Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort is quite possibly one of the best resorts in California to get away from city life and back to nature. The secluded hideaway offers 73 telephone and television free rooms and suites, over 50 miles of horseback riding trails, a 100-acre lake, two 18-hole championship golf courses, air-riffle and archery lessons, boat rentals, Fitness Center & Spa, outdoor pool, basketball nets, and six tennis courts. We gave ourselves 48 hours to recharge at Alisal and left feeling refreshed and more connected as a family. They have so many great activities to offer that I’ve created a best-of schedule for a weekend at Alisal. It’s not a matter of if you should go, but more when and how to fit it into your busy schedule. This 48-hour guide makes even a quick weekend trip possible.
Friday – The Arrival
4:00 p.m. – Check-in
We left the city early to avoid some of the weekend traffic and checked in at 4:00 p.m.. The drive north from Orange County has spectacular ocean and mountain vistas that shouldn’t be wasted in the dark.
5:30 p.m. – Hors D’oeuvres in the Oak Room
We enjoyed many of the valley’s best seasonal appetizers at the Oak Room Bar and since neither of us had to drive, we accompanied them with a glass of local wine. Any local wine will do; you’re in California.
7:00 p.m. – Dinner in the Ranch Room
Executive Chef Pascal Godé created a delicious menu of ranch cuisine. We both agreed that my food choices topped Darren’s for the evening so I’ll share the best options for Friday night. The Alisal Tortilla Soup is a must. It includes chicken, avocado, cilantro, and crispy tortillas. I usually shy away from crispy things in my soup but this is delicious and a delightful combination. Take my word and you’ll thank me later. Then, the Grilled Prime Angus Beef Filet with Gorgonzola crust, Yukon gold mashed potatoes, broccoli and crisp shallots is hearty enough for big eaters and flavorful enough for the most sophisticated palate. Pair that with any of the local red wines and you have the perfect meal. Finish off the evening dining experience with the Brownie and Ice Cream. It may sound like the typical dessert and uneventful but from the first bite you’ll be eating your words.
(Tip: Dress is business casual. No jeans and jackets are required for men.)
Saturday – Activities Abound
8:45 a.m. – Take the Hay Wagon Breakfast Ride to the Old Adobe
Arriving early, we saw the riders heading out before the wagon left. We grabbed hot chocolate by the barn and sat on the hay chatting with other guests while we waited. This was a good way to get to know the others staying at the resort. Everyone was friendly and relaxed with tons of kids all around. Athena was excited to get dirty on the hay and play with the other kids. While the ride wasn’t an extreme adventure, fun is always what you make of it. We bounced around and giggled the entire ride. When we arrived at the Old Adobe, we enjoyed a Western breakfast buffet with some of the best flapjacks and homemade country biscuits and gravy. Giant sycamores and a crackling campfire set the scene for a singing cowboy on guitar.
(Tips: It’s cool in the morning so pack a sweater for the ride. You’re on an open-air wagon and the breeze can be brisk. Don’t forget your camera for the beautiful scenery and lake vistas. It was a good idea to wear pants; you’re sitting on itchy hay after all.)
10 a.m. – Meet the Critters near the Barn
An abundance of cool critters awaited us when we returned from the hay ride. One of the staff set up sections for birds, lizards, a snake, and a very unique skink with a long blue tongue. Both kids and adults were fascinated with all of the animals and we were no exception. Athena was brave enough to hold each animal only after Mommy went first. Holding a scary looking skink was a small sacrifice to see the look on Athena’s face when it was her turn.
10:30 a.m. – Let Kids Ride the Horse
A friendly, gentle horse awaits in the barn area for children to ride. Maybe this wasn’t the best time to ride him because there was a line but it allowed Athena to see other children, some younger than her, riding the horse before it was her turn. We loved this aspect of it and didn’t mind waiting in line.
12:00 p.m. – Lunch at the River Grill
There are lots of lunch choices at the River Grill but only one real pick: the Smoked Beef Brisket. Thinly sliced beef brisket, creamed horseradish and au jus, served on a French roll with French fries, onion rings, cole slaw, or potato salad. You may stay another day just so you can have the Smoked Beef Brisket again. Delicious!
(Tip: the also have Alisal Tortilla Soup at the River Grill so bring your appetite.)
1:00 p.m. – Archery Class at the Lake
I went out for an archery class while Darren took Athena to pick eggs at the barn. (We usually alternate between activities when Athena can’t participate. Next time it will be Darren’s turn.) The 1 p.m. shuttle to the lake picked me up behind the Chuck Wagon Grill near the pool.
Archery class is offered from 1:00-3:00 p.m. and air rifle classes are offered from 9:00-11:00 a.m.. Both classes last about 1 1/2 hours with about 30 minutes of transportation time, round-trip. I do love air rifle as well, but that cut into the Hay Wagon Ride so I missed it this time. It will definitely be part of our next vacation at Alisal Guest Ranch.
The archery lesson included three levels of targets. A fake bear was on the top level and I was able to hit it a number of times. I have had lessons before but I’d say you’ll be hitting the bear before you leave. Three children and one parent joined me at the lesson, along with two instructors. We all managed to hit each major target before leaving. I was especially proud of the arrow nose ring that I gave the bear. I’m actually getting a lot better with my shot and appreciated all the helpful tips from the instructors. If they offer to help, listen carefully. They are both great shots.
(Tip: Arrange all lake activities prior to your departure for Alisal Lake. You can plan everything at Guest Services. Some activities, like archery, have a service charge.)
1:30 p.m. – Pick Eggs at the Barn
Adding to the awesome fun for children, there is a chance to pick eggs at the barn. One parent can stay with the child/children for this adventure while the other enjoys an activity at the lake or skip both the archery lesson and the egg picking and head out on a horse riding adventure for the entire family.)
5:00 p.m. – Appetizers in the Oak Room
Similar to Friday night, there are appetizers in the Oak Room. This is the best spot to meet others and share experiences from the day. Although it’s a bar, children are welcome so bring the toddlers for a snack after a fun-filled day of adventure.
7:00 p.m. – Dinner in the Ranch Room
Our Saturday night dinner was equally scrumptious, but Darren made some delicious choices this evening. We’d suggest starting with Arborio Rice Risotto with wild mushrooms and Parmesan cheese. As an entree, the Slow-Roasted Natural Beef Prime Rib with pan juices, corn and green chili gratin and snap peas is a California dreamin delight. The dessert is a tricky one for Saturday because they are all so tasty but Alisal has a special dessert with oatmeal. I can’t remember the name but I’m sure you’ll know it when you see the oatmeal option on the menu. Between this and the soup, it would be a toss-up for best tastes of the trip.
(Tip: An oatmeal dessert may not sound like your cup of tea, but it was the top pick for all three of us. There is power in numbers and the proof is in the oatmeal. Give it a try.)
Sunday – Lake Before Leave
7:30 a.m. Breakfast in the Ranch Room
It’s not difficult to find breakfast because it’s also served in the Ranch Room and you have a spacial table reserved for you during your stay so seating is a cinch as well. Breakfast buffets are lavish, brimming with fresh fruit, homemade cinnamon rolls, and your favorite morning entrees. Everything is tasty so we’d suggest ordering different plates for each family member and sharing. The plates are overflowing in both size and deliciousness.
9:00 a.m. – Cast Your Rod at Alisal Lake
Catch the shuttle to the lake. It picks up at the same location as the archery shuttle.
Cast your rod as you fish for Large Mouth Bass or Blue Gill off the dock or simply relax on the sun-drenched deck with a good book. Alisal’s Lake Staff can be found in the boathouse for helpful tips on your fishing technique along with your fishing equipment, all provided. No prior reservations are required to rent boating or fishing equipment.
(Tip: The last pick-up at the Lake Shuttle Stop to Alisal Lake is at 3:00 p.m. while the last shuttle departs from Alisal Lake at 4:45 p.m. and will return guests to the Lake Shuttle Stop near the pool.)
12:00 p.m. – Check-Out and Departure
I know, I know; you don’t want to leave, but all good things come to an end… at least for now. On the drive home, you can start dreaming about your next visit.
(Tip: check out after breakfast so you don’t need to worry about being back from the lake at 12 p.m.)