The asphalt was smooth under my bicycle tires as I pedaled along the wending roads of the Santa Ynez Valley. Although I live just 40 minutes away in Santa Barbara, I had never toured the valley by bike and was blissfully reminded of its beauty and serenity, which can be more fully appreciated when one takes the time to slow down and experience the landscape from the saddle.
The bike tour came courtesy of Alisal Ranch, the locally owned cattle/guest ranch made up of more than 10,000 acres near Solvang. Long known for its golf and horseback riding amenities, the guest ranch added a new vacation package to its menu last fall — guided cycling day tours. Cyclers are a common site in the valley, as the area has long been a hotbed of training routes for professional racers and cycling teams thanks to it’s mild weather and undulating terrain.
My companion and I met our guide, Eric Larsen, at 9 a.m. and set out on our excursion. Larsen tailors the ride according to guest specification; we chose a leisurely 25-mile spin to Los Olivos, through back roads that passed vineyards and dipped between the rolling hills. Animals peppered the landscape — horses, cows, and deer were out in abundance chomping on grasses and enjoying the autumn sunshine. The unusual warmth also brought out an ample number of tarantulas, which lined the roadside like cycling enthusiasts cheering us on. For the ambitious, Larsen will take pedalers to the top of Figueroa Mountain, out to Jalama Beach, or on a loop of Highway 1, among other routes.
Originally a Spanish land grant given to Raimundo Carrillo in the 1800s, the Alisal Guest Ranch of today came into being in 1946 when owner Charles Pete Jackson Jr. decided to diversify the property’s business model. The 30-room retreat became a popular destination for folks looking for a weekend or weeks-long getaway amid the rural bounty of the Santa Ynez Valley. Golf and horseback riding, preeminent offerings since the start, have remained major draws for guests. We didn’t visit the greens, but we did partake in equine activities — a morning breakfast trek to the property’s original adobe and an afternoon clop through oak trees and along golden hills after our morning bike ride.
The ranch is in the middle of a remodel to update the old guest rooms. We stayed in one of the newly overhauled spaces, which was stellar. Sunshine poured into our comfortable suite through big windows and filled the high ceilings with light. Western accents and a fireplace made for a cozy, restful retreat. There are no telephones or televisions in the rooms, which allows for rejuvenating quiet time. We were near the pool area and made sure to take advantage of the hot tub after our day of cycling and horseback riding.
Like all of the Alisal vacation packages, meals were included in the room price. Breakfast and dinner are served in the Ranch Room, an open dining area with a central fireplace and a top-notch staff of servers. The Alisal’s gourmet food is prepared by Executive Chef Pascal Godé, who creates a constantly changing menu. Other amenities include a fitness center and spa, tennis courts, and lake fishing and boating.
With it’s myriad offerings, peaceful setting, low-key and attentive staff, and delicious meals, Alisal Guest Ranch is the perfect close escape for Santa Barbarans who want to take advantage of our county’s beauty and serenity, something that folks from around the world come to enjoy.
For details on Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort’s Guided Cycling Package and other options, call (805) 688-6411 or (800) 4-ALISAL (425-4725) or visit alisal.com.