Guest Stories

Below are just a few heart-warming stories that our guests have shared with us over the years.  From first-time visitors to fourth generation guests, they all have one thing in common, they cherish the memories they created here at the Alisal.  We hope you enjoy reading these stories as our guests reminisce about their time here on the Ranch.

Dude Ranch Association Top 50 Ranches Website

Thanks for the great memories!

The Parkers

California Guest Ranch Spa ~ The Parkers

We just spent 4 wonderful and memorable days at Alisal (November 22 - 25, 2013). My brother and his family have been coming for the past 6 years and have always told us how great it is. They absolutely love it there and thought that it would be a good idea to get our entire family there as a mini reunion. So with their prodding, we were able to get 21 family members (3 generations) together for a fabulous time. Four family members actually travelled all the way from Hawaii to share the experience with us! We had so much for riding horses, visiting the petting zoo, fishing for the first time, golfing, playing flag football with other families there, and of course eating the fine cuisine. I must also admit that the hot chocolate is the best I have ever had!

We enjoyed ourselves so much that we will be coming back next year! Such a wonderful and magical place!

Thanks for the great memories,
Melissa Parker

We had such a great family time

Nate Kuchera Family

California Guest Ranch Spa ~ Nate Kuchera Family

My famiy and I just retruned from an incredible vacation at Alisal - my first time there, but my wife came as a young girl with her Mom growing up. We had such a great family time doing so many wonderful things, that I can't wait to try and come back again. Everything was perfect - from the food to the staff to the rooms and the grounds, it was all so nice. I'm sure you have heard it many times, there's something special about Alisal and I am just so glad I finally got to  expreience it after hearing about it for so many years.
I should add one more thing: There was one moment when I was fishing on the dock with my five year old son Owen, trying to get that elusive worm on the hook. It was a perfect day and only a few people were on the lake. My son and I looked up and a bald eagle swooped down right in front of us and grabbed a fish right out of the water, then flapped it's giant wings, up and away into the trees. It was an incredible sight - mainly for us becasue it's not one we ever see often (in person at least), but sure is one we'll never forget.

Perfect combination of relaxation, renewal & unabashed fun!

Vicky Wight

California Guest Ranch Spa ~ Vicky Wight

2009 was supposed to be our first year visiting the Alisal, but we had to delay because I was diagnosed with cancer. We started to make plans for 2010 immediately as a way to reward ourselves after treatment. We finally cruised down the lovely tree-lined drive this August. To say we were thrilled with the service, atmosphere and food would be an understatement. The Alisal surpassed our expectations. My sister has been vacationing at the Alisal for many years and always spoke very highly of the experience. We were lucky enough to share our first time at the ranch with her family. It was the perfect combination of relaxation, renewal and unabashed fun for our children and us. We can't wait to make it a yearly family tradition.

Fantastic Birthday Weekend – We all want to come back!

Susan Kavanaugh

It NEVER gets old!! (even though I seem to be doing soJ) I want to thank you all for a fantastic birthday weekend with our friends to celebrate with Frank.  Everything was handled so well in the preparation. The weekend went so smoothly and everyone (especially the birthday boy) really enjoyed themselves, enjoyed the meals and activities and relaxed a lot.  Even our small changes were handled very smoothly and I felt on vacation as well, which is a huge gift to me. Ruben was also awesome, just on everything as it was happening. The lake staff was so nice and helpful too. A few of our friends had been to Alisal many years ago but most had never been. I think a few of them either booked trips back or are looking at dates to book trips because they enjoyed it so much. Thank you so much!

Alisal… there’s no other place like it

Rosalia Taylor (Koenig-Taylor-Comerford Family) - San Francisco, CA

California Guest Ranch Spa ~ Rosalia Taylor (Koenig-Taylor-Comerford Family) - San Francisco, CA

We are the Koenig-Taylor-Comerford family.  We live in the San Francisco Bay area and have been coming to the Alisal Guest Ranch since 1955.  I, Rosalia Taylor, came at the age of ten and vividly remember our stay in Cabins #40 & 41.  My next visit was in 1971 with my husband of one year, Brown Taylor.  I had spoken so often and with such fondness of the Alisal that he said he had to experience it for himself.  Then it really started.  We returned the following year with two other couples.  Then the next year with one other couple.  In the spring of 1975 we came while I was pregnant with our daughter, Alison.  It was about a year later Alison actually visited the Ranch in person.  She was about six months old.  We started having family and friends join us every year.  Sometimes our group numbered twenty plus but most of the time were a group of fifteen to eighteen.  Everyone enjoyed their time to relax, compete: "Best on the Trail", "Best on the Tennis Court", etc.  It was always special to see ole familiar faces:  Woompi, Jake, Tino, Marge, Inez, Bill and so many more.  We made it a ritual to be there around the last two weeks of May.  We continue that tradition now with our grandson, Tyler, who is four years old.  He has been to the Ranch four times and has even stayed in Cabin #40 and #41.  All he talks about is going back to the Ranch so that he can ride Babyface, Cactus, Cinnamon, and Skip. As the fourth generation of the Koenig-Taylor-Comerford family enjoys the Alisal things change, life goes on but the Alisal is the Alisal and there is no other place like it.

After 911, we left feeling uplifted and renewed by your lovely setting

Louise & Mike Newman

Dear Dave,

Perhaps you were aware that we made a quick change of plans last Tuesday, September 11 when our planned trip to France and Italy came to an abrupt halt.  We were very fortunate that you had space for us at the ranch for four days.  We felt like the walking wounded when we arrived; a feeling shared by many that day, I know. We left feeling uplifted and ready to get back to work and everyday life, picked up and dusted off, having been pampered by your staff and renewed by your lovely setting.  We enjoyed our warm and fragrant fires, the lovely brilliant sky both night and day, the pool and the spa.  We didn’t participate in the many activities...just being there is so heartwarming.  Thanks for being there when we needed you.

Teenagers outgrow the ranch? NEVER!

Nancy Barry - Santa Barbara, CA

California Guest Ranch Spa ~ Nancy Barry - Santa Barbara, CA

We have been going to the Alisal Ranch since our twins, Jessica &  
Clayton were 6 months old!  They especially looked forward to  
returning every summer to see the friends they've made and to enjoy  
the many activities for children that were provided.  Last June, when  
they turned 14, we thought they had "outgrown" the ranch, so we  
suggested taking a break.  They wouldn't hear of it--they both told  
us it just wouldn't seem like summer without the Alisal Ranch and  
that they consider it a family tradition.

In the past several years, we have allowed each child to bring a  
friend on alternate years, and that has worked out well.  They are  
able to be fairly independent and they really enjoy that aspect--
since the environment is so secure and well supervised, we let them  
come and go more or less, and choose their own activities, order  
their own lunch, for example.

So I guess we'll be going there forever, and that's fine with me  
because I love it too, and I look forward to our time there every year.

Couples Bootcamp went way beyond our expectations

Susan Harvey

Dear Alisal,

It is now my turn to say how much we enjoyed the Couples Boot camp. We have always enjoyed the Alisal, but the Bootcamp went way beyond our expectations. Honestly, I don’t know when I have had more fun. Thank you, Tony, Colleen, Chip, and Carol for planning so many wonderful activities and dinners for all of us. The cattle work and the Adobe evening were highlights for me, but I enjoyed each and every ride and activity. Thank you also, for all of the goodies – tee-shirt, scarves, wine, fruit, cool lunchbox, etc. Our group of campers was the best!  Peter and I thoroughly appreciated being part of such a good bunch of people and hope that you may consider a Bootcamp reunion at the Alisal next year.

A yearly tradition for all of us to celebrate our friendship

Clifford Family - Marin,CA

California Guest Ranch Spa ~ Clifford Family - Marin,CA

This November my family will celebrate our 11th year of coming to Alisal the weekend before Thanksgiving. We began coming to Alisal when our son was 6 months old. It is one of our favorite traditions for many reasons. Our first time at Alisal was with my husband, son and in-laws from Boston. Living in Los Angeles it was a perfect get-away for us: a relaxed environment a mere two hour drive from home. For my in-laws it was a wonderful respite from the bitter cold of the east coast and time to enjoy with the family.

With the many activities offered throughout the day and evening we could be as busy or as relaxed as we chose. No worries about making sure everyone agreed on what to do other than meet in the Oak Room for cocktails at 6 p.m. When our son was a toddler the wide open spaces, petting zoo, arts and crafts room and jungle gym provided endless hours of entertainment. Within a year or two of our first visit we recruited a few dear friends to join us; they were hooked and it has become a tradition for all of us to congregate and celebrate our friendship and the holiday season in the beautiful and peaceful confines of Alisal.
As our children grew they thoroughly embraced the opportunity to become independent and escape our constant watchful eye (never would happen in LA) -- hide 'n seek, ping pong, pool, (also appealing to adults) horse shoes, and pure freedom to explore, are activities they enjoy on their own. Fishing, Archery, and Riflery are activities they enjoy with parent supervision now, however, after dinner they can run over and engage in Bingo, or watch a movie with no adults present. Don't think for a second that we adults don't have our favorite past times, too. Tennis, the Breakfast Ride, Golf, and lounging with books and magazines are just a few examples. Sunday at 3 p.m. is the flag football game tradition which takes place on the lawn overlooking the golf course. The teams originally were comprised of kids from our respective families but over the years has grown to include the children of other families staying at the Resort and our very own in-house "official."  That is one of the special intangibles of Alisal -- all are welcome. The more the merrier.
Two years ago we moved from LA to Marin; no longer could we see our friends at a moments notice, so Alisal has come to mean something more to us since the summer 2008. It is now a destination where we reunite with our dear friends without the demands of everyday life, so we can reminisce and establish new memories in the relaxed and easy going environment we all so enjoy.

From the moment we arrived, we were spoiled the entire time

Casey Miller & Laurie Duggins

Dear Sherrie,

We hope that this note finds you all well!  Please excuse our tardiness in sending this thank you note.  We just wanted to thank you all for your incredible hospitality during our stay at the Alisal Ranch last month. Thank you for taking care of every detail of our trip and making it such an incredible experience. From the moment we arrived, we were spoiled the entire time. From the point of arrival with spa treatments and ending with our farewell horseback ride to breakfast we were able to see the first class service that the entire Alisal team provides. From your direct staff, to the house cleaners, the lake/boat crews, the wranglers, etc. all of your staff provided incredible service with a smile and seemed genuinely happy to serve us.

Every part of our visit including fishing at the lake, relaxing in our beautiful accommodations, exploring the expansive grounds, wine tasting at your local wineries, horseback riding and spa treatments all highlighted the many activities and features/amenities that are unique to Alisal Ranch. All of the food was delicious and really showcased your culinary team’s talents as well as the local flavor of the area.

Thank you also for our welcome basket to greet us in our guest rooms and the farewell gift of the beautiful leather gloves and the fleece blanket.

What a memorable trip for us both! We enjoyed meeting each of you and experiencing Alisal Ranch first hand. Thank you again!

Since 1950, Alisal Ranch… nothing short of heaven

Daphne Family

California Guest Ranch Spa ~ Daphne Family

My family has been coming to the Alisal since 1950. Four generations have ridden the trails and found the best escape ever. Sitting by the pool, getting ready to go to an amazing dinner in the historic Ranch Room, and getting to know and laugh with everyone at the ranch, is something we will always enjoy. Listening to the authentic live singing of old cowboy songs is priceless. Meeting other families from places near and far and even making some good friends is always a guarantee here. The rolling hills and oak trees are gorgeous and the bobcats, coyotes, and deer are the neighbors I've always wanted. Coming back from dinner to find your beds turned down for the night and the next day's schedule never gets old. I can't imagine it being possible to stay here too long. I can only sum the Alisal Ranch up as being nothing short of heaven.

Once again, the Ranch surpassed every expectation

John Given Family

Dear David,

For some reason I was unable to open the guest survey on my computer but I certainly wanted you to know that our recent stay at the Ranch once again surpassed every expectation. This particular weekend in September (which has become a family tradition) is eagerly anticipated by all 10 of us every year. The Ranch has never looked better, the staff is as friendly, professional, and courteous as ever, and the food was the best we can remember. And by the way, what a marvelous addition the Spa and Fitness Center are!  We commend you for the job you are doing in overseeing this marvelous operation and can't wait for our next opportunity to visit.  All the best to you and your wonderful staff at the Alisal.

Life is short… we must all vacation as often as possible

Sharlot Bott

California Guest Ranch Spa ~ Sharlot Bott

Wayne and I made great memories at Alisal Ranch we had two wonderful but short vacations at Alisal. Our first trip with the Burgios was in Feb 2006. Out next trip was with the Bowers in April 2007.

We always sought out the package deals as we loved to do every activity that was offered; Golf, Tennis, Horseback Riding, Fishing, Good Wine and Fine Dining.  It was the perfect vacation spot for Wayne, my husband.  He loved activity and staying active the entire vacation was his idea of a dream vacation. 

Unfortunately, Wayne passed away suddenly in Feb 2008 of heart failure he was 44 years young, too soon for sure.  I am grateful to have wonderful Alisal memories with Wayne.  I planned a big birthday party for Wayne’s 45 and on the invitation I used the Alisal picture of Wayne kissing the fish, he passed two weeks before his 45th.  Wayne was charismatic a kind soul, and funny as heck.  I will forever miss him…

Life is short no matter at what age you pass we must all vacation as often as possible and remember to seize your special moments with loved ones.

The Joy of Alisal

Poem by Jamie Pugh Newman, age 11

The crisp air as you stroll down the path,
Your smile as dust envelopes you on a trail ride,
The sun setting slowly and lazily behind the beautiful hills,
The glistening lake with tall reeds and cool waters,
The joy of seeing friends and family again.
The lazy morning walks along the dew-dropped grass,
The huge trees creating an archway,
The gentle croaks of frogs in the creek lulling you to sleep.
Another year to add to an amazing life and many more to come.
We love the Alisal and all the memories we have created together
And can’t wait to see what the rest of the years hold for us.”

Ode to Alisal

Gina Sammis (Nelson & Betty Howard Family)

California Guest Ranch Spa ~ Gina Sammis (Nelson & Betty Howard Family)

Gina Sammis of the Nelson and Betty Howard clan sent an “Ode to Alisal” with lots of fun and fondness expressed. She let us know that their beloved patriarch Nelson Howard passed in 2005 while Betty Howard turned 100 this January. Though time passing inevitably changes our lives it can’t take away the precious times families have spent together at the ranch.


Are we there yet?” rang in our ears up the 101 - until we drove down the lane, saw the horses grazing, time for fun! Tennis, swimming, golf and a horse back ride - a little arts and crafts, the park, fishing at the lake, it was tough to decide.

There were square dances and card games in the Cottonwood Room “a little poker, anyone?” Tianna taught us all spoons. The Saturday night barbecue, the Foss Bros. in the Oak Room, jacuzzis and baseball games, Alisal punch was consumed. Tino squeaking his duck in a child’s ear and Jake’s poems too - hot dogs in the Waggin’ Tongue Snack Bar, Mert at the petting zoo. Talent night was always an entertaining event - but bingo and musical chairs brought participation to 100%. The best moments were hors ’deuvres at the big house at five - getting our family together was worth the drive.

Talking, joking, reminiscing about old times - a little wisdom from Papa, Gina’s scrapbooks, a little wine. When it was clear our run might be ending in ‘04 - the kids were devastated, they wanted more. But we feel so lucky and blessed to have the memories - and we know who to thank, our beloved Papa and Nannie. To them we are grateful for all the years - even if the sweet thought of Alisal brings us to tears. And we realize that there is strength in numbers, and that we are a family - with common threads, shared blood, a blended history. It’s so hard to think that it’s all in the past - but the love and glorious memories remain intact. I can close my eyes and see soft shadows from tall sycamore trees - hear pattering boots on the bridge, feel the warm Santa Inez breeze. I can taste the hayride dust and hear us singing camp songs - it’s wonderful to know we will always belong. To that charmed group of people, the Coles, the Liens, lifelong pals - with whom we share such special memories… And know the best place in the world - it’s the Alisal!

A Reflection

Poem by Emily Davis, 2008

If I reflect on my childhood there is one thing through all the moves and different schools that remains constant. This thing is a wonderful place that sits in the hills of the Santa Ynez Valley. Ever since I can remember, I have traveled to these hills to a place called The Alisal Guest Ranch. Each year I get to go back and take time with family and friends to experience one of the greatest joys in my life. I have made not only lifelong friends at this place, but I have also created some of the most fundamental memories a child could hope for.

Every time I look back, I see the shining lake in the late afternoon sun, or the horses in the morning, sleep still in their eyes. And there sitting on the lake or next to the corral is an eight-year-old version of me. And no matter what year I think of, this version of me never changes. For in my eyes, I always live as an eight-year-old child at the Alisal. Every time I see old faces I haven’t seen since the previous year, I feel like a kid again. Time stops, and nothing outside of that secluded place seems to matter. At the Alisal, I get to be a child. I get to experience a childhood’s wonderful joys, and in this carefree world, life is simple.

As we grow older, things become more complicated. Life can weave itself a very tangled web, and at times, it is hard to leave this web, take time for yourself, and enjoy what life has to offer. While at the Alisal I get to do just that. I leave all entanglements behind me, and for four days each year I live in the shoes of my eight-year-old self. The people are still the same, and for the most part, the ranch is still the same. We always stay in the same cabin, number 32, and I remember having pillow fights with the same pillows that still sit there today.

Although time does change some things, to a certain degree I don’t believe it can change myself at the Alisal…if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the Alisal, it’s that everyone needs a childhood place. Everyone needs a frozen time and place where they feel as if the outside world can’t touch them. It doesn’t matter where it is, it could be the tree house in your backyard, a park near your house, or your grandparents home, but if you can find such a place then it’s a wonderful escape to feel like a child again, where the only thing that really matters is the grilled cheese you’re about to eat for lunch.

Bask in the Moment

Madeline Taylor, 7th Grade

Sitting there, dreaming,
Upon my soft, warm bed,
I awoke to see the sun
Peeking through the curtains,
Welcoming me to the day,
My brother still tied up in his dreams.

Horses in the pasture neighing,
Roosters in the coop greeting the sun,
The crickets and toads finally going to sleep from a long night of making music,
Water falling every few seconds from the faucet,
My dad, obviously still caught up in his dreams, snoring.

Pull the covers over my body,
I think about my day to come,
Walking down the sycamore lined road,
Ready to swim,
Saying “hi!” to the people I’ve met from years before.
I cross the bridge lined with flowers blooming,
Before I reach the perfectly mowed, green lawn,
Past the dining room, and the occupied rooms.
I finally reach the pool.

I lay out my towel,
Grab my book and read until the sun beats on me
And I can’t bare it any longer.
I drop my book and walk to the pool.
I gracefully dive in.
The pool is the place to be on my day,
Swimming and drinking milky, frothy Oreo shakes.

I leave my fun; go to the room and rest,
Waiting for the night activity to come.
I bask in what’s in front of me,
Cause it won’t be here for long,
My getaway from modern technology and city air

Lasts about a week,
When it ends I start to cry
And can’t wait for next year.