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♦ When I was approached by Forbes Travel Guide to visit and write a review of the San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, I didn’t hesitate! Even though I only live a few miles away, I hadn’t been to the property since its major renovation and the opportunity to enjoy a private tour was irresistible. After all, who could resist a behind-the-scenes peek at one of Santa Barbara’s most legendary and acclaimed getaways? Not I!
♦ Discreetly tucked away in an exclusive residential neighborhood of Montecito, from the moment you arrive at San Ysidro Ranch and enter the olive-tree lined drive awash in aromatic lavender, you know that you’re someplace special…
♦ Despite the reputation for exclusivity (after all, Jack and Jackie honeymooned here and it has been a celebrity destination for decades), you immediately feel that you’re an invited and expected guest… and indeed you are.
♦ Originally a 500 acre Spanish land grant, the Ranch (yes, it was once a working citrus ranch as well as a way station for Franciscan monks) uses approximately 150-175 of those acres. In the 1930’s the property was purchased by actor Ronald Coleman and a business partner and converted into a private haven for celebrities such as Audrey Hepburn, Lucille Ball, Bing Crosby and Groucho Marx. Vivien Leigh and Sir Lawrence Olivier even exchanged wedding vows here. More recently the Ranch was purchased and completely renovated by Ty Warner.
♦ Entering the Hacienda, the guest reception area, I was immediately struck by the informal and comfortable atmosphere. California casual at its finest, no detail has been overlooked. The furnishings, as well as every accessory and piece of art, have been personally selected and collected from around the world. This warm and intimate ambience is pervasive throughout the property.
♦ After a warm welcome by Maxine, San Ysidro’s Wedding and Event Manager, we set off to explore the property. A most gracious host, she shared the history and “past life” of each of the private dining and meeting rooms including: the Hydrangea Cottage, the 1825 Old Adobe Cottage and the Wine Cellar. Each is a perfect venue and unique setting for intimate dinners, special occasions or small corporate meetings.
♦ As we strolled the grounds with its lush gardens and landscaping, it was impossible not to pause and just soak in the beauty of our surroundings. I especially loved the Chef’s organic garden where vegetables and herbs are grown and used in the kitchens.
But my favorite spot was the gorgeous terraced lawn with a lovely pergola and accented with Meyer lemon trees positively laden with lemons. Perfect for a garden party… The aroma of lemon trees blossoming and the view? Simply spectacular! You definitely know that you’re on the American Riviera!
♦ We then make our way down to visit the two Ranch restaurants where we are greeted by Franco, Director of Restaurants. With its charming patio and fireplace and casual pub-like interior, the Plow & Angel, is a perfect choice for guests and locals to enjoy appetizers and cocktails at the end of the day. A special treat was a visit their impressive wine cellar (12,000 bottles!).
♦ Upstairs, The Stonehouse offers an eclectic farm-to-table menu in an intimate and congenial atmosphere. I was delighted to be offered lunch on the covered terrace overlooking the Pacific.
♦ A bonus was that, despite a busy schedule, Executive Chef Mathew Johnson was extremely accommodating and took the time share about his culinary background and sources of inspiration.
♦ Finding it difficult to choose from an enticing lunch menu, I deferred to the Chef’s recommendations and I wasn’t disappointed – what an unexpected pleasure. My beautifully prepared sea bass was superb and, at the insistence of my server (with little resistance), I was spoiled with not one but two “must have” desserts – their signature Meyer lemon tart and chocolate mint ice cream. (Out of this world!)
♦ After lunch, my tour continued with a visit to the Spa and two of the “bungalows”. The Spa (formerly offices) is absolutely charming and the services they offer? Pampering at its best!
♦ Needless to say, each bungalow is unique and tastefully furnished and decorated. The emphasis on privacy and providing guests with every imaginable amenity and creature comfort is unmistakable. Even pets are spoiled here! Honestly, they have thought of and anticipated every possible wish or whim!
♦ All this and an exceptionally gracious and welcoming staff. I was so impressed that many of the staff had been with the Ranch for many years and obviously take pride in and love working there.
♦ Despite being only minutes from the bustling Highway 101, with this beautiful setting, lush surroundings and low key ambience, San Ysidro Ranch is a heavenly escape. Whether it be for a special occasion or for no good reason except that you need to unplug or just want and deserve to spoil yourself, you’re in the right place.
I should warn you though, you may never want to leave…I know I didn’t!
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My sincere thanks to…
Mark Muratori, Managing Director; Maxine Rutledge, Wedding and Event Manager; Franco DeBartolo, Director of Restaurants, Executive Chef Mathew Johnson; Amanda Pheng, Guest Service Supervisor, and to all of the other lovely staff and servers for your generosity and hospitality.
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The next time you’re in the neighborhood, visit San Ysidro Ranch – whether it’s for cocktails, lunch or dinner or a long weekend, I can guarantee that you will love it as much as I did!
Please check out my recently published review for Forbes Travel Guide.