As the pandemic continues travelers likewise continue to search for ways to carefully get a break from it without getting on a plane in the seemingly unfriendly skies. For those in the western states a good option to do just that is a dude ranch. With abundant nature, fresh air and animals, a dude ranch may be the ultimate way to escape for couples and families all while safely socially distancing. At Circle B Bar Ranch & Stables in Goleta the outdoors rule. And other than employees and guests donning face masks, the pandemic seems very far away. Here are six reasons to go:
1. Location, location, location
Circle Bar B Guest Ranch is just 30 minutes from downtown Santa Barbara, yet a world away. It’s also a stone’s throw from the former Western White House – President Ronald Reagan’s Rancho del Cielo – in the Santa Ynez mountains. Once you exit Highway 101 onto Forest Route 5 – Refugio Road, there is no commerce. About five curvy uninhabited miles of hilly nature coupled with avocado trees appear that belong to the aptly named Guacamole Ranch. The Circle Bar B Guest Ranch comes into view at the end of Refugio Road
2. Peace and quiet
If you are looking for peace and quiet, you’ve come to the right place. While there is solid internet in Circle B’s main lodge and the surrounding patio and swimming pool areas, accommodations do not have internet, though there is Direct TV for the news addicts among us. There is also a small library and a game room with a billiards table, ping pong table and foosball.
There are a total of 18 rustic accommodations that include stand-alone cabins, creek side cottages with large, wood-burning fireplaces and ranch rooms in various configurations to sleep from four to eight guests.
3. Channel your inner cowboy
Circle Bar B Guest Ranch has about 1,000 acres and the stables currently have 48 horses, professional wranglers and 15 miles of riding trails. In the small group setting, beginning and debutant riders will be happiest here as these are ‘walk only’ trail rides. Private rides can also be arranged.
There are 90-minute rides, two and a half hour rides and a four-hour ride daily. I took two 90-minute trail rides while at Circle Bar B. Most enjoyable was my ride with Wrangler Jimmy Anguiano who had been at Circle Bar B for several years.
Without a doubt, Jimmy was as happy on his horse as most mere mortals are on their own two legs. My enormous horse Chip was intuitive and a smooth ride. I was aching to take him on a gallop in the picturesque valley but the other two riders – who hailed from Palo Alto via Bombay – had never been on horses before, so walk we did.
4. Good food
Meals at Circle Bar B are served ranch style. In the COVID-era, that means buffet style with masked employees serving the tasty, home cooked meals from behind plexiglass. While a few patrons chose to eat in the indoor dining room, we comfortably ate outside on the patio on western-inspired red and white checkered tablecloths.
We had teriyaki chicken one evening with shrimp and grilled Tri-tip another night. Pasta options were available for vegetarians. Breakfasts were equally enjoyable: yogurt, fresh fruit, pancakes, French toast, eggs and naturally, bacon or sausage.
5. Ornithologists will be happy
While walking, hiking or horseback riding at Circle Bar B, ornithologists can have a field day. At the ranch there is a plethora of woodpeckers doing their civic duty and pecking away amid the trees. During the day it often sounded like they were constructing a planned multi-unit bird house development.
There are also plenty of hummingbirds, ravens, red hawks, sparrows, warblers, flycatchers and orioles. So if birds float your boat, pack along a set of binoculars.
6. Location, location, location
A great aspect of Circle Bar B is its proximity to Santa Barbara for world class beaches, shopping, art galleries and museums. Also nearby in the Santa Ynez Valley is the quaint town of Solvang that calls itself “A little slice of Denmark in Southern California.” Founded in 1911 by three Danish-American educators to preserve Danish heritage in their new homeland, there are specialty shops – handmade cuckoo clocks anyone? – excellent bakeries, cafés and of course, fantastic nearby wineries serving up some of California’s finest vintages.
If more wine tasting is in the cards, only two hours away is charming Paso Robles, where there are Pinot Noirs and Cabernet Sauvignons aplenty to satisfy even the most discerning palette. If you head up to Paso, make sure and stop at DAOU Vineyards, arguably one of the most beautiful wineries in California, if not the world.
At DAOU, you will believe you made a wrong turn and are firmly entrenched in Tuscany. The food will say you are in the Mediterranean. Then of course there are the wines, all highly rated by wine experts. Personal favorites are the 95-point rated 2018 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon with scents of dark chocolate and the 97-point rated 2017 Soul of a Lion with hints of cassis, licorice and vanilla.
If you are looking to combine horse time with the great outdoors during these odd travel times, Circle Bar B Ranch would be an enjoyable and socially distant get-away. While you are at it, make sure and add options for other small towns of southern California and the marvelous wines of California’s central coast. Stopping at DAOU mountain in the Adelaida district of Paso Robles will without a doubt be the best oenophile decision you may make in your lifetime. www.daouvineyards.com