G E TAWAY
Our Place: A 75th Anniversary Tribute to Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort Riding the trails and enjoying the hospitality of a family-run ranch in the scenic Santa Ynez Valley. BY CHRISTOPHER DAMON
t’s not every day that I get up at the crack of dawn to ride horses at a guest ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley… My wife and father-in-law ride alongside me, while my mother-in-law and three-year-old daughter follow us in the chuck wagon. The thick morning fog blankets the canyon as we wind through lush hillsides dotted with live oaks and ancient sycamores. It is peaceful and whisper-quiet. Almost surreal. Every so often, our guide points out a piece of history about the land. “The original inhabitants used this land for hunting and gathering acorns. They called the land ‘Nojoqui.’ The Spanish called it ‘Alisal,’ which means a grove of sycamores.”
We eat breakfast under a 300-year-old sycamore. As I sit under the tree’s twisted branches, I glance around at my family — three generations — jovially communing with nature for our first meal of the day. Los Angeles could not feel any more far away. This is just the sort of experience that has made Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort so revered for so long. The 10,000-acre ranch, owned and operated by the same family for 75 years, blends the spirit of the Old West with a resort-like atmosphere right in the heart of wine country and the Danish village of Solvang, only 30 minutes north of Santa Barbara. There are 50 miles of riding trails, a 100-acre spring-fed lake, two 18-hole championship golf courses, tennis courts, pool, spa, Western-themed accommodations and fine dining. It was once a celebrity escape; Ava Gardener, Gregory Peck and Kirk Douglas were past guests. Clark Gable famously married Lady Silvia in Alisal’s old library. Today, the ranch caters primarily to families and couples who tend to return year after year to unplug and unwind, charmed by its rural setting, rustic elegance and adherence to traditions. Even I found some of the ranch’s decades-old customs endearing, like the fact that there are no televisions or telephones in the rooms, and I had to wear a formal jacket to dinner. (I’m more of a flip-flops and shorts kind of guy when I’m on vacation). And there’s something comforting about the consistency of dining at the same table each night. This is all by design, according to Jim Jackson, the third-generation patriarch and chief operating officer of the ranch. “If they’re seated at the same table for every meal during the course of their stay, it’s a way of making our guests feel like the ranch is their place,” he tells me. Since 1943, the Jackson family has owned and operated Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort. Jim took over ranch operations from his father, Palmer Jackson, in 2008. It is very much still a family affair. Although retired, his father and mother are still consulted on investment decisions. As a family, they have thoughtfully stewarded the evolution of the Alisal legacy, established by Jim’s grandfather Charles “Pete” Jackson Jr. Pete was the one who expanded the property from a working cattle ranch into hospitality. He opened the ranch officially in 1946, initially attracting celebrities and people from Los Angeles for an authentic “cowboy experience,” with horseback riding, chuck wagons and rustic accommodations.
Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort alisal.com
However, the celebrity business wasn’t consistent enough to make it a viable revenue stream. Eventually, Pete sought to make it more appealing to families by adding recreational amenities. A swimming pool. Tennis courts. A golf course. His father, who ran the ranch from 1968 to 2008, further expanded this vision over the next 40 years. A public 18-hole golf course was added in 1992. What began as a seasonal Western retreat
104 LA HOME | SPRING/SUMMER 2019