Alisal Guest Ranch: A Luxury Ranch Experience for The Whole Family
Nestled near the famed Santa Ynez Valley in Solvang, California lies a small charming property called The Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort. While only a 2-and-a-half-hour drive from Los Angeles, this 10,000-acre cattle ranch feels worlds away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. It combines Old World charm and modern-day comforts, with a Western flair. Enjoy 50 miles of horseback riding trails, a spa, a championship golf course, fine dining, and so much more at this all-inclusive, family-friendly dude ranch where one can truly unwind. It’s also just minutes away from a long list of well-known vineyards and wineries and the incredibly darling Danish village of Solvang.
The Alisal accommodates its guests with 73 suites and studios, outfitted in California Western décor. These charming and comfortable rooms offer deluxe bedding, fireplaces, coffee makers, and refrigerators. You won’t find a phone or TV though, as a stay here is intended to help guests disconnect, but high-speed internet is accessible in the rooms and throughout the property. There are also interconnecting suites for families and larger groups.
This unique destination offers an extensive list of adventures that changes throughout the year and a daily recreation schedule. Check the resort website for their seasonal activity guides. The main attraction is the horseback program, which provides both instructional and recreational packages for all experience levels starting at age 7+. Enjoy trail rides through the beautiful countryside or book a unique horseback experience, like barrel racing skills or a cattle round-up. Even the younger members of the family can have a go on a horse with horseback lead-arounds offered daily. Every Wednesday the ranch hosts a country fair and rodeo during the summer, where wranglers demonstrate a variety of rodeo . This fun-filled affair is followed by a Western-style BBQ with live music and dancing. Unfortunately, we visited in the fall and could not experience the rodeo, but our kids definitely enjoyed the animal encounters and crafts at the barnyard, where they got up close and personal with a variety of goats, ponies, chickens, and even a pig named Penny!
If horses are not your thing, don’t fret. The Alisal has an equally impressive tennis program, with six full-size tennis courts, a full-service tennis shop, and professional instructors on hand to help you take your game to the next level. They even offer pee-wee tennis lessons for kids ages 6-14. Alisal’s spring-fed, 100-acre lake is another great way to enjoy your time away. Boat rentals and fishing equipment are available, so try your hand at some catch-and-release bass fishing. Or grab a canoe or kayaks for an idyllic picnic on the lake.
Want to explore the local scenery? Take a guided cycling tour or use one of the e-bikes available to guests. Staff can provide a packed lunch for you to spend the day adventuring over miles of riding trails that wind through the mountains and rolling hills that surround the area.
Hearty & Delicious
The cuisine at The Alisal is surprisingly delectable. Although fine dining may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a ranch, the dining here is sure to WOW even the pickiest gourmet. Serving California-influenced fare, made with locally sourced ingredients,
you can expect dishes like delicious chilaquiles and eggs benedict for breakfast. Dinner menus change daily and seasonally, and include options like Roasted Pork Shank Chile Verde, Grilled Shrimp Double Decker Tacos, and Braised Veal Osso Bucco. You will also find more traditionally Western dishes, like chicken fried steak, beef ribs, and pork chops, all prepared to perfection. Vegan options and a children’s menu are available as well.
Come prepared to “dress up” for dinner, as it is ranch tradition for men to wear sports’ coats when eating indoors at the Oak Room restaurant. For a more casual experience, choose to dine at the Oval Lawn Tent or Creekside. Regardless of the venue, you can expect gracious and attentive service, live music nightly, and dangerously delicious cocktails.
One of our favorite overall experiences at The Alisal was a hay wagon ride that led us through groves of giant sycamores, past herds of cattle, to an old adobe camp for a lovely pancake breakfast and campfire. It was at this breakfast that I learned to distinguish between a dude ranch and a guest ranch. Did you know that the word “dude” was originally a derogatory term for a city slicker, or inexperienced cowboy? Although we no longer tend to use the word with those intentions, The Alisal prides itself on the fact that they are not a dude ranch. They define themselves as a guest ranch, where all of their guests are treated like family, and that is exactly the feeling that one can expect when staying there.
Despite some restrictions due to COVID, our family had a fabulous time at the ranch; my kids have already requested to return next year. And like many guests that have experienced the warmth of The Alisal, we will most likely be visiting as a yearly tradition.