We cruised down Pacific Coast Highway, catching glimpses of coastal cliffs, waves dotted with surfers and rows of eclectic galleries that recall Laguna Beach’s early art colony days.
For this quick “staycation” just an hour and a half south of L.A., our car was packed with two eager 5-year-olds and their mamas, keen on getting ever-so-slightly off the grid and surrounded by nature for the weekend – comfortably.
OK, very comfortably. Rustically refined boutique-lodge style, a la The Ranch at Laguna Beach. Moments after turning inland, we were surrounded by the dramatic walls of Aliso and Woods canyons.
A mere 300 yards from the Pacific, The Ranch feels worlds away. By the time we pulled up to check in, our crew was fully sold on the coastal canyon mystique. It’s the best of both worlds – Laguna’s hidden coves and tide pools, plus gorgeous canyon vistas, hiking trails and Aliso Creek running through the property.
At One With Nature
“Ow!” I heard from the backseat as I put the car in park. I turned to mediate just as the door opened to reveal – oh, an owl, flanked by a hawk and a majestic bald eagle.
Turns out, we had just missed the weekly Birds of Prey interactive presentation on the sprawling patio. There are also weekly “deer talks,” telescope stargazing and ample opportunities to get your nature on.
The heart of the property, the Porch, is home to fire pits, rocking chairs, bag toss games, a café and glorious views of the canyon-ensconced golf greens.
Perhaps most importantly, the Porch is where you go for “campfire and cocktails” every evening. Featuring live music and a festive buzz, it’s the perfect place to soak up the views and mingle with locals, golfers and fellow escapees.
The property offers ample family fun, from the saline pool to bocce courts and volleyball, though we logged most of our time on the Porch, tossing beanbags, roasting s’mores over fire pits and soaking up the music as we sipped cool drinks.
The area’s wildlife managed to entice us away from the comforting confines of the Porch and into nature. Turned out, the owl was only the first wildlife we would encounter during our stay. There were plenty of lizards to chase and birds to watch, plus a dolphin and seal swimming in the Pacific. Yet the encounter that really stuck with us was the baby deer munching grass just inches from our patio one dewy morning.
A Sense of History
The Ranch has a long history of being deeply connected to the land. George and Sara Thurston were first to settle the property in 1871. They lived in a cabin near Aliso Creek and sold berries, nuts and melons. “Thurston Melons” are still grown in The Ranch’s organic garden.
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The property soon drew artists and became known for plein air art created outside in the canyon landscape. From 1920 to 1950, the area by the garden still known as “Scout Camp” was a Girl Scout camp. Today, the scouting tradition continues with the Junior Explorers program.
In the summertime, kids can participate in Junior Explorers Camp (9 a.m.-1 p.m., Wednesdays through Saturdays, $40). Topics of the day include gardening, creatures of the canyon, birds of prey, bugs and drawing.
During their camp explorations, scouts earn patches for everything from spotting coyote or deer tracks to being a good listener. Kids walk away with canvas backpacks sporting the patches they’ve earned.
Beyond being fun for kids, the program gives parents ample time to play a round of golf, book a treatment at the serene Sycamore Spa or perhaps sweat it out at a complimentary fitness class.
A Kids’ Night Out program on Saturdays ($25) is another win for the whole family. Parents can enjoy seasonal cuisine and panoramic canyon views at Harvest restaurant, while kids are fed and entertained with a movie and crafts.
In 2017, The Ranch at Laguna Beach became the first hotel in California to earn a spot among National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World – one of only six members in the U.S.
The property earned the distinction for its dedication to preserving its natural and cultural heritage, along with its commitment to sustainable practices – which include recycling glass bottles into sand for use on the sustainably operated nine-hole golf course.
The Beach Beckons
There’s something truly special about spending time where coast and canyon converge.
We could have happily remained on the property the entire time, but Aliso Beach eventually lured us away. And while we could have walked, the luxury of being deposited by a golf cart just steps from the sand with chairs, umbrellas and towels in tow wasn’t lost on our troops.
More refined than rustic, The Ranch captures the laid-back vibe of Laguna and serves up all the comfort and charm of a resort with the added bonus of a stunning natural backdrop.
Melissa Gage has been an L.A.-based freelance writer for more than 15 years, and is the mother of one son.