Tucked away in the canyon, yet just steps from the shore, this newly renovated rustic retreat offers an unparalleled escape.
By Elizabeth Nutt
In 1871, George Thurston and his family, some of the first settlers in Laguna Beach, set their sights on a stunning 152-acre homestead that they intended to make their permanent home—and with good reason. The land they claimed, on which the recently renovated The Ranch at Laguna Beach hotel can be found today, is a hidden gem. Nestled in the canyon, the property is a veritable sanctuary teeming with wildlife, winding creeks, lush greenery and 360-degree views of nature’s beauty, all within walking distance of Aliso Beach. And though much has changed since the first homesteaders tilled the land, growing what was at the time their famous Thurston melons, a few things remain the same today: the beauty of the property, and the devotion of its owners—a group of Laguna residents led by Mark Christy—to cultivating, conserving and enjoying the surrounding land.
Over the years, the property has seen multiple owners and undergone its fair share of changes and renovations; it’s been known as Laguna Beach Country Club and Village, Ben Brown’s Motel & Golf Course and, more recently, Aliso Creek Inn & Golf Course. The property’s most recent renewal, however, signifies a lasting Laguna Beach tradition in the form of cozy guest rooms and cottages, a farm-to-table restaurant and endless opportunities to connect with nature. Without increasing the property’s buildings’ footprint, The Ranch’s three-year renovation project, slated to be complete in early November, was aimed at improving guests’ and golfers’ experiences and, ultimately, making it easier for visitors and locals alike to feel at home, too, on the pristine piece of property.
Guests of The Ranch, which today sits on 87 acres, have the luxury of experiencing a hotel stay unlike any other, in that it doesn’t feel like a hotel stay. The rooms, suites and cottages—of which there are 97 altogether—were designed by Laurie Alter, Laguna Beach interior designer and co-owner of Tuvalu Home Environment, a home decor boutique and design studio known for capturing the area’s casual elegance with its eclectic offerings. From antique-inspired furniture to ocean-themed artwork and plush bedding, accommodations at The Ranch will make you feel like you’ve settled in for a relaxing stay in the guest room of a loved one’s home. Of course, that home would have to be local; the rooms are unmistakably ‘Laguna,’ and include details like plein-air paintings by area artists, white exposed-beam ceilings and board and batten wood walls for a coastal-chic style. And the rooms on the property, which remain cutting-edge when it comes to technology and other amenities, all boast their own private viewing deck or courtyard so that guests can truly enjoy their surroundings.
When it comes to booking your stay—or, for locals, your “staycation”—options abound for guests and families of all sizes. The Canyon Rooms and Creekside Studios offer the not-so-basic amenities (think: a king-sized bed, luxury bath amenities and plush robes), while the Creekside and Cottage suites offer an upgrade in the form of two bedrooms, increased space and a furnished patio or balcony. Meanwhile, the coveted Laguna Beach Treehouse, set apart from the main resort area, offers a 1,600-square-foot hexagonal living space with two bedrooms, three baths, a wraparound deck, kitchen, living and dining area and floor-to-ceiling windows. This suite also offers the Treehouse Gazebo, which can be used by guests of the Treehouse for meetings, entertainment or as an additional family hangout area. But no matter where you rest your head at night, you’ll be surrounded by the tranquility of nature and the beauty of the property from any vantage point.
A Day at The Ranch
Whether you’re a guest of the hotel or live nearby, Ben Brown’s, The Ranch’s nine-hole course, is arguably the main attraction when it comes to drawing visitors. While the canyon is shaded and cool in the mornings and evenings, embark on a round of golf while taking in unique views and scenery from every tee box. Guests of the hotel may opt for complimentary club storage, but every player has the option of renting a set of TaylorMade clubs from the pro shop. Whether you set off on your own or decide on private or group instruction with The Ranch’s PGA and LPGA instructors, you’ll enjoy the game just as much for the course—open to the public—as for the canyon views. Carved into the Aliso and Wood canyons, Ben Brown’s boasts an off-the-beaten-path allure and is relatively private, and it offers a laid-back but fast playing experience appreciated by locals and visitors alike.
If you’re a guest of the resort, you have the option of cooling off post-golf at The Ranch’s saline pool, which is heated year-round. The pool area also features a hot tub, complimentary amenities like sunscreen, sunglasses cleaning and towel service, and poolside yoga-inspired fitness classes. For guests looking to continue the activities through the afternoon, The Ranch’s Fitness Center, sand volleyball court, guided hiking, Frisbees, bocce ball sets and mountain bikes, which are available to rent and can be used on the area’s many surrounding trails, offer something for everyone. Of course, with the beach just steps away, many guests will want to take advantage of the free shuttle service to Aliso Beach from the hotel.
At the end of the day, a few hours of relaxation are in order. The brand-new Sycamore Spa, which is open to the public, offers more than 3,000 square feet of tranquil indoor/outdoor space. The bungalow-style building is home to locally inspired treatments like the Stone and Shell Signature Treatment Massage and the Beach Feet massage. Alternatively, grab a spot at Harvest Patio, the hotel’s expansive outdoor lobby/lounge that overlooks the first fairway, and order some hors d’oeuvres and a glass of wine to enjoy while you take in the stunning views of the canyon as the sun sets on another beautiful day at The Ranch.
Activities at The Ranch abound, too, for kids. The hotel’s new Junior Rangers camp, available to children ages 5-12, puts the wilderness at kids’ fingertips with an educational curriculum centered on wildlife and sustainability, aiming to help children appreciate and explore the great outdoors. The camp, which offers registration to both guests and locals, runs Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. during the summer months, and every Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. during the winter for $65 per day, per child, which includes lunch. Kids of all ages—and their adults—will also enjoy regular weekly family programs at The Ranch, which include the Wednesday evening Deer Talk on Harvest Patio for storytelling and a drum circle, and the Friday night Stargazing and Astronomy from the first tee box. No matter your age or interests, there’s something captivating at The Ranch that will help you reconnect with nature.
Of course, when dinnertime rolls around, The Ranch’s crown jewel awaits. Harvest Restaurant, located in a brand-new space that also houses the resort’s indoor lobby/check-in area upstairs and meeting and event spaces downstairs, showcases chic coastal-ranch decor that was also curated by Alter. The setting is reminiscent of a modern western mountain lodge, with ocean-inspired elements; think: vintage distressed leather couches and chairs, accents inspired by the beach, local art and breathtaking views from its expansive windows. The space offers an outdoor patio, perfect in nearly every season, with Laguna’s mild climate, and for those guests hoping to get back to nature while noshing on farm-to-table-style menu items and taking in sweeping views of the first fairway and the canyon. Inside, expect a rustic yet elegant dining room complete with a large wraparound bar area, cozy booths and a wall lined with vintage photographs depicting the property’s history and former homesteaders.
The restaurant itself—which offers breakfast, lunch and dinner—is inspired by local flavors and ingredients; its menu boasts American and Californian fare. Led by Charles Imbelli, who was recently appointed the director of culinary operations and executive chef of the resort’s culinary program, the menu, which will be rolled out in early November when the eatery officially opens, will change with the seasons, emphasizing modern comfort food with the addition of handcrafted, innovative cocktails, 18 carefully selected craft beers and both California-grown and international wines. Imbelli, who most recently served as the executive chef/director culinary at Fundamental LA and who was also part of the opening team at the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles, plans to complement and enhance the menu with ingredients sourced from the property’s impressive Harvest Garden, a half-acre organic farm that grows herbs, fruits and vegetables. Today, the garden serves as a nod to and a reminder of the Thurstons, who sold their own produce grown on the property in Laguna Beach village in the late 1800s. Consider the property’s history upon your first visit to the newly remodeled space, and be sure to toast to its legacy and the tucked-away oasis that is The Ranch at Laguna Beach.
The Ranch at Laguna Beach, 31106 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach; 800-223-3309; theranchlb.com
In addition to Harvest Restaurant, Ben’s Pantry is a perfect place for locals and guests alike to grab a cup of coffee, apres-golf snack or an alfresco cocktail.
The Ranch’s laid-back vibes and natural beauty necessitate a coastal-casual, outdoor cafe meant to inspire locals and guests to sit and stay awhile. Located just off of Harvest Patio, the cafe offers gourmet breakfast and lunch items. From pastries and muffins made fresh in-house daily, to smoothies and breakfast burritos, Ben’s Pantry is an ideal spot to grab breakfast before starting your day in Laguna Beach or before a round of golf. Pair any breakfast menu item with a cup of coffee or a specialty drink from the Pantry’s espresso bar, which features a vintage espresso machine, and you’re good to go.
In the afternoon, enjoy artisanal sandwiches and a craft beer for a luxurious alfresco lunch. And at dusk, sip a glass of wine from the Ben’s Pantry selection of coastal vinos with a cheese or charcuterie board on the patio. Be sure to check the eatery’s chalkboard for up-to-date, seasonal offerings.
Ben’s Pantry is open daily from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., with happy hour specials from 4-9 p.m. each day. (theranchlb.com/eat/bens-pantry)