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What is a Dude Ranch?

Dude ranches are cattle ranches turned vacation destinations. Like The Alisal, many dude ranches have long, rich histories, with ties to the Wild West you’ve probably only seen in movies. Though many modern guest ranches may no longer be working ranches, at The Alisal, a working cattle ranch, you can still see wranglers put horses out to pasture at dawn then drive them back to the barn by dusk. Travelers from around the world seek out dude ranches for horseback riding, wrangler workshops, barnyard activities, and genuine western hospitality straight out of the Old West.

Why is it called a dude ranch?

Dude ranches were and are places where people who are not cowboys could experience life on a working ranch. In the 1800s and 1900s, these folks were most often wealthy men from Eastern metropolises. While ranches often referred to themselves as guest ranches, many assumed the cowboy slang for these urbanites: dude. Though the term “dude ranch” lives on, it wasn’t intended to flatter dude ranchers or their guests.


Teddy Roosevelt remains one of the most adventurous U.S. presidents. It was his outdoorsy ways that led Americans from the Eastern U.S. to flock to dude ranches out west. Roosevelt himself was fascinated by the western lifestyle. He visited the renowned Custer Trail Ranch, which opened in 1879, and was so enamored by the lifestyle of horseback riding, fly fishing, hunting, and more, that he bought his own ranch nearby. This investment in the west was all the go-ahead city dwellers needed to explore the west for themselves, aided by the expansion of the railroad and arrival of automobiles on the scene in the early 20th century. These first dude ranch vacationers were the true “dudes,” exploring barnyards and horseback riding trails in shiny shoes and fresh-pressed suits.


At dude ranches of the 21st century, guests can step into the traditions of the past while remaining firmly rooted in modern luxuries. The Alisal specifically invites guests to get off-grid. There are no telephones or TVs in the rooms, just as it would have been over 100 years ago when cowboys were driving cattle across the hills. Yet this tribute to the past doesn’t take away from the luxury of the experience—it enhances it. For those that still need access to the internet, in-room WiFi is available. Ride horseback by day, stargaze by night, and dig into the hardiness of Western cooking to fuel it all. When you’re ready to rest, retire to luxurious yet authentic Western accommodations, where you’ll fall asleep to the sound of crickets chirping and the occasional soft whinny of a horse.

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Service Charges

The Alisal's 20% service charge is intended to eliminate the need for our guests to tip individual employees, as well as cover the cost of a variety of amenities provided to our guests. These include two water canteens and a bottle of Alisal wine at check-in, daily newspapers, complimentary WiFi internet access, fitness center, complimentary shuttles to and from Solvang village center, nightly hors d'oeuvres in the Oak Room bar, complimentary bicycles, wine tasting with Alisal wine partners, scheduled and seasonal entertainment and a variety of children's activities including barnyard and Kid's arts and crafts room.