• Monday, November 30, 2020

San Ysidro – Incognito Ranch
November 14, 2012
By , Co-Founder
San Ysidro Ranch

An elite destination known for its fairytale weddings and discreet A-listers, this historic ranch is one of the world’s great romantic hideaways. Located just outside Santa Barbara, every detail is quintessentially Californian (they offer spa treatments for dogs – enough said) and guests are encouraged to embrace nature and enjoy the fresh air, mountainous terrain, and ocean views.

If all this sounds a little too, well, California, fear not. The ranch’s proximity to wine county creates plenty of opportunities for low-maintenance debauchery, which, in our opinion, is a mandatory criteria for any resort.

Good For: Couple and families. This is the kind of place where you transition from a double-income couple with a perma-Pinot buzz to a 2.2-kid, golden retriever, white-picket-fence kind of family. There are plenty of activities for families, but there’s no denying the resort’s magical atmosphere. It’s romance in the making.


  • Star-gaze with a cocktail in hand on your private patio and then curl up in front of the fireplace.
  • Explore the ranch grounds on horseback and lace up your boots to trek the trails through the Santa Ynez Mountains, which culminate in ocean views.
  • Go Sideways in Santa Barbara and tour the wineries, from Taste of Sta. Rita Hills to Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards.
  • Dine on maple-glazed duck and white-chocolate bread pudding at the French-inspired Bouchon.

What to Know:The Santa Barbara Airport is serviced by several airlines from nearby cities. If traveling from the East Coast, we recommend flying through Los Angeles. Santa Barbara is a 40-minute flight or two-hour (stunning) drive. Don’t forget to bring hiking boots to fully take advantage of all the outdoor activities. Treatments at the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore in Santa Barbara are discounted 20 percent for visitors, as the pool and fitness center are not accessible to non-hotel guests.

Cocktail Chatter

Sitting on a land plot titled by the King of Spain in 1769, San Ysidro has served as everything from a caravanserai for Franciscan monks to a 19th-century citrus farmhouse. The ranch’s idyll, privacy, and luxury have made it a haven for luminaries from Audrey Hepburn to Winston Churchill to Laurence Olivier, who married Vivien Leigh here.

Star Power

Perhaps it was San Ysidro’s accessibility that first put it on the map for the rich and famous – it’s a 90-minute drive from Beverly Hills. Its pristine natural beaches and culinary mastery could also be to blame. Or maybe it had something to do with serenity of the ranch, originally a citrus farm, coupled with the taste level and services of Rodeo Drive.

All we know is that Oprah and Barbara Streisand have vacationed here and Julia Roberts, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jackie Kennedy chose it for their honeymoons. These are women with standards. We would not want to be stuck in a Best Western with these women. The moral of the story: You’re in good company.

There are 41 guest cottages, suites, and rooms on the 500-acre San Ysidro Ranch property. Decor is cozy country, with cut-stone fireplaces, antique furniture, and plenty of California oak. Each unit has a private patio for dining or star-gazing. We recommend the Warner Cottage, a two-bedroom, three-fireplace cottage with a private pool.

Once you’ve settled into your room, the adventure begins. Walk to the 1825 Old Adobe building to familiarize yourself with the grounds and then check out the Hydrangea Cottage. Venture up to the manicured hilltop lawn with an ocean view (if you can’t find it, just ask where celebrities wed). If you’re feeling especially gallant, the terrain can also be explored by horseback. Then lace up your boots and take to the hills – there are 17 miles of hiking trails through the Santa Ynez Mountains. Each trail offers breathtaking views of the ocean and calm mountain streams. The kitchen will even pack you a picnic lunch. 

Farm-to-Fork Cuisine

For dinner, reserve a table at the Stonehouse, where much of the gourmet fare is harvested from the ranch’s own gardens. The wine list emphasizes locality, of course, and Santa Barbara’s Talley Pinot Noir is a must-try. And leave room for desert. We couldn’t get enough of the lemon tart, made with lemons from the ranch’s own citrus trees.

Breakfast is only served in your room or on your patio, which gives you an easy excuse to sleep in and dine in your robe. You may want to avoid the more decadent options and refuel with huevos rancheros and granola, but on Sunday, throw caution to the wind and get the fried chicken and waffles.

Feel free to take a dip in the heated pool or use the gym facilities, but the one luxury you won’t find is a spa. However, the front desk will happily arrange for in-room yoga classes and massage treatments for you andyour dog, which oddly seems to make up for it.

Going Sideways

On Day 2, pack a picnic and a bottle of wine and head to nearby Butterfly Beach. Thanks to the area’s flawless weather tendencies, you’re almost guaranteed a perfect beach day. A late-afternoon bike ride through the Montecito Hills is a great way to scope the area’s lavish homes. And if you’re back at the ranch by sunset, take a horseback ride by the shore.

It would be a shame to miss a dinner in Santa Barbara, especially the French fare at Bouchon. Start with the Lyonnaise salad with bacon and a poached egg and follow with the maple-glazed California duck breast, which literally melts in your mouth. The restaurant’s sommelier will guide you to an appropriate vintage, something local if you ask. For dessert, the white-chocolate bread pudding and Bearss lime tart shouldn’t be missed. After dinner, stroll down the charming State Street and pop into SOhO orVelvet Jones for live music.

Dedicate your third day to Santa Barbara’s eight wineries, all within walking distance of downtown. Municipal Winemakers, Taste of Sta. Rita Hillsin the Lompoc Wine Ghetto, and Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards, 15 miles east of Lompoc, are our favorites. To soak it all up, try Olio Pizzeriaor theBlue Owl at Zen Yai. If you’re on a roll, there are many more wineries and tasting rooms to the north, but we recommend renting a car – and a driver, if possible – for this leg of the journey.

No vacation is complete without a spa day, and the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore, right on the beach in Santa Barbara, is a good choice. Choose the signature Grape de Vine treatment, a native grape-seed scrub followed by a rose and lavender full-body massage. Afterwards, enjoy a late lunch on the Bella Vistaterrace, which overlooks the Pacific – and start planning your return trip to this perfect corner of the world.

(Photos: San Ysidro Ranch, courtesy of San Ysidro Ranch; Four Seasons The Biltmore, courtesy of Four Seasons The Biltmore; Stonehouse restaurant, courtesy of San Ysidro Ranch)