In my wanderings to the Central Coast, I recalled the dude ranch where families have mingled for over 50 years. Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort is set on a 10,000-acre working cattle ranch, a family-friendly getaway in California’s Santa Ynez Valley and renowned Santa Barbara County wine country.
A gentle reminder to our bay area clients who think of the Napa wine country area and the variety of lodging options available and those who may also compare these lovely properties to the dude ranches in the mid-west where we have reserved every summer for some extended families. The Central Coast is not Napa, the lodgings are more relaxed. These are lovely casual properties and during Covid-19, many of the usual services, as they should be, have been curtailed. In my wanderings, I’ve discovered that weekends should be avoided, I’ve mentioned an accurate depiction ‘jailbreak’. I would not roam anywhere I’ve explored on a weekend, this includes Yountville, unless you are comfortable with crowds and travelers or locals who may be mask less. If you are inclined to escape for a mid-week sojourn, do reach out and we will provide a full recap!
Back to the Ranch! This is a wonderful escape to the countryside without even having to hop on a plane. Guests can expect charming, western-style rooms, and a range of outdoor activities, including fishing, two golf courses, tennis, swimming at the pool or lake, and of course, horseback riding. The buffet-style breakfast and dinners are included in the rate, and in the evening the hearty western-style dining may include steak, ribs, or locally caught fish. The outdoor buffet has an extensive array: healthy fresh vegetables, breads & muffins, multiple salads and there is a bar as well. My two dinners under a blanket of stars included a country western singer entertaining the diners. Toddlers rolled around on the grass or alternatively sat rapt in front of the musician. Pandemic has moved everyone into a large protected tent or you can dine outside the tent. There are also breakfast horseback rides where guests can head to a remote hillside location for flapjacks and a cowboy poetry recital. It’s a step back in time to the Old West, but with lovely amenities.
This historic ranch is one of four original Spanish land grants on the west coast given to conquistador Raimundo Carrillo in the late 1700’s. Today, the passion and charm of the old west remain in the wide-open spaces and unspoiled natural beauty of the Alisal.
As California’s premier guest ranch, the ranch transports guests back to a bygone era, a slower lifestyle in the far-reaching countryside. Set on a 10,000-acre working cattle ranch, the resort blends the best of nature with outstanding golf, horseback riding, tennis, fishing, paddle boat or SUP on a 100-acre private lake, fitness center and spa, children’s activities, and barnyard activities. Most activities have a fee, but many are included in the stay.
As you approach the ranch on a quiet country road, the ancient sycamore trees tower over the pastoral scene. Fall was on the cusp and already the gigantic leaves were fluttering along the grassy path. On the right of the long driveway, the Western stage is set: grazing ponies, a barn off in the distance and the mountain range backing up the far edge of the ranch. The sound of twittering birds and neighing horses broke the quiet. I felt like I was entering a slower world, meandering to meals under this leafy canopy was blissful. It felt like summer from long ago.
On Sunday, it was too busy for my Covid tastes, but Monday morning was quiet, and the kiddos had all returned home. Peaceful time, more adults arrived to enjoy the solitude. There were a few small non-school age children, but not the riot of kids who owned the pool Sunday afternoon. I’m glad I saw the difference as the ambiance was entirely different Monday and Tuesday. Girlfriend groups, older grownups, and a few families with kiddos under five. Western wear is prevalent and acceptable!
Many of the rooms, suites and studios have been refurbished. One of my friends who remembers the ranch from her childhood stays and still visits every winter, prefers the old-style furnishings. My luxury studio on the edge of a dry river bank under the enormous sycamores was adorable! Spacious and cozy, decorated in California Western accessories of Ranch life, with touches of Spanish tile and a wood burning river rock fireplace and a sunny porch for afternoon reading. Snug as a bug.
Comfy high back chairs and terrific lighting for curling up with a book. I walked the Cabin areas and noted the most scenic and private areas reside, we would advise specific cabin locations when you want to visit. Imagine a few days riding or lollygagging at the lake; golfing or tennis every morning, hiking and mountain biking trails may appeal to many as well.
My bed was incredibly comfy, the perfect spot to rest your head after a day of horseback riding, hiking or golf. I didn’t even have to request feather pillows! Mini bars are on hold everywhere during Covid. As I was rooting thorough my purse in search of a snack, two generous bags of healthy snacks and drinks were delivered in a fancy festooned bag – very generous amenities!
I’m a tub girl and I wasn’t disappointed – vast water pressure, soaps and spa products in abundance! Excellent lighting, which is not always the case for bathrooms. AND my current Covid obsession, all the screened windows opened for fresh air. My new hotel room requirement – I must be able to open windows or have a safe terrace where I can sleep with door ajar. Bugs have no interest in me.
The rooms don’t have tv’s or telephones, WIFI is strong and you are not likely to have workable cell service unless you drive a mile. However, with Facetime, WhatsApp etc., one can certainly survive without a phone! I found the staff quick to text to my questions. I inadvertently turned off all the power to my lights – user error and a technician arrived in a golf cart in a jiffy!
This is majestic oak country and ancient trees shade some of the riding paths if you chose to enjoy an organized ride with the Ranch team. An ancient adobe is the breakfast destination ride. Activities are numerous and like most dude ranches, fees are not included in your stay. The daily schedule is easy to navigate, merely show up at the appointed location and depart for the lake or an activity. At the center of many of these activities is the beautiful tree lined 100-acre spring-fed lake with hungry bass and bluegill. Eagles soar above the lake and nest in the treetops.
A plethora of activity options – private or group. Something for everyone, no matter your ranch style ability.
Young parents with small preschool kiddos, mid-week is great, the small animal corral will absolutely delight – I spent 30 mins interacting with the baby goats, small pigs and little lambs. The animals are accustomed to active kids and are very gentle – the mini-goats appreciate and beg for a crisp leaf snack pulled from the Sycamore tree. I was tempted to kidnap a mini goat and stow it in the Rover! Little ones can also enjoy a pony ride in a corral as a perk.
The closest town is the historic Danish village of Solvang. Indulge in authentic Danish pastries at their world-famous bakeries, stroll through the village and admire the old-world European architecture with wooden windmills or browse the boutiques. I visited Solvang as a child and wanted to spend more time at Alisal, so I didn’t visit, it looked very popular on Sunday.
Alisal Ranch provides the perfect slowdown, an authentic spirit of the ‘Old West’ remains in the ranch’s wide-open spaces and unspoiled natural beauty. Acres of venerable oak, sycamore and eucalyptus trees dot the landscape, it’s a quiet outdoor environment – if you take my midweek advice! I would return just to walk the fields, sit on the terrace and on a rainy day, burrow under the covers with a blazing fire in the river stone fireplace.
Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort is the perfect place to unplug and recharge!