Unplugging at a Dude Ranch

Two Nights at Solvang’s Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort

Credit: Shannon Brooks

One of the perks of vacationing closer to home is seeing familiar places with fresh eyes. So, when I had the opportunity to spend two nights at Solvang’s Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort this fall, I was all in. I’d visited the ranch many times over the years, but it would be my first time as an overnight guest.

Credit: Shannon Brooks

Since 1946, the 10,500-acre working cattle ranch has served as a haven for visitors seeking the quiet, simple pleasures of country life. Many families have been loyal repeat guests for generations and have standing weeklong annual reservations on the Alisal’s books. While the resort has been modernized over the years, it’s maintained a distinctly old-fashioned air. To this day, there are no televisions, telephones, or worldly distractions in the simple yet luxurious studios, suites, and cottages. (Don’t worry, there is Wi-Fi in the main the resort area!)

It felt like summer camp for grown-ups in the best of ways. To start, there was structure. In advance of my stay, guest services provided me with a schedule of activities to choose from — many included in the room rate and others with prices listed. Classic staples of the ranch’s to-do lineup include golf, tennis, fishing, and horseback riding. They’ve also got a spa and tons of wellness and hands-on arts-and-crafts activities. The preplanning meant I could enjoy the luxury of not having to make “big” decisions during my stay because my itinerary was already crafted.

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Credit: Shannon Brooks

Upon check-in, I was given my personalized agenda, which made it easy to keep track of where I needed to be when between meals and activities. Once I got settled in my Western-chic accommodations, I hit the tennis courts for a 45-minute session with the ball machine. The pros looking after me gave me helpful pointers to improve my rusty form and filled me in on their club program for locals, as I admired the finesse of the young kids practicing on the adjacent courts. After working up a sweat under the late-afternoon Santa Ynez Valley sun and having flashbacks to my high school tennis practices, I had a couple of hours to relax before dinner. 

Sit-down breakfast and dinner are included in the room rates — any upgrades are simply added to your bill settled at final checkout, another welcome simplification that added to the overall feeling of effortlessness. Dinner is a four-course affair featuring generous portions, local wines, and attentive service. The Alisal encourages guests to dress up for dinner, and after months of being in pandemic casual mode, it was lovely to have an excuse to put on a pretty frock and bring some ceremony to the occasion. I also appreciated the elegance of the grand dining room bathed in the golden light of a huge chandelier and robust crackling fire — a live pianist added to the ambiance.

Walking back to my room, I stopped to admire the clear night sky awash in stars. The fireplace in my room was calling to me as I warmed up and wound down for one of the quietest nights of sleep I’ve ever had in a hotel. That solid rest and my breakfast of chilaquiles the next morning readied me for the day ahead. 

Credit: Shannon Brooks

I walked over to the stables to get checked in for my horseback ride and got situated atop Roco, the agreeable horse I was paired with for the 90-minute equestrian expedition. Since no one else had booked the beginner group ride on that particular morning, I was spoiled with a private tour led by one of the Alisal’s knowledgeable wranglers. Courtney guided me along the scenic trails, pointing out the wildlife and sharing interesting background on the ranch — including the fact that the cattle brand dates back to when it was a Spanish land grant given to Jose Raimundo Carrillo in the 1700s.

The rest of my leisurely afternoon was dedicated to lunch and sunbathing by the pool, followed by a calming double-header of a guided meditation and gentle yoga class held outside under the shade of towering oak trees. I was greeted by name when I arrived for dinner and savored another feast of seasonal fare paired with local vintages.

On my last morning, I explored the main hiking trail loop on property that brought me up some serious hills to catch sweeping valley vistas. As I walked back down to the resort along the dirt path, I couldn’t help but wish I were staying another day.

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