Spa Review: Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort

Alisal horseback riding
Guests ride the range at Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort.

Your guests, many of them city folks whose faces you’ve seen splashed across the cinema screen, have spent the day riding on horseback over miles of trails at your resort. They’ve trekked up hills, around lakes, along 300-year-old oak groves and beneath soaring bald eagles on your property. Now they’re headed back to one of 73 rustic-chic guest rooms appointed with black-and-white gingham upholstered chairs, brick fireplaces, Pendleton blankets, and huge graphic photos of ranch hands and stallions. They don their evening jackets and heels for a gourmet dinner in the clubby dining room at the center of your 1,000-acre ranch resort that is so iconic, Clark Gable got married here in 1949.

There’s just one problem. Some of your guests—those weekend warriors who haven’t been on horseback since last year’s visit—are achy and sore, drained from three hours of bumping and trotting along the trails. Months of Stairmastering and treadmilling back in the city didn’t prepare them for this brand of suffering, and the in-room visits by massage therapists you’ve been providing won’t cut it. A simple survey of guests confirms it: The resort and its grounds are amazing, they say, but the one thing the property’s truly missing is a spa.

This is where the Jackson family, owners of Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort, a 66-year-old guest property tucked into the coastal hills of Central California, found themselves just three short years ago. The resort’s remote locale and charming ambiance could carry it only so far in today’s spa-conscious world. Although guests visited primarily to ride horses, fish for wild trout, play some golf or ping-pong, and sing Western ditties around the campfire, the absence of a proper spa had become as obvious as a city slicker in a room full of cowboys.