By Viktor Edstrom
In the context of travel, luxury can mean many different things to many different people. Though penthouses and celebrity chefs are undeniably luxurious, to me it’s less about the elegance and more about the experience. I love the prospect of topnotch food, service, and adventure, but prefer it in a setting that feels more authentic, more down-to-earth, and most importantly, lets me be myself.
Much like what I found at The Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort, a 10,000-acre sanctuary tucked away in the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains near Solvang, California.
Imagine a working cattle ranch surrounded on all sides by rolling, golden hills and verdant fields of live coastal oaks, many of which will live up to 300 years. Steeped in the traditions of the Old West, it’s home to an old-fashioned rodeo arena, a thriving barn and barnyard, and a plethora of animals from horses to cattle to chickens. Not to mention, Bald Eagles circling above, foxes and coyotes roaming the hillside, and largemouth bass rippling across the property’s majestic, spring-fed lake, Lake Alisal.
A wilderness retreat as much as a ranch, it’s not the type of place where you’d normally find a gourmet restaurant, two distinguished golf courses, or a high-class spa offering innovative treatments and wellness programs from yoga to Pilates. Nor is it your typical wine estate, seeing as you’re within minutes of Santa Barbara’s world-renowned wine country and its myriad vineyards, wineries, and tasting rooms.
Yet that’s precisely the beauty of The Alisal. Easily accessible—it’s just a 30-minute drive from Santa Barbara—but seemingly in a world of its own, families have been coming here for decades to establish yearly traditions that call to kids as much as they do to adults. Strap on your boots for a morning horseback ride through scenic meadows, swap them out for golf shoes on The Alisal’s acclaimed private Ranch Course, test your fishing luck on Lake Alisal (chances are it’s good; I caught 20+ bass), or throw on your blazer for an exquisite, four-course dinner in Chef Anthony Endy’s Ranch Room. As celebrities like Clark Gable and Doris Day discovered in the 1940s, the luxury of The Alisal isn’t champagne and caviar: It’s the ability to unplug, unwind, and get away from it all, without sacrificing comfort or service.
Accomplishing this last part—comfort and service—is no small feat, as The Alisal is far from the first property to envision off-the-grid experiences with high-touch hospitality. But this is different: Its staff, for instance, is as attentive and genuinely caring as any I’ve come across at the big-name hotel brands of the world. And the guestrooms, intentionally designed in a rustic, Western style, are charming, authentic, and decidedly welcoming (much like the bottle of Santa Barbara wine waiting for you upon arrival).
When all is said and done, a stay at The Alisal leaves you feeling refreshed, renewed, and ready to come again. Packing my bags as I was getting ready to leave on my last day, it dawned on me that I’d never brought muddy boots and a tailored blazer in the same suitcase before.
It was the perfect confirmation of what had becoming increasingly clear: This isn’t your average getaway.