Three first-class places to relax—very different from one another.
Most days, we Santa Barbarans are content to enjoy all the perks and pleasures in our own backyard. But occasionally we feel the urge to explore just a wee bit farther afield, to shake up our complacent existence with a simple change of scenery or to rejuvenate and pamper ourselves without the hassle of traffic jams and airport security.
Here are three great getaway options less than an hour’s drive from the city of Santa Barbara. Each differs in character and activities, but all provide first-rate resort amenities and easy access to Santa Barbara wine country’s nearby attractions.
Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort
1054 S. Alisal Rd., Solvang, 805/688-6411, alisal.com
It’s a glorious morning in Santa Ynez Valley. Deer and other wildlife scamper about the sun-dappled hills, and hawks soar across the deep-blue skies. My travel companion and I are at the 10,000-acre Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort, riding a hay wagon to join in a decades-old tradition. We’ll park at an historic 1800s adobe and wait for the group of guests who chose to ride horses up the trail. Then we’ll all sit together at tables beneath giant sycamores and chow down on an authentic early California cowboy-style breakfast buffet, replete with flapjacks, homemade biscuits and gravy.
“We’ve been coming here since 1992,” says “Janie,” matriarch of the multigenerational family who shares our table. This is a common theme for ranch guests: The resort opened in 1946, and hundreds of families have gathered here at least once a year for decades.
A resort that caters to guests of all ages, Alisal provides an exceptional array of things to do in a pristine natural setting. You can fish or boat in the private lake, hit the links on two excellent 18-hole golf courses (one private, one public), play tennis or bocce ball or learn skills at the archery and air rifle sites. In the mood for being pampered? Revitalize body and mind at the onsite fitness center and spa with four treatment rooms, or just relax by the pool. Kids especially love the chance to spend time in the barnyard, where they can feed the animals, snuggle with the pint-size horses and gather fresh eggs to bring home.
“This is a real hideaway,” says Director of Sales and Marketing Sherrie Fitzgerald. “There are no TVs or phones in guest rooms—but there’s Wi-Fi on the property for those who need to connect.” She adds that the spa center is open to the public. “It’s a great refuge for those who can only get away for a day.”
Alisal has 73 accomodations, ranging from studios to deluxe suites; all have wood-burning fireplaces, and rates include breakfast and dinner in the historic Ranch Room. Leave your jeans in the room for dinner; jackets are required for men 16 and older.
Chumash Casino Resort
3400 Highway 246, Santa Ynez, 805/686-0855, chumashcasino.com
Those who prefer to surround themselves with action can head to Chumash Casino Resort, which recently completed a $165-million expansion project that elevated it—literally—to a new level.
A brand-new 12-story hotel tower with panoramic views of the Santa Ynez Valley anchors the expanded resort. According to Hotel Manager Tom Ruggiero, demand spurred the expansion; the original hotel was more than 97% full all the time. Resort General Manager Bill Peters says, “The addition of the hotel tower brings us 218 more rooms, including 40 suites. We now have a total inventory at our resort of 320 rooms, including 55 suites.”
The casino also morphed into an activity hub with more elbow room and dining options. The gaming floor grew by 27,000 square feet and now holds 2,300 slot machines, dozens of table games, bingo, a new poker room and a new higher limit room. Patrons can sate their hunger pangs at various venues, including fine dining at Willows; a popular buffet with a scrumptuous dessert bar; a café; a food court with four outlets, and a retail bridge with a coffee shop and sweets. Alcoholic beverages, formerly restricted to the Willows’ bar, are now served property-wide.
A major attraction of the “new” resort is the stunning fifth-floor pool deck above the casino. The revolutionary design features a full bar, and includes an expansive deck with numerous lounge areas, a firepit overlooking oak savanna through glass railings, private cabanas, two hot tubs and a 25-meter lap pool. Guests can also unwind at the spa, which now encompasses nine treatment rooms, two esthetic rooms, wet and dry saunas, female and co-ed lounges, and outdoor mineral pools.
El Capitan Canyon Resort
11560 Calle Real, Santa Barbara, 805/685-3887, elcapitancanyon.com
Looking to connect with nature, but prefer to sleep in a real bed rather than a camp cot or on the ground? Book one of the 161 accommodations at El Capitan Canyon’s family-friendly glamping retreat, on the north side of Highway 101 across from El Capitan State Beach. Choose among 13 styles, from canvas safari tents with queen beds to yurts and bunkhouses and private cabins with kitchens.
While touring us around the property, which stretches from the highway about a mile up the hillside (not far from the ocean), Group Sales Manager Robert Hansen comments on its huge scope. “It takes about 20 minutes to walk from the entrance to the far end of the resort. We’ve got so many different areas, from the lower and upper meadows to the creek, there’s something here for everyone,” he says, pointing out the newest additions to the resort—Adventure Yurts. “These are really popular, because they have wood floors, a domed skylight, fans, a mini fridge, a picnic table, a barbecue. They also have electricity. There’s no running water, but they’re close to the bathhouse, playground and the pool.”
Those who’d rather rough it can snooze in one of a few canvas tents sprinkled around the resort or next door at sister property Ocean Mesa, with 24 tent sites (each can hold two to three tents) and 80 RV sites, a pool, a bathhouse and a store.
In addition to enjoying the beautiful scenery, guests at El Capitan Canyon can join in plenty of activities. The beach is a 10-minute walk down the road, and miles of hiking trails lace the surrounding hillsides. Check out a beach cruiser and ride along the coastal bike trail, splurge on a massage in the private spa room and order up a barbecue or s’mores kit from the onsite market.
In summer, activity options ramp up and typically include outdoor movies, wine tasting, stargazing, beach runs, hikes, yoga and a Saturday-evening barbecue and concert series, open to the public.
Santa Barbara Wine Country—A World Away
Itching to explore these resorts and beyond? Whether you choose an historic ranch, a bustling casino resort or a down-home, back-to-nature canyon as your base, North County’s numerous restaurants and attractions are all within a half-hour drive of your lodgings. Happy travels!
This story was originally published in the Fall 2016 issue of Santa Barbara Seasons Magazine.