The Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort

My friend posted a picture of her son on a breakfast ride at The Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort in Solvang, California. After getting over the shock that he’s 12 already, the Facebook post reminded me of memorable moments I once shared on a trail ride with my two pre-tween nieces who live in Los Angeles and how impressed I was by its rural beauty when I stayed there.

The resort is reached from a tree-lined drive on a spectacular 1,000-acre site in glorious Santa Ynez wine country. It operates on a Modified American Plan, with room, breakfast and dinner included, and lots of packages that include activities. And, while country-casual dress is recommended in the dining room and there’s music nightly, essentially this is an authentic, if upscale, dude ranch with a barn, barnyard and amazing equestrian options.

Duderanch © Irvina Lew

Duderanch © Irvina Lew

Equine experiences start from age 4 — with a 30-minute Kids Corral Lesson — for beginners to advanced riders. Your kids can receive private riding lessons, go on trail rides (age 7 plus) and take the three-hour breakfast ride. In summer, from June to August, Rodeo Time offers special skills classes, including a Round-Up Experience. From age 12, there are Barrel Racing Skill and Drill Team Riding classes; non-riders have options, too, including a Roping class. The Saddle to Paddle session concludes on a paddleboard on the 100-acre, spring-fed lake, where there are boat rentals and kids can learn to fly fish, kayak and canoe.

The Alisal offers a myriad of other recreational activities for children of all ages, with both resort (tennis, golf and swimming) and camp-like facilities: shuffleboard and volleyball; basketball; archery; and an arts and crafts venue for candle-making and other handicrafts.

Next to the heated swimming pool there’s a nearby, round, roofed, stone-walled pavilion where some meals are served and, among the dining options, there are Western-style, outdoor barbecues (my favorite meal!). Grill-chef wannabes participate in a BBQ Bootcamp that teaches folks the secrets, tips and techniques for great grilling (guest chefs include Burt Bakman, Valerie Gordon, Frank Ostini and author Paula Disbrowe).

Plus, there’s a spa where t(w)eens, 12–14, can have facials and sample reflexology; those aged 15 or older can receive most treatments, although every guest under age 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

The lodgings are comfortable, with refrigerators but no telephones, no TVs (there are several TV rooms around the property and there’s WiFi for streaming). My 445-square-foot stand-alone studio looked like a little cottage with its front porch facing the grassy oval. It had a king-sized bed, vaulted ceiling and a wood-burning fireplace. There’s a range of suites, including some with two twin-sized studio beds, particularly suitable for families. Throughout, the Western décor feels ranch-like and features tile floors, beamed ceilings, wood furnishings and bright-striped or Indian-style fabrics.

Life on this Californian dude ranch is a step back in time to a Western-style vacation.