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Barry Pollack's "Going Places"

San Ysidro Ranch, Santa Barbara

There's a special place nestled in the hills above Santa Barbara, a small and intimate resort renowned as a romantic getaway for the rich and famous. In almost any travel magazine or survey - Zagut, Travel and Leisure, and many more - you'll find it listed among the best hotels or most romantic spots in the world. It is the San Ysidro Ranch, known as "The Ranch" to its devotees. Situated on 500 plus acres, barely a mile uphill from the San Ysidro exit on the Coast Highway in Montecito, the property is secluded in the wooded foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains with grand views of the Pacific and Channel Islands.
San Ysidro Ranch (800-368-6788), one of California's oldest resorts, is celebrating its 110th anniversary this year. It began as a way station for Franciscan monks building California's missions in the 1700's. It was a citrus ranch in the 1800's. In 1893, it opened to guests. But it wasn't until 1935, when movie idol, Ronald Colman, and former California senator, Alvin Weingard, purchased the property, that it became a celebrity destination, a legendary hideaway for Hollywood stars, literary luminaries, and politicians.
Vivien Leigh and Sir Lawrence Olivier were married there. And, if you want to experience your own Camelot, you can stay in the same cottage where John and Jackie Kennedy honeymooned in 1953.
The Ranch is a village made up of 38 suites in 21 separate cottages. While some of the cottages, like the Kennedy cottage, have two suites, most are singles. Each has a fireplace. Most have private decks. The majority have secluded hot tubs. And every residence has the name of its current guest posted on an outdoor placard. If your children come along, there will be special children's linens on their beds along with stuffed animals. Rates run from $399/night year-round. With a marvelous climate and a hundred year claim to fame, there are no "off season" discounts at the Ranch.
The San Ysidro Ranch is a "Relais and Chateaux," one of an exclusive association of luxury hotels in 51 countries throughout the world. Each "Relais and Chateaux" is privately owned, as is the Ranch. Its owner and manager is Ty Warner, originator of Beanie Babies and also the owner of the Biltmore in Santa Barbara and the Four Seasons in New York. Most "Relais and Cateaux" are situated in gorgeous countryside locations. Some are former castles, abbeys, or prestigious estates. And all meet high standards described as the 5 C's - courtesy, charm, character, calm, and cuisine. The San Ysidro Ranch fits that description perfectly.
Guests can hike on nearby mountain paths or stroll the Ranch's beautiful gardens, the setting of many a wedding. Whether you go there for business or romance, it's an ideal place for establishing an intimate bond. The cottages are richly decorated with exquisite but comfortable furniture and eclectic antiques. And each has its own special charm. While you can make your own history here, you might imagine yourself in the company of the former residents of these cozy country cottages. You can stay in the same hideaway where Bing Crosby or Audrey Hepburn, Paul Newman or Barbra Streisand sought solitude, where Richard Nixon or Hubert Humphrey connived, or where writers from Somerset Maugham to Sinclair Lewis found inspiration. John Huston wrote the "African Queen" here. Aldous Huxley may have imagined a "Brave New World."
While the hotel's premiere amenity is its country setting and charm, there's also a pool, twp tennis courts, a small fitness center, and in-cottage spa treatments. And service here is appropriate to the resort's fame. There are two staff members for every guest. You can bring your pets as well. There's even a bit of extreme decadence with a room service menu and a collection of spa treatments just for your pet.
The Ranch has two award-winning restaurants, the formal yet romantic Stonehouse Restaurant and the cozier Plow and Angel Bistro situated right below it. There's an organic garden on the property where Chef Jamie West grows the vegetables, fruits, and herbs that inspire his innovative menu. While you can choose to enjoy either restaurant, you can also dine with a few friends in an even more personal and rustic setting - the San Ysidro Adobe, the resort's original building, built in 1825. Dining there is like having dinner in a frontier museum.
You can have a private reception, an intimate wedding, or a decadent night at The Ranch's Eucalyptus Retreat, a 2200 square foot house with two grand bedrooms, a spacious living room, a dining room, a fully stocked kitchen, and a private pool and spa with unsurpassed views. For its price of $4100/night, I would hope to be staying with a celebrity - perhaps someone like Julia Roberts. Or, you could choose to skip a night's stay at the Ranch and simply enjoy the bargain of a sun-drenched and romantic afternoon there meandering through their flower gardens and dining at the Stonehouse or Bistro.
On the evening I stayed at The Ranch, the winds were blowing fiercely. From my deck, I watched eucalyptus trees swaying majestically, and a rainbow arcing from the mountains into the sea. With dusk, the oil rigs offshore came alight. And then, with a tree falling on a transformer far down the hillside, the power went out. In the dark, I lit my cottage's fireplace and a half dozen candles and I listened to the wind. It was an indescribably romantic night. And I understood at once why Jack Kennedy and Marilyn - I mean Jackie - found love here. I think there are a lot more stories about the Ranch and its nights of love, intrigue, and inspiration, than the most commonly told tales. You'll just have to go there, light a fire, and listen to the wind yourself.