Alisal Guest Ranch in
California Wine Country

By Tim Cotroneo

As you turn left at the sign marked Alisal Guest Ranch, you begin to observe what has lured generations to this 10,000-acre ranch. A hard-to-ignore greeting committee stands by the wooden fence as you drive along the main road. It seems that two people-friendly quarter horses are on hand to encourage an Alisal tradition. As if on cue, a carload of four incoming guests pulls over and walks to these handsome ambassadors. All is well with the world as the guests massage the horses often-petted mane and shoulders.

The next step in your Alisal introduction occurs when you check-in at the historic reception office. If you thought small town hospitality is a thing of the past, the  Alisal front office team humbly conveys that Solvang is the kindness capital of the world. The Alisal unwritten success formula of rustic luxury, neighborly charm, and exemplary customer service has brought movie stars and regular Joes to this real-life painting of scenic hills, riding trails, and two magnificent golf courses.

It’s amazing how quickly guests connect with these authentic western meets California wine country surroundings. Alisal Guest Ranch brings out your inner cowboy, even if you never ride one of their 100 horses.

Why Vacation at Alisal?

Ask 10 guests why they chose Alisal Ranch and you’ll receive 10 completely different answers. One person tells you that Alisal is a family tradition that they wouldn’t think of interrupting. Another says that the Santa Ynez hiking and biking trails are simply without peer for magnificent vistas. A third shares that Santa Barbara County’s abundance of vineyards, golf, and dining options offer a one-of-a-kind vacation.

Simply waking up to a new day is refreshing at Alisal. As you rise from your private suite, your first happy choice is whether to start anew with a haywagon ride for flapjacks, or just stroll over to the Ranch Room for a hearty breakfast. Once your tummy is satisfied and stoked, that’s when Alisal really overachieves.

What’s on the Alisal agenda for today? Whether your favorite pastime or secret fear is getting back in the saddle, Alisal Ranch is ready to be your friend. For those who feel a bit of trepidation about riding a horse, Alisal has experienced ranch hands and gentle horses for first-time cautious cowboys or cowgirls. For the horse enthusiast, Alisal provides 50-miles of glorious riding trails.

If golf is what gets your motor running, Alisal offers not one but two picturesque 18-hole layouts. The Ranch course is just a mile down the road from the Alisal entrance. For 60 years this private enclave of towering sycamore trees, majestic bluffs, and comforting tranquility has been a golf lovers mainstay. For a complete change of pace, the River Course will wow you with its location at the base Santa Ynez Mountains. Expect water holes, mountain backdrops, and perhaps the best outdoor patio in all of Santa Barbara.

Indoor and Outdoor Dining

Solvang’s fresh air and Alisal’s bounty of activity options helps guests work up an appetite. Dining at Alisal can be as creative or traditional as you choose. The Ranch Room is the go-to venue for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Chef Pascal Gode offers a wonderful array of steak, chicken, and seafood entrees.

If you wish to pursue eating experiences that are uniquely Alisal, the culinary team will gladly create a dining memory. Depending on the season, Alisal presents seafood, southwestern style, and rodeo barbecues.  Wine lovers can also inquire about having an expert design a menu of wine pairings for your special dinner.

Back at the Ranch

On a setting where it seems that time stands still, it’s amazing how quickly your vacation flies by. Before you know it, your holiday of horseback riding, golf, hiking, biking, spa pampering, fine dining, and exploring the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley has wound down and it’s time to go back home.

You’ve already written a checklist of what you’d like to experience next time. You long to explore the shops along the quaint Danish town of Solvang’s main street. You never got around to arranging a picnic lunch on that special spot facing Alisal Lake. There was also those two new wines that you sampled at dinner whose vineyards are just a 20-minute drive.

As you return your suite key to the kind woman behind the reception desk, she mentions that Alisal would love to see you again. Around this same time you think back on the four-legged ambassadors who greeted you on the first day.  That’s when you decide that wild, or even tame horses couldn’t keep you from coming back to Alisal Guest Ranch.

Tim Cotroneo is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer specializing in travel, business, and golf.

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