I don’t use the word “jewel” lightly, when it comes to California resort properties. It’s a hard word to capture with descriptions of tree-lined estates, or themed accommodations. And yet there are a few properties tucked away into the state boundaries that encapsulate the multi-faceted beauty of a cut gem. One of the most seductive is the Alisal Guest Ranch, which leans into the old west, like a charming cowboy tipping his hat: to history. To the future. The 10,000-acre property is just 30 minutes north of Santa Barbara, and boasts two golf courses, tennis courts, a pool, spa, and a spring-fed lake.
A perfect diamond reveals unlimited dimensions, and can catch the fiery glow of even the lowest candlelight. It is illuminating, clarifying. Such are the endless ways to spend one’s time (alone, with your partner on a romantic getaway, as a family retreat) at the Ranch. California’s temperate year-round clime and a rotating offering of seasonal activities ensure that every visitor finds something to keep them entertained. Indeed, though the times have changed drastically in recent months, Alisal’s spirit of exploration and dedication to the finest service hasn’t wavered.
A recreation center unto itself, the 100-acre spring fed Alisal Lake, filled with bass; trout; and bluegill, offers “catch-and-release” fishing. You can rent a boat or fish off the dock – our son caught his first fish here (a Bigmouth Bass) by casting from the dock. This sportsman’s paradise attracts bird watchers and water enthusiasts with Bass Boat Pro rentals, canoes, rowboats, peddle boats, kayaks and stand-up paddle boards.
For those seeking to hit the links, Alisal showcases two 18-hole championship golf courses – the par 72, 6,500-yard Ranch Course and the par 72, 6,800-yard River Course with four lakes - provide impeccably manicured fairways and greens with spectacular views of the Santa Ynez River and nearby Santa Ynez Mountains. A full range of facilities and services are offered at both courses including a clubhouse, driving range, putting green and pro shop. Private and group lessons by PGA and LPGA professionals are also available.
A full-service Tennis Center with a well-equipped pro tennis shop is situated on a scenic area of the Ranch. Tennis buffs can choose from seven hard courts. Tennis professionals, one of whom is nationally ranked, offer both clinics and private lessons by appointment.
Visitors rarely leave the property during their stay and for good reason. Leaving at dawn, guests enjoy more than 50 miles of equestrian trails on horseback circling the magnificent hills and sycamore groves. Twice daily group rides, private rides and breakfast rides to the historic Adobe Camp (on horseback or in a wagon) round out a stay.
Capturing the essence of California cuisine with the depth of flavor and heartiness of Western ranch cooking, Chef Anthony Endy (a Santa Ynez Valley native) serves up delicious culinary offerings from casual meals to fine dining dishes. Because Governor Newsom mandated special guidelines for dining at restaurants, guests can keep the outdoors theme going by dining al fresco (the Lake BBQs have been relocated to the Grassy Oval - an expansive green space surrounded by sycamore trees. All food can also be packaged for takeaway (think picnic lunch) or delivered to your room.
The Ranch Room, the resort’s signature restaurant, serves American and western style favorites. Guests enjoy a choice of a hearty a la carte American breakfast menu items that include Linguisa scrambled eggs over a Grilled Portobello Mushroom, savory Huevos Rancheros and the Alisal’s own Buttermilk Pancakes (which no surprise, were our kids’ favorite). A lavish Ranch Room breakfast buffet of Eggs Benedict and Corn Beef Hash is also served with freshly squeezed orange juice and homemade baked muffins, pastries and breads.
Dinner here is a formal affair (collared shirts and sportcoats are required for men over the age of 16) and “dinner dressy” for the ladies. Since opening the ranch in 1946, it’s been customary to “dress up” for dinner - and keeping the “country-formal” tradition alive is part of the property’s charm. Entree options include frontier-size portions of juicy barbecued steaks, tender prime rib of beef and the fresh catch of the day including swordfish, John Dory and Seabass. Specialty dishes such as Osso Bucco, Hickory Smoked Briskett and slow roasted Farm Raised Wild Boar are prepared with the freshest ingredients for the guests’ dining pleasure.
Not to be missed (and reservations highly recommended) is the horseback or Hay Wagon ride to the breakfast buffet at the Old Adobe Camp where the resort treats guests to a full ranch breakfast including buttermilk flapjacks, scramble eggs, bacon, sausage, ham and more. The highlight of the morning meal is the live entertainment in the form of a western crooner and a cowboy poet.
Alisal’s 73 pastoral suites and studios blends the charm of a gracious bygone era, decorated in authentic Western decor. Each guest unit, designed for maximum privacy and comfort, includes a wood-burning fireplace with complimentary firewood; high-beamed ceilings; Western art; refrigerator; coffee maker (coffee and tea supplied in rooms), and filtered water dispenser. In keeping with the resort’s timeless ambiance, there are no in-room televisions or telephones; however, complimentary wireless Internet is available throughout the ranch.
With such close proximity to Los Angeles and Orange Counties, it is a wonder that such a treasure would remain as secluded and satisfying as it is. And yet there is something so pleasurable and refreshing in stepping away from the beaten path for a few stolen moments of luxury. Finding time with the family to create new traditions in the world of endless screens may seem impossible, but that’s just the beginning when you step away, and get back to what really matters. Some jewelers judge a gem by its “presence.” By that meter, Alisal Guest Ranch is a flawless cut above.
Alisal Guest Ranch
1054 Alisal Road