Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort – Dude Ranch lifestyle, no flight required!

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.

Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort

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!

Sleeping Around – The Central Coast

The current pandemic travel model resembles travel of bygone eras, what once produced summer memories might include a road trip in the family station wagon, kids and dogs pile into a wood paneled wagon and head to a National Park. Antsy to travel, a few of our clients are taking to the road on mini-escapes.

Forthcoming, I plan to mosey down the Central Coast of California, I missed the Bruce Munro Field of Light at Villa Montalvo, it has moved to Paso Robles until January 3, 2021. I’m off soon to preview and perform site inspections along the way. Over the last decade, the Central Coast has become a flourishing wine destination.

Originally named El Paso de Robles, or “The Pass of the Oaks,” the town and its surrounding hillsides and canyons have been spared the devastating fires that have recently struck Sonoma and other farming regions. Paso Robles is now a Central Coast wine country mecca; for years, it was merely a blip to refuel en-route to Santa Barbara, summer is usually blistering hot, and we would scarcely nod in the direction of the oak studded golden hills from the road. The Paso Robles summer rodeo and mid-state fair banners barely fluttered in the static searing heat. In the Midwest, ‘Fair Food’ is a summer staple, i.e. deep-fried butter on a stick or fried Oreo cookies, these fair delicacies didn’t tempt me to explore Paso Robles. In the early years, Paso Robles’ farmers and ranchers were major producers of almonds, grain, cattle and Zinfandel. The region’s multiple micro-climates and diverse soils have led to a vibrant wine industry. Paso Robles is now home to 11 different wine sub-appellations. As a wine-growing region, what sets Paso Robles apart from other regions is its elevation, 10-mile proximity to the Pacific and the fact that it has a coastal climate — which means that consistently hot dry sunny days are followed by cool nights — with thick sea fog, which blankets the region nightly.

There are a couple of well-regarded hotels in San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles. A choice of locations in Paso Robles, downtown amid the mix of small shops, or a bit outside town close to the Sensorio exhibit. Allegretto Vineyard Resort is not your typical resort, from the Tuscan styles to the museum caliber artwork, it was Paso Robles first full-service hotel. On 20 acres, guests can stroll the through centuries-old grapevines, olive trees and stone fountains in the courtyard — reminiscent of a villa in the Italian countryside. Bocce ball, pool cabanas nestled below the vineyard, spa and Italian dining! At the back edge of the property, the spacious swimming pool and multi-jet hot tub are surrounded by vineyards and six cabanas with chaise lounges, you can count on finding me here with a bag of reading materials!

We’ve reserved private wine tastings for clients in this area – however, there are a plethora of interesting tours and tastings: Jam Making at Hartley Farms, Olive Oil Pressing at Groves on 41, Oyster Shucking in Morro Bay, Farm & Creamery Tour at Step Ladder Creamery, Chocolatiers Classes and for those who love Clydesdales yes, you read that right. The Covell Clydesdale Ranch is the only one place on earth where you can experience the majestic Clydesdale horses grazing on nearly 2,000 acres of rolling pastures speckled with pristine Monterey Pines and overlooking an exquisite view of the Pacific Ocean. At any given time, the ranch is home to approximately 100 Clydesdale horses of all ages, sizes, and abilities for riding and/or driving. The concierge at Allegretto Vineyard Resort can organize all or some of these activities. Wine tasting is mostly all private appointments during the pandemic, which is the best path to taste wines, in my humble opinion!

Cass Vineyards has added Dinner in the Vineyards with Chef Charlie Paladin Wayne. Sourcing ingredients from local growers and from their garden estate and the nearby Pacific Ocean. The Vineyard has also added what looks to be an interesting Inn built completely out of repurposed shipping containers. The Geneseo Inn is perched above the vines, full report coming soon!

My Journey will continue south, twenty minutes south of Paso Robles, is the small college town San Luis Obispo; which has a new hotel, a property designed by the folks who own Hotel Healdsburg. Hotel San Luis Obispo is a modern urban resort that embodies the essence of SLO. As alluring as the hills that surround it and as easygoing as the quintessential California beach towns just down the road. All of the 78 rooms are located on the 2nd & 3rd floor, so leave your doors open for fresh air, many suites have small balconies with views of the eastern hills. High-ceilinged, airy rooms, the white-walled interiors are brightened with colorful furnishings and commissioned artworks rooted in the hotel’s local heritage.

Chef Ryan Fancher, returning to his roots in California’s Central Coast from Northern California Wine Country, oversees the hotel’s two onsite restaurants: Piadina, a fresh California take on Italian cuisine based around the wood-fired oven, and Ox + Anchor, a modern spin on the classic steakhouse. His Northern California’s Napa Valley skills were utilized at some of the country’s best chefs, including Richard Reddington at Auberge de Soleil and Thomas Keller at The French Laundry. Fancher’s expertise earned him the role as the opening team sous chef at Per Se in New York, a Pronounced Pedigree. He most recently led the culinary team at Barndiva in Healdsburg, where he gained praise and recognition for his culinary creations and imaginative use of ingredients.

Santa Ynez Valley, home to the village of Los Olivos, is a mere 90 mins. south of Paso Robles and is known for its laid back small-town charm. If you’re seeking a comfortable afternoon of wine tasting, gift shopping and artisanal eats, Los Olivos has it all. Sparkling wine-tasting rooms, artisan gifts and fine dining. Spend the day in the quaint town’s center or book a tour for a self-indulgent day of wine or beer tasting. Wander through the myriad tasting rooms within a few blocks that make up downtown Los Olivos. Dine at a number of delectable artisan restaurants or lunch spots or take a chapter from a local favorite and enjoy a rustic barbecue lunch at R-Country Market — Santa Maria tri-tip sandwiches are the order of the day every Saturday and Sunday. If fine dining and wine pairing are more your speed, enjoy a succulent dinner at Los Olivos Café & Wine Merchant, which Wine Spectator magazine named the “Best Restaurant for Wine.”

The history of Los Olivos began with a stagecoach route in 1861, The Overland / Coast Line Stage established a station at Ballard, just south of present day Los Olivos. Running from San Francisco down to Ballard, and continuing south through Los Angeles before ending in San Diego, the stage provided important transportation back in the day.

Mosey to the lovely Fess Parker Wine Country Inn just near town. Nestled in the heart of Los Olivos, California, the Fess Parker Inn offers guests a quiet retreat in the midst of Santa Barbara County’s iconic wine country. The Fess Parker property is part of the Preferred Hotel Group – started as the vision of a Hollywood actor whose characters loved the wilderness:Fess Parker was better known as Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone on television in the 1950s and ’60s. When he set out to buy a vineyard in Santa Barbara wine country, it quickly became a family affair. Now his son Eli and granddaughter Tessa Marie have vineyards on more than 700 acres of land, and guests staying at the inn enjoy prime access to this fertile section of California countryside.

Third generation rancher Katie Parker McDonald offers private 90-minute horseback rides through the historic 714-acre Fess Parker home ranch. Fully customizable and for all levels, guests explore the ranch via horseback with a guide who shares stories of the family’s history on Foxen Canyon. Riders can also elect for offerings such as a picnic lunch or wine tasting at the Fess Parker Winery. A long list of activities including hot air ballooning, golf, bicycling on country roads, picnics, hiking and boating nearby.

The Central Coast has matured from deep fried butter on a stick locale to lovely hotel properties, esteemed vineyards, fine dining and activities for adults and the kiddos.We also work with a very well known bike firm who can offer a week of trail riding in this idyllic countryside.

Details soon – Follow me!