Design Destination: Alisal Guest Ranch

If you like your weekend getaways served with a side of local lore, head to the Alisal Guest Ranch in Santa Barbara. It has everything that a grown-up California getaway should have (incredible local wines, fireplace-filled cottages, Pendleton blankets and rolling-hill vistas in spades), plus a serious dose of design history.

The ranch has welcomed guests since the 1940s, and old school Hollywood heavyweights (Doris Day and Clark Gable) made the Santa Barbara resort a frequent stop on their itineraries. But the property itself has served as a working cattle ranch and horse farm since the territory was in Spanish hands in the early 1800s. Buildings on the property have come and gone, but certain spaces have been preserved over the last century, and it's worth taking a spin through the unique architectural and decorating styles scattered throughout the ranch. 

The Old Adobe house, for example, was built in 1935 by an Alisal employee whose two sons were also ranchhands on the property. The original structure was a derelict crumble of bricks, so a replicated adobe was built in the 1990s in the exact same footprint. It's located a few miles from the center of the property, so when the cattlework went late, cowboys would often crash at the adobe house for the night before heading out again early in the morning.

Creaky wooden furniture and animal skins? Check. Image courtesy of Oyster


The best part of the adobe experience was getting there—we hopped on a couple of horses for a breakfast ride out to the property. After threading our way through canyons filled with 100-year-old stands of white oak (and spotting a bobcat in the process), we dismounted for a standout pancake-and-egg breakfast cooked on open grilles near a campfire. Not inspired to ride for your chow? There's a hay ride truck that will take you out to meet your more intrepid friends.  

The Cottonwood Room. Image courtesy of Oyster

One of my favorite spaces was the Cottonwood Room, a 1,200-square-foot throwback to midcentury Western decor. I have nothing but respect for whoever created this space, as the brick-red Navajo-style ceiling is a joy to behold. And like most rooms on the property, a giant Pendleton rug anchors the space. Alisal doesn't skimp on the high-end textiles from the Oregon woolen mill—find them throughout the guest rooms, meeting spaces and even in the spa (in the form of massage-table pillows). This space, and the similarly-styled Billiard room, is begging to be a hipster-wedding standard.  

They went for it. The Navaho-style painted ceiling in the billiard Room at Alisal Guest Ranch

Did I mention that the resort is located just outside the town of Solvang, a Danish town founded by teachers in 1911? The uninitated can be forgiven for thinking they've stumbled into Epcot Center's Denmark. It's that adorable. 

A snapshot of Solvang. Photo by Sarah Virginia White

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