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Discover Alisal Ranch, which has hosted the likes of Clarke Gable, Gregory Peck, and Ava Gardner.

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Alisal Ranch, a member of Historic Hotels of America since 2021, dates back to 1946.


A member of Historic Hotels of America since 2021, Alisal Ranch is one of the best holiday destinations in southern California. The land upon which the current resort resides is nestled in the Santa Ynez Valley, bound by a river on the northeast and a coastal mountain range on the southwest. The range barricades the coastal flow, producing warm valley days and cool valley nights. The adjacent river and seasonal streams that cross this land abound with annual runs of 10-pound steelhead trout. The rolling hills are dotted with valley oaks and coastal live oaks, many of which will live up to 300 years. The verdant glens and riverbanks, shadowed by the mountain backdrop, support healthy groves of western sycamores. Deer graze cautiously, fearing mountain lions, bears, and coyotes. The original inhabitants used this land for hunting and for gathering acorns, while later generations who came from across the ocean also saw its promise. The original inhabitants called the region “Nojoqui,” but the newer arrivals knew it by the name of “Alisal” (meaning “grove of sycamores”). Thirty-nine years after the Spanish padres established the Mission Santa Inés in the Chumash village of Ahajalapu, these lands across the Santa Ynez River were granted to Raimundo Carrillo. Carrillo received the 13,500-acre grant for his service to the newly established Mexican government. The sole economic focus of this land for the next 40 years (by Carrillo and five subsequent owners) would be raising livestock, primarily cattle.

Ulpiano Yndart owned the Alisal in 1854, a time when cattle were the backbone of Santa Ynez Valley wealth. He was the last of four owners who acquired their wealth during the period of Mexican authority. Ulpiano’s journey to the Americas began at the age of 16, when, after having completed his business studies, he was offered a business job in a Mexican company. The news of the discovery of gold in California reached Mexico in 1848, and he soon prepared to go to the promised land. A Basque immigrant trained in business, Yndart eventually purchased the ranch with the hopes of making its cattle operations even more lucrative. But the winter of 1861 through the first half of 1862 saw rainfall of epic proportion in California. Storms stayed for weeks, with one storm lasting 70 days, while one single downpour in 1861 lasted twenty consecutive hours. The narrow coast plains throughout Santa Barbara were completely flooded by actual rivers of waters racing out of the mountains. The ranch, along with all the surrounding acreage was inundated with raging rain, which uprooted trees and washed away homes and buildings. Much of the rich pastureland was washed away by the destructive deluge. Hundreds and hundreds of cattle drowned; one quarter of the livestock was lost.

By summer, the storms were abating, and by fall, the soaked soil was finally drying out. The water-weary population looked forward to more sun, which unfortunately was all they would experience for the next two years. Because of the devastating drought of the mid-1860s, only five percent of the local cattle in Santa Barbara survived. From late fall of 1862 into 1864, all of California was experiencing a drought. Less than 4 inches of rain fell in 1863, and 1864 had even less. The few showers were not enough to replenish the grass; in fact, there was no grass for miles around and cattle everywhere died of starvation. Not only were the pasturelands barren, but the Santa Ynez River had dried up. Both were strewn with the carcasses of cattle, attracting turkey vultures, bears, and wolves out to scavenge. While 200,000 head of cattle had survived the floods, only 5,000 cattle remained in the entire Santa Barbara County by February of 1864. “Many of the rancheros heretofore accounted rich,” one newspaper noted, “are reduced to poverty.”

Upiano Yndart was ruined financially. In 1868, he sold Rancho Nojoqui, and, as most landowners did, sold it for pennies on the dollar to an enterprising American family, the Pierces.The Pierce family engineered a novel irrigation system, allowing them to use water from the Santa Ynez River to farm a portion of Rancho Alisal. Although cattle would never again roam unfenced in the valley—nor in their original numbers—by 1907, (49 years after the economic shock of the drought), William T. Mead had established the Alisal Ranch Company. The ranch and its neighbors’ ranches soon experienced an extended period of prosperity. Horses had been essential to the cattle economy of the Alisal for decades. Never had such care been given to these animals though, until Charles E. Perkins purchased the Alisal in 1927. He devoted his attention to raising thoroughbred horses, as well as fine cattle. Perkins even oversaw the rearing of Kentucky Derby-winner Flying Ebony, the trotting horse Lou Dillon, and other well-known horses.

A century after Carrillo received the grant for Rancho Nojoqui, the Alisal was purchased by Charles “Pete” Jackson Jr., who expanded the reputation of the Alisal in an entirely new direction—hospitality. Originally designed solely as a working cattle ranch, manager Lynn Gilliam advised the family to convert the cattlemen’s quarters to guestrooms for dude ranch visitors. On July 16, 1946, Alisal Ranch was opened for summer seasons with a maximum capacity of 30 guests. Since then, The Alisal has consistently ranked at the top of the country’s resorts and has been a playground for a number of notable guests. Clark Gable married Lady Silvia in The Alisal’s historic library, and a prominent Hollywood magazine featured a front-page story on Doris Day while on one of her regular visits to The Alisal. Guests today can enjoy luxury and anonymity, all while celebrating its significant historical character. Celebrities are frequent guests, and the ranch welcomes visitors from the world over. Western-flavored hospitality remains, however: the cattlemen’s quarters that once fed grub to hungry cowboys is now a discriminating restaurant; deer can still be seen grazing cautiously, though these days it is often on The Alisal’s 18-hole golf courses; and horses and cattle roam grass-covered hills that have changed little since the days of the Spanish vaquero.

  • About the Location +

    Solvang, California, lies in the greater Santa Ynez Valley, a verdant sanctuary filled with many bucolic towns and rustic vineyards. The beautiful Santa Ynez River cuts through the heart of the valley, as the picturesque San Rafael and San Ynez Mountains border it to the north and south, respectively. Agriculture has long defined the entire area, specifically viticulture for which the region is well known. In fact, the Santa Ynez Valley is just one of a handful of distinct American Viticultural Areas, within which more than 50 different kinds of varietals thrive in the local climate. As such, the region is host to well over 100 wineries, with some of the best concentrated along the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, as well as towns like Buellton, Lompoc, Los Olivos, and of course, Solvang. Solvang itself dates back to the early 20th century, although people had been living in the region for many years prior. Among the first were the Chumash people, who inhabited the space as hunter-gatherers. Yet, the Chumash were eventually joined by a group of Franciscan friars led by Father Estévan Tapís in the early 19th century. Father Tapís and the rest of his cohort had been tasked with the goal of founding a community that would link the preexisting missions of Santa Barbara and La Purisima Concepción. Receiving the title to thousands of acres in the area, they created their own mission—Mission Santa Inés—in 1804. Unfortunately, the priests had to completely rebuild their frontier settlement a decade later, when a ferocious earthquake struck the area. Nevertheless, the Franciscans repaired the mission, constructing a new church as well as two mills.

    The Mission Santa Inés subsequently prospered for some time, until it was secularized in the wake of the Mexican War for Independence. The Mexican government subsequently granted most of the mission’s former land to several local ranchers who had arrived a few years prior, while leaving its church complex to operate as an independent entity. The site of the future town of Solvang was given to the prominent Carrillo family, who later christened it as the Rancho San Carlos de Jonata. But in the mid-1800s, a wave of new settlers flooded into the region, especially after California’s entrance into the Union following the Mexican-American War. Most of the settlers were Americans or European transplants who had started to move onto most of the older Mexican ranches, which had been abandoned from a variety of political and economic misfortune. (A drought had an especially profound impact upon the earlier Mexican landowners, forcing many to sell their land.) A large portion of the new migrants were Danish immigrants and their descendants, who had left several ethnic enclaves in the Midwest to found colonies along the Pacific coast. Many created the towns around “folk schools,” which were supposed to facilitate a spirit of freedom and cultural preservation. Interestingly, those Scandinavian immigrants continued to gradually relocate to the western United States for the better part of the next eight decades, with its climax occurring around the time of the Great Depression.

    In 1911, one group of Danish and Danish-American migrants purchased some 9,000 acres of land within the old Rancho San Carlos de Jonata at an average price of 40 dollars per acre. They immediately set about founding a town near the historic Mission Santa Inés, calling their new community “Solvang.” Like many other Danish migrants at the time, the residents of Solvang quickly established a folk school called “Atterdag College” in order to help preserve their unique way of life. The locals also presided over the debut of a traditional Lutheran church, as well as a few specialized businesses. Yet, most of the buildings in downtown Solvang initially reflected similar architectural styles found in the neighboring towns in the Santa Ynez Valley. But the citizens of Solvang soon created a deep fascination with Danish architecture in the mid-20th century. They gradually transformed its downtown to feature new buildings that displayed the rich elements of Scandinavian architecture, including thatched roofs and half-timbering. (Many referred to the new architectural style as “Danish Provincial.”) A number of beautiful structures with Danish-inspired design aesthetics debuted all over town, including the great Tivoli Square. Four historically thematic windmills even opened in the heart of the community! In the present, Solvang has become one of California’s most famous vacation retreats. Its special Scandinavian culture annually attracts one million people from across the world every year. The village is also home to countless cultural attractions that include dozens of restaurants, boutique shops, and entertainment facilities. Few places can offer a fulfilling cultural heritage experience than Solvang, California.

  • Famous Historic Guests +

    Clark Gable, actor known for his roles in It Happened One Night, Mutiny on the Bounty, Gone with the Wind.

    Sylvia Ashley, model, socialite, and actress who known for marrying many European nobles and American movie stars.

    Doris Day, actor known for her roles in Pajama Game, Pillow Talk and That Touch of Mink.

    Gregory Peck, actor known for such roles in Twelve O’Clock High, Gentleman’s Agreement, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

    Ava Gardner, actress known for her roles in Mogambo, The Killers, and The Barefoot Contessa.

    Kirk Douglas, actor known for his roles in Spartacus, Paths of Glory, and The Bad and the Beautiful.

    Groucho Marx, comedian and actor who made 13 feature length films as part of the famous comedy act, the Marx Brothers.

    Walt Disney, legendary cartoonist and founder of the Walt Disney Company. 

    Nelson Eddy, singer and actor known for his roles in such films like Maytime, Naughty Marietta, and Rose-Marie.

    Susan Hayward, actress known for her roles in I Want to Live!, I’ll Cry Tomorrow, and Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman.

    Sally Eilers, actress known for her roles in Bad Girl, Strange Illusions, and Quick Millions.

    Dennis Morgan, actor known for his roles in Christmas in Connecticut, My Wild Irish Rose, and It’s a Great Feeling.

    Rhonda Fleming, actress known for her roles in Gun Glory, Out of the Past, and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

    Clifton Webb, actor known for his roles in Laura, The Razor’s Edge, and Sitting Pretty.

    Cobina Wright, opera singer, journalist, and actress remembered for her role in The Razor’s Edge.

    Charles J. Correll, comedian best remembered for his role on the radio series, Amos ‘n’ Andy.

    José Iturbi, Spanish conductor, pianist and harpsichordist.

  • Film, TV and Media Connections +

    Sideways (2004)