By Gwen Ashley Walters
Saddle Up, Southern California Style
Resort: The Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort
Recipes: Tortilla Soup, Ranch Oatmeal Pie
Believe it or not, Southern California was once considered part of "the Wild West". Today, visions of Santa Barbara County are more likely to include rolling hills covered with grapevines and white Mission-style mansions. Not all of Santa Barbara County is red-tiled roofed adobe structures, as evidenced by the Danish town of Solvang, a showcase of Scandinavian architecture and culture, including beautiful windmills, authentic Danish bakeries and restaurants. So what is a "dude ranch" doing just 3 miles south of the lovely little hamlet?
You would never, in a million years, imagine that the Alisal Guest Ranch is a working cattle ranch. It's too luxurious to conjure up the image of dusty trails and arduous cattle branding. Steak is on the menu, but so are other international dishes like Swordfish Escabeche and Curry Rubbed Turkey Paillard with Mango Chutney. The Alisal is a perfect destination for the family that loves the idea of horseback riding but isn't too crazy about doing the true cowboy-thing. This is a luxury resort that happens to have horses and cows alongside two perfectly manicured golf courses and tennis courts and a 100-acre lake. How could there be room for all this? The property sits on 10,000 acres.
The history of the ranch is fascinating, as it was one of four original land grants on the West Coast given to conquistador Raimundo Carrillo in the late 1700's for his service to the newly formed Mexican government. A world-class resort, the Alisal is among the West's most sought-after destinations. Secluded deep in the Santa Ynez Valley, between Santa Barbara and Santa Maria, the Alisal offers about every amenity and activity you could possibly want. It doesn't offer telephones and televisions in the rooms, but you won't notice because you'll be so busy with golf, tennis, swimming, hiking, canoeing and horseback riding. If those activities aren't enough, try bicycling, bird watching, art gallery and museum hopping, or just plain old shopping.
One of the most enticing draws to the Alisal is its location amid the renowned wine region of Santa Barbara County. There are more than 50 wineries within driving distance of the ranch and most are open for tours and tasting. The Alisal hosts several "Grape Escape" weekends between November and March that combine behind-the-scenes winery tours with winemaker dinners and special wine events.
Dining at the Alisal's Ranch Room is a treat all of its own, with incredible breakfast buffets as well as a la carte selections that would enlighten even the most finicky breakfast eater. Tables brimming with fresh fruit, homemade baked breads and pastries and esculent entrees beckon you away from your comfortable garden-encased cottage. The daily breakfast features Alisal's famous buttermilk pancakes, huevos rancheros and the Vegetarian Breakfast Burrito, among other things. You could stay at the Alisal for weeks and never get bored with the selections.
Dinners are elegant and bountiful. It's a time for dressing up (gentlemen must wear jackets, ties are optional) and enjoying a leisurely evening, reminiscent of European-paced dinners. The Alisal features a rotating menu, with eight delectable options each night. Specialty dishes such as Moroccan Spiced Lamb Osso Bucco, Sage Polenta Stuffed Pork Loin and fresh local fish grace the menu with traditional items such as prime rib and juicy barbecued steaks (it is called a "ranch" for a reason).
Other dining options include two golf course restaurants: The Ranch Grill and The River Grill, both offering delicious, casual fare. In the summertime, you can saddle up and ride out to the resort's historic Adobe Camp for a full ranch breakfast including buttermilk flapjacks, scrambled eggs, and all the trimmings, including a singing cowboy (that western experience again). Summertime also brings lakeside seafood barbecues, southwestern fare at the rodeo arena and a traditional barbecue poolside every Saturday night. Whether you pony-up to the cowboy experience, hit the links like a tiger, or cruise the backroads in search of the perfect vino, one thing is for sure; you'll get frontier-sized portions of delectable cuisine and never leave the Alisal table hungry.
1054 Alisal Road
Solvang, CA 93463
Accommodations: 34 guest units, studios and two-room suites.
Activities: Golf, tennis, horseback riding, boating, fishing, and excursions to wine country.
Rates: $385 to $475 per night, breakfast and dinner included. Visit their website at www.alisal.com.
Copyright © 2001, Gwen Ashley Walters. All rights reserved.
Gwen Ashley Walters is cookbook author, cooking teacher, food writer and Certified Culinary Professional with a degree in Culinary Arts. Gwen's travel guide/cookbooks, The Great Ranch Cookbook, (1998) and The Cool Mountain Cookbook, (2001) were published by Pen & Fork Communications.
This page created September 2001