Review by Lanee Lee…
With the engine running, car packed, I was looking forward to the solo road trip to Santa Ynez county for a few days at Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort. Checking on my supply of business cards before I hit the road, I reached in my purse for my wallet. What? No wallet? Weird. Back in my apartment, I searched casually at first, assuming I had simply left it on the kitchen counter. A few minutes later, casual turned chaotic when I still hadn’t found it. An hour of calling nearly all of L.A. to see if they had seen my wallet and a few shed tears later, I was reeling from the loss – not only for the wad of cash and ID/credit cards, but more importantly – the wallet itself. Last Christmas, my boyfriend gave me my first designer anything – a beautiful black, leather Hermes wallet. Now vanished. How could have been so careless to lose it? Or was it stolen??
My mind flip-flopped between replaying the previous night’s scenarios in hopes I could remember some clue to where I left it and flat out mean, self-berating. I felt like canceling the trip as I was in no mood to enjoy some down time in the country riding horses, boating and biking through wine country. In an instant, my life felt like it was in shambles and I didn’t deserve a vacation for making such a dumb mistake.
Yet, I couldn’t cancel. Lindsay was supposed to go with me, but had cancelled the trip that morning because she woke up with the flu. The Voyage Vixens were fun and flirty, but not flighty, and certainly NOT flaky. Both of us could not no-show. I had to go, despite everything in me that wanted to crawl into bed and sob in self-pity.
Fast forward – first stop: Ascendant Spirits in Buellton, roughly a 15-minute drive from final destination at Alisal Ranch.
Nothing like a distillery tasting to set put those racing thoughts at ease. Meeting with owner/distiller Steve Gertman (photo above), he took me – sip by sip – through their fascinating portfolio. Caviar lime vodka. Strawberry moonshine. Ghost pepper vodka. Breakers Bourbon. Yum.
Now, on to Alisal Ranch, just outside the adorable town of Solvang. Horses grazing in a pasture on my right and a sprawling California-style ranch on my left, I exhaled audibly, knowing I had made the right decision to come, despite the mess I’d have to deal with when I got home.
During the two days at the ranch, I took out a paddleboat on Alisal Lake, biked in wine country, feasted on wine-paired gourmet meals and BBQs, went horseback riding, bonded with a dancing bird at the petting zoo, listened to live music and even ate a pancake 3x bigger than my head at a cowboy breakfast. And though it was an action-packed itinerary – as testimony to the ranch’s tranquil setting – the stress of losing both a valuable and sentimental wallet melted away. At night, I especially enjoyed lighting up the in-room fireplace with a glass of Alisal Ranch private-labeled wine in hand or walking around the property with only the stillness and stars overhead as my companions.
On 10,000 acres of gorgeous country set amid Santa Ynez Valley, Alisal Ranch is an ideal getaway for the outdoor enthusiast. Whether you like to swing a club, swat a tennis ball, cast a line or gallop horseback, the working ranch has to much offer. As of this spring, added to the roster of activities, are wine country bike tours.
Led by longtime Alisal employee and cyclist enthusiast Eric Larsen, it’s a picturesque ride through rolling hills, oak tree-dotted landscapes and verdant vineyards. Alisal can also arrange for a van to take guests for wine tasting tours after the ride or end in the historic town of Los Olivos with a van escort back to the ranch after exploring the many tasting rooms and boutique shops.
Horseback rides are a real treat as well with real, chap-sporting cowboys. No boring, nose-to-tail trail ride here, unless you like it that way. You’re actually put into groups based on your skill level and ride in the wide open spaces of the ranch’s untouched back country. Picture verdant green hills, a sprawling lake, grazing baby cows and stately oak trees.
Don’t miss the early hayride or horseback ride to the campfire side, cowboy breakfast. Serenaded by a live banjo player, a hearty breakfast of made-to-order pancakes, bacon, sausage, eggs and hashbrowns are served up by a cheerful staff. On your return to the ranch, a stop by the petting zoo, whether you’re eight or 80, is an instant mood lifter to boot. Feed dozens of furry rabbits, watch Chula (the crooning/dancing cockatoo) do her number and pet miniature cows that hail from India.
For the spa-seeker – especially after a long ride via horse or bike – Alisal’s spa is a welcome respite. There’s something for everyone on the menu – mud wraps to hot stone massages to oxygen facials.
No matter what your motivation is to visit Alisal Ranch, whether romantic rendezvous, wedding, dudes’ golf getaway, corporate retreat or family reunion, be forewarned. You’ll probably return year after year, just as countless others have since it opened in 1946. With the hospitality of the gracious staff and Jackson family (who still own and operate it), combined with the beautiful setting, Alisal Ranch is downright addicting.
Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort, 1054 Alisal Rd, Solvang, CA. Reservations: 800-4-ALISAL.