Every time I stay at the Ranch, our relationship deepens. On my first three visits, I was a giddy freshman at college. I wanted to tackle every class, sample each dish, see all the vistas. Thrilling and impossible. The Ranch unfolds its colors mysteriously—like a scrub jay flickering through sunflowers or quail foraging in manzanita.
On this fourth stay, I still get my body rocking in hip hop and cardio kickboxing, but I savor rest and play. I inhale fluffy tufts of lavender and watch light stream through oak leaves from my hammock. I soak in the indomitable kindness of people who make the Ranch hum. I’m filled with the simple joy of being. Here are seven snapshots of Rest & Play 101. Did I mention the spa?
- Where others see obstacles, we see spas
I bond with a new friend on the Rolling Hills hike, which winds through the Ranch’s world-class obstacle course. Katie and I decide the treacherous-looking stations are best suited for spa treatments! The sand crawl is ideal for an exfoliating body scrub. Flower buds and seaweed are all we request. The monkey bars could make a scenic spot for hammocks. Instead of a grueling bucket carry, glasses of sangria por favor. Who wants to traverse mud pits when we could slather our skin with purifying minerals? We laugh our way into the day, imagining our team of massage therapists. Don’t worry extreme sports fans, you’re still welcome here.
- I’m putty in her hands
My hike seems the perfect prelude to a Japanese facial, my all-time favorite. Josefina’s fingers tap my skin like raindrops in a steamy summer storm. I’m breathing orchard through my pores as she lathers me with berry and papaya. My body has disappeared into contours of the massage table. My mind is putty. She’s sculpting my face into an earlier iteration, smoothing away wrinkles like a sculptor with clay. I am brought to a liminal space between waking and dreaming—emerging fresh as a babe with the skin to match.
- Sail me away
I am launching into a cannonball. I have left the world of weight. I am floating, my body undulating in waves. In the background, Enya sings, “Sail away, sail away.” This is not the activity pool, nor the three other swimming spots at the Ranch. This is aerial yoga, friends. Neil instructs us to give our weight to the silk. The purple hammock can hold 1,200 pounds, and it dangles just a foot or so above the ground. Think restorative yoga without the floor. We sit in the silk and swing like children before swaddling in an airborne Shavasana, the chandelier sparkling like stars overhead. I don’t know what could entice me to leave. Is that the dinner bell?
- We all need love
We walk past plumes of oleander, sky flower and wild cherry, captivated by Jesus Hernandez, who speaks of plants like family. Every time I come to the Ranch, something new is blooming. No wonder; There are some 200 species here, all native or eco-equivalents that thrive in the Mediterranean climate. We’re standing before a 1,500-year-old Montezuma Cypress or Ahuehuete. Her leaves started browning, so Jesus’ team began a conversation with the feathery giant, and realized she was parched. They watered nearby grasses, which seeped into the roots. Within two weeks, the beloved tree was green again. “Plants need love, like us. We talk to the plants and give them love,” says Hernandez on a landscape garden tour.” Love must be the secret ingredient at the Ranch.
- As good as cake
The organic breakfast hike lifts me into the lavender light, and I wonder why I don’t I always rise at dawn. Birdsong accompanies us over the hills to Tres Estrellas—the Ranch’s organic farm where zucchini grows fat as a melon. Under a mulberry tree, we feast on banana muffins and platters of papaya, chilaquiles and a cheesy summer squash dish called calabacitas. Lead gardener Salvador Tinajero gives us a tour of his prolific playground. We wander the rows plucking cherry tomatoes: chocolate, indigo, and sun golds. It’s a stellar start to my birthday, which I learn is Salvador’s too! This doesn’t keep him from tending the crops and orchards with the glee of a child. The icing on the cake? Salvador picks me a bright red heirloom tomato as a gift.
- There’s soul in that Sol
Live guitar wafts over the foliage as I bob on the aquamarine waters of the Villas Pool. I am boulder and cloud gazing—two new favorite activities. But the music calls, so my friend Alina and I chase it to the Bazar del Sol. We toast to friendship, life, and how the Ranch teaches us to follow our bliss. Jim Buhisan strums his unique blend of flamenco, classical and jazz as the sunset paints the mountain peach. Happiness floats with the music as people toast sparkling water, craft beer, and local wine from the Guadalupe Valley. I love being at the Ranch with a friend because we enjoy our own routines while gathering for meals and impromptu explorations!
- In my element
To bring me back down to terra firma, I embark on a Five Elements Treatment at the Villas Health Center. The earth element promises a calm mind and grounded body. I’ll take that, please. It starts with an intoxicating whiff of pine, frankincense, and ginger. Anita runs a fluffy brush up my left foot and leg, across my lower back, up my right torso, and down my right arm. She massages me with the same cross-body movements, switches sides, and repeats. Chi tune-up: yep. Left and right brain integration: check. I glide into the verdant grounds where everything shimmers. The healing practice is said to increase vital life force energy. That pretty much sums up my week at the Ranch.