Driving by, you’d probably miss it… and even if you did see the sign on Coast Highway, you’d never begin to imagine just how magical and magnificent The Ranch at Laguna Beach property is. As soon as you start the short drive from the Aliso Creek Bridge up the tranquil road, you feel like you’re being transported to the hills of a place long forgotten. A time when people rode horses for transportation, when Western Union was the best way to send a message to someone and people took time to not only notice the roses but actually stop and smell them. The Ranch perfectly combines Old World charm with New World amenities.
My family and I chose to stay there recently for a few days. We had visited before but never spent the night or even gotten a look inside the rooms. It was an experience I will not soon forget. Though you feel like you’re a world away, I kept having to remind myself that I was only 4 1/2 miles from my home. Now, don’t get me wrong, Laguna Beach is truly one of the most beautiful, unique and welcoming communities on the map, but that 13-minute drive from our front door whisked us away to a wonder like no other. And an added bonus is that we didn’t have to waste any of our vacation time sitting in traffic on a freeway or waiting in line at airport security. We basically blinked and found ourselves in the middle of the wilderness surrounded by majestic mountains and lush greenery perfectly blended with a golf green and cabin class.
It’s like you’re taking a stroll through the days of yesteryear. No wonder The Ranch has been awarded a spot as a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World. This is quite an honor, because it’s the first and only in California and one of just six lodges to receive the invitation-only membership in the entire United States. The Ranch, along with every lodge on this V.I.L. (Very Important Lodge) list was rated exceptionally well in terms of the property’s authentic design and character, inspiring and interesting guest experience, top-notch quality of service, and sustainable tourism best practices exercising its commitment to conservation and green operations.
You’ve probably heard about the GOLF. It’s a 9-hole, GEO Certified® course encompassed by the natural spectacle of Aliso and Wood Canyons. Golfers enjoy a private atmosphere with the benefits of a public course. The most frequent onlooker you’ll see is a deer! Be ready to snap a cell phone photo of the graceful creature, but keep the ringer off, please. The silence adds to the ambiance. Well-known golf course architect, Gary Roger Baird, has contributed his design expertise to the course over the years. Players will notice changes in elevation on every fairway and so much more.
You’ve likely heard about the LODGING. It was my husband’s 50th birthday, so I decided to splurge a bit and surprise him and our son with a two-story, two-bedroom, two-bathroom cottage. The furnishings were fresh, beachy and inviting. I got a sense of upscale coziness everywhere I turned. I kept saying, “I could live here, I could live here.” The Ranch, of course, has regular rooms (though they’re far from regular) and smaller suites, and if you want to soar high above the rustic retreat of The Ranch, you can nestle up in the highly coveted Treehouse. Book in advance though. For this treasure, the early bird really does get the worm.
You might have heard about the FOOD. The Harvest Restaurant features breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the menus have recently been revitalized. We made a point of not leaving the property during our stay, so we ate every meal here. The décor inside reminds me of what a John Wayne chic chalet would look like. I could sit in there for hours and chat by the fireplace. But the outside balcony can’t be beat, no matter how cold it is. The views are simply stellar. Don’t worry if you don’t pack appropriately, your server will offer you a plush blanket and turn on the heat lamps. For breakfast, I would recommend the avocado and crab toast, but I suggest sharing this dish with someone and trying something you might not otherwise order. For lunch, the fried chicken sandwich gets my vote. And for dinner, I’d have to go with a wedge salad followed by steak frites, scallops and bacon, and crispy Brussels sprouts. No matter how stuffed you are, you’ll probably want to have at least a bite of the creamy chocolate dessert topped off with whipped cream. Life is short, satisfy your belly. And satisfy your thirst too. The exquisite bar inside Harvest is nothing short of country cosmopolitan featuring a 180-degree canyon view from every seat. Pure panorama.
I know. This all sounds incredible… and it is. BUT have you heard about the NATURAL SCENERY AND LANDSCAPING? The whole experience of The Ranch makes this place a must-see, but it’s the grounds and the peacefulness that make you pause every few steps, take a look around and breathe it all in. One day, my husband was golfing with a friend, my teenaged son was chilling in the jacuzzi with his buddy and I decided to take a little nature walk. What I discovered is, though the distance of my walk may have been little, the nature I witnessed was vast. Sure, you can see images of ALL The Ranch has to offer on the website, but I want to share my journey with you. Though I can’t tell you what exactly I was looking at, I can tell you that I was mesmerized by every plant, tree, flower and rock along the way. I roamed the property with no agenda, no timeline, no stress. Having no care in the world brought me back to a simpler time – a time I miss dearly and am trying to incorporate into my and my family’s life. This was a much-needed escape. Couldn’t you use one? I eventually found myself on the paved path to the ocean. With “Beach” in the title of the resort, you might have guessed it was located by the water, but when you’re there it doesn’t seem plausible. The Ranch at Laguna Beach is an upscale summer camp by the surf complete with s’mores and a campfire. During your cruise to the shore, you’ll walk past a John Deere tractor and forget for a moment whether it’s 2018 or 1918. It’s hard to tell the difference and that’s by design… literally. The Ranch boasts a rich history and when the recent development began a few years ago, it was imperative that its background was maintained and celebrated. The property is an historic site, so it could not be leveled. The renovation did, however, involve taking the former buildings completely down to the studs, while keeping the original framework of the structures. More rooms were added and the entire property was updated. It has been completely transformed, while keeping the essence of its history. When you’re there, you actually get a feel for what The Ranch property was like way back when.
“The Ranch at Laguna Beach’s location in the Aliso and Woods Canyons has a rich history dating back to the 1870s. As a native of Laguna Beach, it was important to me that the historic property’s transformation perfectly blended the past with today to create ‘the coolest hotel in Laguna Beach,” something that cannot be found anywhere else in Southern California,” says Mark Christy, owner and proprietor.
This brief time travel will give you a glimpse of its past, which has helped shape its present.
1871 – George and Sarah Thurston lay claim to a 152-acre homestead and a one-room wood shack. (Locals know the name “Thurston” mostly from Thurston Middle School.)
1940s – William “Bill” Bryant purchases an 87-acre site within Aliso Canyon and begins the construction of the golf course.
1950 – The 9-hole golf course is established as “Laguna Beach Country Club.”
1956 – Ben and Violet Brown purchase the golf course and make plans for a destination resort.
1963 – The “Laguna Beach Country Club and Village” is introduced
1967 – Ben Brown’s Restaurant and a new Golf Shop open.
1970 – The property is renamed “Ben Brown’s Motel & Golf Course.”
1978 – The name changes to Aliso Creek Inn & Golf Course.
2003 – The inn is purchased by Aliso Creek Properties, retaining its former name.
2013-14 – The Ranch at Laguna Beach arrives.
Though part of me doesn’t want to share the mystique of this marvel, I realize that it wouldn’t be fair to keep it to myself. Yes, come for the golf. Yes, come for the accommodations. Yes, come for the activities, the events, the food, the drinks, the pool, the spa. But whatever you do, don’t miss your opportunity to “check out” from the daily grind and walk, wander, get lost, sit down, ponder, reflect… and repeat. The Ranch at Laguna Beach is THE place to do that… time and time again. This retreat is a real treat.
Lynda Halligan has been working professionally in entertainment and broadcasting for 25 years. Though born and raised in Los Angeles, Lynda’s journalism career has taken her to 49 states in the country as an anchor, reporter, writer and producer at CBS, NBC, ABC and FOX affiliate stations. On the national level, she was a host on QVC and Fuse, and spent over two years hosting, writing and producing “Hollywood’s Top Ten” on ReelzChannel, which continues to air all over the world. In addition to being an international infomercial host, she has also hosted “The Morning Blend” on FOX in Southwest Florida and a DIY show called “Paint It Forward.” Her producing and writing credits include “Good Day LA,” the “FOX 11 Morning News” and “Yahoo! Buzz.” Lynda is also a seasoned spokesperson and voiceover artist for companies, such as Disney and Melaleuca, and has even played a newscaster in a number of films.
Lynda graduated from the University of California, Irvine and attended UCLA Extension for Broadcast Journalism. After settling in Laguna Beach, California with her husband and step-son a few years ago, she accepted a position exercising her news anchor skills as the Director of Communications and Public Affairs for the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs. She quickly became an active member of the community volunteering with the Orange County Registrar of Voters during the 2016 presidential election and being appointed by the Laguna Beach City Council to serve on the city’s Emergency/Disaster Preparedness Committee. She is a certified CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) member, on the executive staff of the Orange County Sheriff’s Museum & Education Center, and is a current member of the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), California Association of Public Information Officials (CAPIO), Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and Orange County Public Relations Society of America (OCPRSA). As a former radio disc jockey, she has lent her voice to Laguna’s FM station, KX 93.5, contributing weekly segments “Halligan’s Hollywood” and “Top 5 on KX 93.5.”
One of the things Lynda is most passionate about is her consulting business, Halligan Entertainment. To learn more about Lynda Halligan, check out her website, HalliganEntertainment.com, or find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LyndaHalliganTV/. You can also send her story ideas. She would love to hear from you.