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  • Writer's pictureDaniel and Jinny

Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort

The drive north to Solvang from Los Angeles went by surprisingly quick and was not bad at all. A good latter portion of the drive has a gorgeous ocean view, and our departure on a Thursday mid-morning meant there was no traffic!


We were a little apprehensive to book a stay given the status of the ongoing pandemic, but we decided to give it a go as: (i) the Alisal has cottages as opposed to one large high-rise hotel; (ii) they seemed to be pulling out all the stops to ensure a safe environment for their guests; and (iii) we really needed a change of scenery (i.e. a break from summer packets and iPads).


COVID-19 Safety

When we arrived, we immediately noticed efforts to address COVID-19, i.e. markers to indicate where to stand in line, handwashing kiosks available throughout the property, a jar for “new” pens and a jar for “used” pens, etc. In addition to booking activities in advance (more on this below), we also had to reserve our slots for pool time and dining to ensure social distancing. All of these measures as well as the expansive property, which had plenty of room to roam around without having to worry about crowds, made us feel very comfortable.



Reservations and Activities

We ran into a little bit of trouble with the website, so if you do reserve online and do not receive a timely confirmation, I’d recommend a call to follow-up. Make sure you indicate each person (including kids and specific ages), the room rate will depend on the number of people (as we understood food and drink to be incorporated into the rate). Please note, there is also a 20% service fee on top of taxes and other applicable charges. This works as gratuity for staff, so there is no need to carry your wallet around for tips.


Once you book your reservation, the Ranch Concierge will email you regarding activities, but if you don’t want to wait, you can download the Activity Guide from their website (available here) and email them first with the activities and dates/times you would like to reserve. You don’t have to reserve the shuttle to the lake or fishing/boat rentals in advance, shuttles run every hour and you can simply rent any necessary items once you get to lake. We stayed for two nights and the activities we participated in were the Alisal Rodeo, daily pool time reservations, and we also did one trip up to the lake and rented the aluminum boat and fishing rods (there are also bass boats, kayaks, peddle boats, and paddle boards for rent). For meals, we booked the normal breakfast for one day, and Adobe Breakfast for another (we rode the Haywagon, but the horseback ride up to the Adobe looked really fun), the Vaquero BBQ (which is right outside the rodeo) and the Coastal BBQ (more information on the meals below). I really wanted to try archery but that was closed due to COVID-19, I also wished we would’ve done a horseback ride but nobody (except me) was interested! There is also golf, tennis, and a several other activities for children as described on the Activity Guide.


Check-in is at 4pm, so we called ahead and asked if we could use the pool prior to check-in. They did allow us to make a pool reservation at 2:30 for a two-hour time slot. The pool was nice and large (no slide) and wasn’t overly crowded. There is a check-in area on one side of the gate, they will provide towels and hang a tag on your umbrella that indicates your name and timeframe. For some reason, they did not have our reservation down, but didn’t give us too hard of a time about it. I showed them my confirmation email and all was fine.


On our first full day, we took a shuttle to the lake. I loved the shuttle ride as did the kids, it is an open-air shuttle and the entire ride shows off Alisal’s beautiful grounds, we saw their horses, cattle, turkeys, rolling hills, and of course the lake itself. We rented an aluminum boat and fished out on the lake, which seems to be pretty well stocked because each of our boys caught a fish! You do have to throw back all your catches, but the boys really enjoyed the experience. There is also a bald eagle’s nest above the lake. You can ask one of the workers to point out the general vicinity and try to get a look at it.


We’ve never seen bald eagles before, and there are actually bald eagles flying around the property! Many are eaglets and do not get their white feathers until 2-4 years so they are often mistaken for golden eagles, but we did spy at least one adult which had the tell-tale white feathers on its head. At one point during the shuttle ride we saw several soaring and gliding overhead, which was quite a memorable site to see!


In addition to the scheduled activities, the barnyard is open in the mornings and the kids enjoyed petting the animals. Closed toe shoes are required for visiting the barn and horseback riding (the latter prohibits slip-ons and hiking books not recommended).











Additional Details – Room and Resort

We had initially booked the Junior Suite (sleeps 5), but staying in this room would have required a room change mid-stay, so we opted for the Deluxe Studio (which is indicated as sleeping 3). The Deluxe Studio comes with a king bed and a twin bed; we also asked for a cot, so it worked out just fine (420 sf so there was plenty of space). When we checked into our room, we were greeted with a bottle of red wine, two Alisal-branded stainless-steel water bottles, hand sanitizers and anti-bacterial wipes. It was such a thoughtful welcome!


Also, can I just say, the water pressure in the shower is pretty amazing, I can’t remember the last time I had water pressure that strong! (Sorry, I feel a little guilty saying that – but we have drought-tolerant landscaping in the backyard if that counts for anything!) One thing I personally loved about Alisal is that there was a filtered water tap in the room sink, there were also water bottle refilling stations located throughout the property. I drink tons of water, so this was a great amenity and eco-friendly! There was also parking right next to our room, which was very convenient. If your room doesn’t have parking nearby there are red rolling wagons to help transport your luggage.


Despite the price point, do not expect luxe. It is a working ranch, so do expect all the rustic charm that this would entail, from room décor to large green pastures, grazing horses, and even a rodeo for entertainment! (Rodeo available only June through August.) Our room (#51) had a beautiful view with a sweeping green field and large trees lining the perimeter. We threw the football around in the evenings and sat outside on the porch chairs drinking tea and wine from late evening into the night (me and Daniel – the kids don’t drink tea…or wine). Some rooms don’t have this type of view (i.e. they can be located in front of the pool or facing other rooms) so if this is something important to you, I’d call and see if you can request a specified location.


One tip, you should look up the weather forecast for Solvang ahead of time. The rooms do not have central AC (or a TV for that matter), so if you are sensitive to heat, you can request an AC unit for your room by calling or emailing the front desk. When we were there in late July the weather was supposed to be in the low 90s, but it actually felt pretty mild. There is quite a bit of fog in the morning that burns off by the afternoon; even in the summer, be sure to bring a light jacket as the mornings and evenings can be a little chilly. We did, however, use the AC a couple times (the kids need a pretty cool temperature to fall asleep). Wifi is available but a little spotty. Lastly, there are cottages with adjoining rooms, so if you are going with another family, do request this.




Meals and Drinks

Breakfast and dinner are included with the price, and as indicated above, do need to be reserved for the time slot. Also included are all drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), including, smoothies, shakes, ice cream, iced tea, hot chocolate, coffee, etc. This was a really nice perk and the kids enjoyed hot chocolate in the mornings and ice cream cones at the pool. Daniel has a bottomless pit of a stomach for beer, but the funny thing is that I think he actually drank less here (in an all-you-can-drink environment) than when we pay for each beer. Maybe he felt guilty. LOL.


For meals, which are served outside, you will check in at the podium located on one side of the field (in front of the bar area). If no one is there, you can look for the person holding a clipboard, he/she will seat you at your table. When going through the buffet line, you must wear a mask, social distance, and also indicate what food you would like on your plate (you are not allowed to touch any servingware handles). I made the rookie mistake of getting small servings of most food, starting at the very beginning. True to buffet-form all the good stuff is at the end, so wait for it! And I will say, the good food is really good (I’m talking steak and lobster tails – but check the Activity Guide for descriptions of the dinners as they differ each night). Also, don’t forget the desserts! My FAVORITE thing (maybe of the entire stay) was the churro donuts they had on Thursday night. I’m still dreaming about them!!! Also, they have a children’s menu as well – we didn’t realize this until after we got the kids’ plates from the adult line (but it was fine because they actually really enjoyed the lobster and steak 😊).


I do want to warn you that since we dined outside there was a big issue with bees during our meals which was freaking the kids out! We had a strategy, however, that worked out pretty well (sometimes). The kids sat between me and Daniel so that we were able to wave them away. We also placed a plate of leftover food (whatever seemed pungent and attractive to bees, I.e. shrimp tails/shells) on the far side of the table. I've also read that cinnamon and peppermint deter bees, so maybe put a few sticks of gum on the table? I'm not sure if you want to carry cinnamon sticks in your purse, but that might work too! Also, dinner typically requires a dinner jacket for men but this is currently not enforced since dining is outside. Because of this, people were in a variety of forms from casual to more dressy.


Miscellaneous

Alisal does have information for first-time guests, which I found pretty helpful, you can find that here. You can also see a breakdown of our pros, cons, and tips below!


If you’re looking to do something off the beaten path, i.e. not the typical beach or Palm Springs getaway, but would like something more upgraded than camping (or even glamping), you’d like to disconnect – but not completely, then this is definitely a wonderful option for the family. It certainly was a unique experience and lovely place to visit - lush green pastures, horses, a beautiful lake, swimming pool, bald eagles, and great food! When I asked the kids if they wanted to come back, they gave an enthusiastic yes so that definitely says something. If you decide to pay a visit, we hope you enjoy it as much as we did!


Peace and Love,

Daniel & Jinny




Pros

- Fun and engaging activities for the whole family

- Beautiful scenery/nature

- Cottages (COVID-19 safe) and lots of space to social distance

- Filtered water in the room and refill stations

- All you can eat/drink

- Wildlife (bald eagles, deer)

- COVID-19 safety measures

- Private lake with fishing (appears to be well-stocked)


Cons

- Despite the price point, don’t expect luxe

- No TV (this might be a plus for some, but as a parent, a TV can be helpful to manage the kids at times)

- Wifi can be spotty depending on location

- No slide in pool (although it probably couldn’t be used right now due to COVID-19)

- Bees/insects during outdoor dining (you can try using our strategy!)

- Due to safety reasons, dogs are not allowed at Alisal (other than service animals)


Tips

- Request an AC unit for your room ahead of time if the forecast shows hot weather

- Request adjoining rooms if visiting with another family

- Email the Ranch Concierge as soon as possible to book activities

- Make sure you save your appetite for the good stuff at the buffet 😊

- Don’t forget that tipping is not necessary at the resort as this is already built into your fee (the 20% service charge)


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