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Nestled in California’s famed Santa Ynez Valley, Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort is everything you’d hope it would be: Old West charm, rustic luxury, pure relaxation. Authenticity is at the center of this place’s irresistible appeal. Indeed, in an age when many hoteliers are desperate to bend to fickle travelers’ every whim, Alisal is unapologetically, unabashedly itself. And that is a breath of fresh air.

Its rich history dates back to 1843, when Raimundo Carrillo was granted the land. Alisal has been a working cattle ranch ever since. In 1946, proprietor Charles “Pete” Jackson Jr. made the savvy shift into hospitality, hosting 30 guests that first summer. Just a couple hours from Los Angeles, Alisal quickly became a playground for Hollywood elite seeking a secluded getaway, including Doris Day and Clark Gable (who hosted his wedding here in 1949).


Photography by Troy A. Davidson

Today, this 10,500-acre property features 73 pastoral suites and studios, where televisions and telephones are swapped out for cozy fireplaces and Pendleton blankets. Executive chef Pascal Godé helms the Ranch Room, and guests gather each evening for impressive three-course dinners (think braised lamb shank, seared swordfish and wild-boar osso buco). At the spa, massage therapists understand that horseback riding calls upon muscles most city slickers aren’t used to flexing, and they tailor treatments accordingly.

The main attraction, unsurprisingly, is Alisal’s herd of experienced, easygoing horses that’ll take everyone from timid greenhorns to certifiable cowboys down the 50 miles of trails that wind through the ranch’s breathtaking acreage. Some 1,500 beef cattle roam the property, sharing their home with such wildlife as bald eagles, turkeys and deer. The ultimate cowpoke experience? The can’t-miss Saturday breakfast ride to the historic Adobe Camp, where guests feast on flapjacks and enjoy the talents of the cowboy poet.

The fun doesn’t stop there. Alisal is also home to two 18-hole championship golf courses, six tennis courts, a well-equipped fitness center, and a pool and hot tub. Other activities range from fly-fishing and mountain biking to archery and arts and crafts. And the resort’s locale just outside Solvang makes it the perfect home base for a day of tastings and tours across Santa Barbara wine country.


There’s a reason why regulars return to Alisal year after year. And there’s a reason why the resort has stayed so true to its roots — because it works. Because these days, people are craving an opportunity to connect with something real, to connect with authentic America and to connect with themselves. This is ranch life at its finest.

Read this article as it appears in the magazine.

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