes or just exploring the small beach coves. You can play golf or tennis, and there’s an extensive trail system for mountain-biking.”
Autumn has the most consistently fog-free weather, she adds, meaning fabulous conditions to see the arriving monarch butterflies and the fall whale migration (the whales pass by again in spring). “We see the whales playing from our living room window,” she says. “You just catch their spouts and realize they’re huge.”
On spring hikes, Durham and her family witness cormorants nesting in rock walls, tiny sea life in abundant tidal pools and hillsides and meadows covered with wildflowers. “It’s just spectacular,” she says.
Her favorite season, though, is winter, when it’s time for the fireplace, a window seat and a book. This is when it’s warmer at their vacation home than in Marin and when the trails are romantically mossy and misty.
“We had looked at vacation areas with similar price points such as the Lagoon at Stinson Beach or Bodega Bay, but Sea Ranch had so much more to do,” Durham says. “And, I love the drive. It’s curvy, but it’s only two-and-a-half hours from Mill Valley — and you drive past sheep ranches and pumpkin farms and wild rhododendron groves. It’s a wonderful journey.”