Hotel Watch: Santa Barbara Dreaming

by Editorial

A legendary Hacienda tucked into the lush Santa Barbara foothills re-stakes its claim as a sunny haunt for Hollywood stars, political leaders and savvy travelers.
By Michael M. Clements

Originally part of land titled in 1769 by the Kind of Spain, San Ysidro Ranch served as a way station for Franciscan monks in the late 1700s and a working citrus ranch in the 1800s; in the 1930s Hollywood actor and former California Senator Ronald Colman transformed it into a secluded resort for world leaders and Hollywood’s A-list. John and Jackie Kennedy choose it for their honeymoon in 1953.

Originally part of land titled in 1769 by the Kind of Spain, San Ysidro Ranch served as a way station for Franciscan monks in the late 1700s and a working citrus ranch in the 1800s; in the 1930s Hollywood actor and former California Senator Ronald Colman transformed it into a secluded resort for world leaders and Hollywood’s A-list. John and Jackie Kennedy choose it for their honeymoon in 1953.

“It’s difficult for one used to our Eastern winter climate to imagine a more delightful situation.” – Winston Churchill

For three months during the winter of 1912-13, Winston Churchill, then 38 and having recently been named First Lord of the Admiralty, found himself – surprisingly – not involved greatly in affairs of State. Instead, the iconic British leader sank head first into the California lifestyle. Still forty years removed from his 1953 Nobel Prize in Literature, he waxed poetic about his stay at San Ysidro Ranch: “The mountains, scored by deep canyons,” he wrote, “rise up behind, for all the world like grand-opera scenery idealized, and far below, across the green plains of Montecito, one sees the white line of the beach and the Pacific stretching westward to blue islands shimmering in the haze.” He would return sixteen years later in the fall of 1929 after a visiting with publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst in San Francisco to engage, almost Hemingway-esque, in bill fishing off the coast of nearby Catalina Island.

Forty individual cottages are appointed with Pratesi linens, European down pillows, outdoor hot tubs, and rain showers.

The reception area's French doors open to reveal the garden courtyard, two-bedroom Orange Suite and Monticito Foothills.

The former British Prime Minister wasn’t the first public figure, and he certainly won’t be the last, to grace this former 500-acre citrus farm nestled in the lush foothills of Montecito. Originally titled in 1769 by the King of Spain, San Ysidro Ranch has housed a long line of discerning guests: Vivien Leigh and Sir Laurence Olivier exchanged wedding vows here in 1940, John and Jackie Kennedy choose it for their honeymoon in 1953, and Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Jean Harlow and Gloria Swanson all came for seclusion, ocean breezes and pampered luxury during their heydays.

In 2003, Ty Warner purchased the Rosewood Resort and promptly sunk a blockbuster fortune ($150 million) into upgrades. Sandstone was brought from a local quarry to complete the final touches on the Stonehouse Restaurant and the 40 guest cottages received makeovers – most notably the Kennedy Cottage (1,800 sq. ft., $2,990) and Warner Cottage (2,200 sq. ft., $3,990).

A new generation of political and Hollywood star-power has taken note.  Oprah Winfrey made her nearby $64 million mansion the setting for a highly publicized fundraiser for Barack Obama during his presidential bid. Winfrey recommended San Ysidro Ranch to her out-of-town guests, who included George Clooney, Halle Berry, Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg, among others. It’s no surprise – with its legendary history, fragrant gardens, and discrete high-end service, it’s an ideal year-round wine-country get-away.

After $150 million in renovations, San Ysidro Ranch is luring a new generation of guests - RFK Jr. stayed here last year and Oprah recently recommended it to out of town guests attending her fundraiser for Sen Barack Obama.


Forty individually appointed cottages are situated along San Ysidro Creek on the eastern side of the property and treed-lined paths on its western edge. All feature sunken hot tubs on private patios with outdoor rain showers, floor-to-ceiling windowed French doors, plasma televisions, distinctive antiques, original artwork, and fireplaces made of hand-cut stone or classic masonry. Refined touches include fine Pratesi linens, European down pillows and hand-stitched French quilts. Bathrooms are tastefully appointed with radiant-heated floors, Acqua Di Parma bath amenities, Votive candles and fresh floral bouquets.
Tip: Book a cottage along the creek. The Lavendar ($1,228), Wisteria ($1,782), Willow ($1,661), Daisy ($639) and Iris ($900) are all within earshot of the babbling brook.
FYI:  Outside hot tubs are wonderful, but at night we heard the shuffling outside our gate … raccoon?

Many of the garden's vegetables are used as ingredients at the on-site Stonehouse Restaurant. This former 19th century citrus packinghouse provides gourmet cuisine, sweeping vistas of the Pacific coastline, and romantic starlit dining.


The Stonehouse Restaurant has returned to its gourmet origins under the guidance of executive chef John Trotta, who helmed the kitchen before the renovation. Ingredients are wonderfully fresh as most vegetables come directly from the Ranch’s gardens. Entrées range from $31 to $50 and reservations are required. Design-wise, wood in the high-pitched ceiling has been restored to accentuate the structure’s 19th-century packinghouse ambiance. The Plow & Angel restaurant is located in the building’s pub-like basement and serves the same menu, but reservations are not necessary.
Tip: Reserve an outside table for sunset views and star gazing. The floors are heated, but coastal California nights are cool, so bring a jacket or shoal.
FYI: If Chef Trotta is serving his signature braised-beef-short-ribs, order it.


Wildlife in the San Ynez mountains abound, and with seventeen miles of trails close by, it is also readily accessible. Spa treatments are handled in the privacy of your cottage. Facial treatments average 75min and cost $210-225; seventeen massage services vary from traditional Swedish massage (60min/$135 or 90 min/$195) to the Ranch Signature treatment, which includes “craniosacral therapy” (90min/$275). The heated outdoor pool is lined with freshly toweled chaise lounges; complimentary chilled drinks are available 24/7. The concierge service is professional and highly knowledgeable. When I requested a light mid-day bottle of Central Coast white wine, they served a delightful Au Bon Climat from nearby Los Olivios and added a side dish of local olives. They booked horseback ride near the Ronald and Nancy Reagan’s former Santa Barbara retreat same day (CircleBarB, 805-968-390; 1–1.5 hr. ride, $30/person.) and provided complimentary daypacks and water bottles for hiking excursions. Room and turn down service was discreet, punctual and efficient.
Tip: Grab a flute of champagne, hammer and mallet and enjoy a civilized round of Croquet on the meticulously manicured grounds near the pool.
FYI: Drive three minutes to the deli at the corner of San Ysidro Road and St Rd. 192 and select a pack lunch from a variety of delicious sandwiches and locally grown fruits, nuts, berries and vegetables.

Contact:  San Ysidro Ranch, A Rosewood Resort?, 900 San Ysidro Lane, Santa Barbara, Calif., 93108? T: 805.565.1700 F: 805.565.1995, Email:,

Political notables past have included: Winston Churchill, Hubert Humphrey, Adlai Stevenson, Jerry Brown, and Richard Nixon, who, legend has it, requested a "bug-free" cottage following his successful 1961 primary bid for the U.S. Senate

Sideways through the Central Coast

Yes, there actually is a tour that allows you to retrace the misguides epicurean adventures of Miles and Jack as they traveled through the wine towns of Santa Ynez, Los Olivos, Buellton and the oddly Danish-themed village of Solvang in the hit film, Sideways. All four towns are about an hour drive from San Ysidro Ranch west on St. Rd. 154. Here are my favorite scenes from each town:

Kalyra Winery (343 N. Refugio Rd., Santa Ynez, 805-693-8834)
Scene: While tasting wine, Miles and Jack meet Stephanie, a flirtatious wine pourer who becomes the object of Jack’s affection.

Firestone Winery (5000 Zaca Station Rd., Los Olivos, 805-688-3940)
Scene: Miles, Jack, Maya and Stephanie sneak out of a wine lecture to share a romantic walk though the Barrel Room.

Sanford Winery (7250 Santa Rosa Rd., Buellton, 805-688-3300)
Scene: Miles teaches Jack the basics of wine tasting. They start with the Vin Gris in which Miles smells “citrus, strawberry, the faintest soupçon of asparagus and just a flutter of a nutty edam cheese.”

Solvang Restaurant (1672 Copenhagen Dr., Solvang, 805-688-4645)
Scene: As they sit down for breakfast, Jack grumpily insist that Miles’ gloominess not thwart his attempts to get lucky before the wedding.

For more information on the “Sideways Tour” or other wine tours in Santa Barbara county go to or speak with your concierge

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