Situated minutes away from the adorable Danish town of Solvang (complete with windmill), The Alisal Ranch includes 50 miles of horseback riding trails, a 100 acre lake, pristine tennis courts, a pool to cool off after a long ride, a spa, and – if none of those features peak your interest – two 18-hole championship golf courses are on offer. Needless to say, there is always somewhere new to explore on property.
If the abundance of property features weren’t a tip off, the Alisal does not lack in activities. At the top of the list (at least for us) was horseback riding. Trail rides (for all experience levels), private lessons, and even rodeo lessons (seasonal) are big draws for guests of all ages. Our morning trail ride with our expert guide Bill was a great way to start our day at the ranch. Seeing the property’s beautiful lake, local wildlife, and gorgeous rolling hills made for a memorable ride that my inner thighs thanked me for the next day.
Also, the barnyard (and hub for trail rides and lessons) is home to critters of all sizes, including two pigs (#WPS), a goat, cows, chickens, guinea pigs, and even a tortoise. Trust me, your kid will want to stay all day.
Speaking of kids, the ranch is the perfect place for families with many activities geared to preoccupying children while the adults can do their own thing (see winery section below). Arts and crafts, air rifle lessons, archery, and fishing give summer camps a run for their money. By the time your family finishes a fabulous dinner in the dining room, everyone will be more than ready for bed.
Speaking of leaving the kids at the ranch, with over 100 wineries in the Santa Ynez region, winos will love the abundance of wine tours and tasting rooms minutes away from the ranch. The unusual east/west valley orientation and wide climate range allow for many grape varietals to grow throughout the area, making it a perfect excursion for all types of wine lovers. We had the privilege of visiting three beautiful wineries mere miles from our western oasis.
Our first stop of the day was at The Brander Vineyard, owned and operated by founder Fred Brander, a man of Swedish decent born in Buenos Aires and raised in the United States. Needless to say, both Argentine at heart, we had a lot to talk about. Born and raised with a love of wine, Fred has kept family and culture at the center of his business. His prized wines include award winning Sauvignon Blancs and estate Cabernet Sauvignons. Let me tell you, they are yummy.
Next stop: Rideau Vineyard where the New Orleans vibes are infectious and will have you leaving a very happy girl. Met with Southern hospitality and a large glass of rosé, we could have stay at Rideau all day long. At the helm of this joyous estate is Iris Rideau, a passionate and self-made woman who built the vineyard from the ground up. Iris, who became an instant bestie, continues to be inspired by her hometown of New Orleans and incorporates creole traditions wherever she sees fit, resulting in the tasting room’s celebratory flair. Bring on the jazz and gumbo- I’ll be here a while.
For our final tasting of the day, we headed to the aptly named “Happy Canyon” region of the Santa Ynez valley. Named during the Prohibition, Happy Canyon boasts picturesque hills and scenic vineyards, including the Grassini Family Vineyard. A relatively new kid on the block, the Grassini family decided to turn their gorgeous Happy Canyon property into a fully sustainable and insanely eco-friendly vineyard in 2002. The impeccably cultivated varietals include Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, and are best served near the estate’s tranquil pond. Between the delicious wine and plucked-from-a-fairytale grounds, I may have found the perfect wedding venue.
It’s easy to understand why the Alisal has so many repeat visitors. With enough Old West flair to satisfy the toughest cowboy in your group, and enough amenities to preoccupy a city slicker, the ranch has something for everyone. What the accommodations lack in big screen TV’s and modern details, they more than make up for in comfort and Americana charm.
Remaining fairly untouched since its opening in 1943 when the cattle ranch was transformed into a full fledged resort, the Alisal strives to pass on its decades old traditions that center around family and rustic elegance. For example, the dining room requires all men to wear jackets to dinner every night, which some may find extravagant; however, its hard not to admire the old fashion respect and standards they uphold. Gazing up at the mountains and stars with a belly full of perfectly prepared seasonal dishes (including a better-than-your-grandma’s blueberry crumble), it’s not hard to figure out why many families make this magical place a yearly excursion for generations to come.
Written by Jordan Murphy, TRLT Contributor
The Road Les Traveled was welcomed to Alisal as a guest, however our opinions are as always, our own.