With not much more than 3,000 residents and less than seven square miles, Rancho Santa Fe is a luxe yet laidback bedroom community located in the hills of north San Diego’s horse country. And at the center of town is where you’ll find The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, a charming and historic country-style retreat that beckons visitors with its sprawling landscapes and Spanish-California architecture.
Located quite literally in the center of town — the inn’s main lawn spills out directly into the “downtown” area — The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe is indeed the heart of this picturesque hamlet that’s comprised of just a few shopping blocks (mostly banks and real estate offices), an elementary and middle school, and a handful of restaurants.
Rancho Santa Fe might be a haven for millionaires and billionaires, but it’s a welcoming oasis for anyone looking to break away from the city and enjoy a true getaway that doesn’t require a six-figure (or seven-figure or eight-figure) income. Read on to find out why you’ll fall in love with The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe (just like my husband and I did) and get ready to start planning your trip now.
1. The Drive to Rancho Santa Fe
Making your way up the winding roads to Rancho Santa Fe is half the fun when venturing to The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe. Even though it’s just a 30-minute drive from Downtown San Diego and the airport, with every turn you’ll inch closer to a true reprieve from the city and enter a hidden oasis in the hills of horse country. (Once you start seeing only fancy cars on the road, you know you’re close.)
2. Location, Location, Location
The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe is truly the focal point of its namesake city. (The property was designed to be that way back in 1923.) Follow the red-brick road to town and within a minute you’re there. But chances are you’ll want to stay on the property and explore its 21 acres brimming with beautifully manicured lawns, venerable eucalyptus trees, fragrant rose gardens, and quaint cottages.
Here’s another view of the main walkway from the opposite direction of the photo above:
As you can see, there’s nothing fussy about The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe. There’s such meticulous attention to detail, yet it’s never overwhelming. It simply adds to the property’s natural beauty.
3. Its Female-Centric History
The historic Inn at Rancho Santa Fe was designed by Lilian Rice — a young, eco-conscious, early 20th-century American architect — to house the Santa Fe Railroad company’s citrus farmers as well as travelers. It was intended to be the town’s social center and was named Morada, which means “house of many rooms” in Spanish. This original structure designed by Rice still stands. Walk through Morada restaurant, The Huntsman Whiskey Bar, and The Spa at The Inn and you’ll sense the simplicity, serenity, and quiet beauty she achieved through uncomplicated, Spanish-inspired architecture.
4. Beautiful Grounds and Serene Environment
Speaking of serenity and quiet beauty, The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe offers stunning views no matter where you are on the property. The expansive lawn is dotted with Adirondack chairs and lined with benches where you can sit and read, sip on a drink, or take in the natural surroundings and listen to the birds. This photo was taken at sundown from the outdoor patio deck of Morada restaurant.
5. You’ll Instantly Feel Welcome
From the moment you step on the property, the staff will make you feel like you’ve arrived at a friend’s country ranch. The spa water at check-in is a nice touch and this welcome amenity was a sweet surprise.
6. Comfortable, Cozy Guest Rooms
After a multi-million dollar renovation in 2015, The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe got some modern updates but maintained its historic character. We stayed in a king cottage with a fireplace, which was so romantic to light up at night. The bed was ultra-comfy and the claw-foot tub was a great place to relax after a long day of … relaxing. (FYI, if you must work, don’t worry — there’s high-speed internet access.)
7. Rock ‘N Horse Minis
Did somebody say mini horses? During our visit, the “meet and greet” partnership with Rock ’N Horse Minis was just launching. Rock ‘N Horses Minis is a local non-profit operated by a small group of volunteers who own and train horses in San Diego County. These miniature horses are used for education and therapy purposes in schools, libraries, clinics, care facilities and also service work. Needless to say, it was a highlight to meet these little guys.
In Case You Missed It: Mini Horses!!!
Depending on the time of year, you might be greeted by the boys — Ziggy Starbutt and Jumpin’ Jack Flash — from Rock ‘N Horse Minis, so you can truly horse around while enjoying your stay at The Inn. For more information, be sure to check out their site and follow these small but mighty guys on Instagram.
8. The Huntsman Whiskey Bar
When staying at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, having a drink (or two) at the Huntsman Whiskey Bar is a must. This whiskey-centric spot pays homage to the old Santa Fe Hunt Club and has a totally chill vibe. Grab a seat on the adjacent outdoor patio (there’s live music on Thursday nights) or sit by the roaring fire while sipping on small-batch whiskeys. Better yet, pull up a chair at the bar and let Dutch House — the resident cocktail maestro and whiskey educator— dazzle you.
9. Dutch House, Bartender Extraordinaire
You might wonder what makes this whiskey bar different than any other? Two words: Dutch House. (Yes, that’s a person. And yes, it’s his real name.) This guy will impress even the biggest mixology aficionados — and he does it with no pretense whatsoever. The drinks speak for themselves. But if you want Dutch to describe the hours of experimenting that went into each of his creations, he’ll gladly share that with you.
Even if you’re not a big drinker, Dutch will come up with something that you simply can’t resist. From his housemade barrel-aged cocktails to experimental box-smoked cocktails (that’s a Smoky Paloma in the photo), Dutch won’t let you down. Group tastings, mixology classes, and fireside chats are also available for booking.
Whiskey tastings recur the last Tuesday of each month and are available for private bookings as well. (Great idea for bachelor or bridal parties, birthdays, and group reunions.) For more info, be sure to check out Drinks With Dutch and The Huntsman on Instagram.
Keeping the original name of the inn, Morada restaurant is housed within Lilian Rice’s original 1923 structure. The seasonal menu from executive chef Christopher Haas features creative California comfort food. While the chef said the Ranch Fried Chicken and Huntsman Meatloaf are guest favorites, the good news is that you can still enjoy delicious meal even if you’re vegan. By the way, there’s live music in the Morada bar from 6pm-9pm on Fridays and Saturdays. (The night we were there, a woman was belting out her own pared-down takes on classic rock. It was awesome.)
While most resorts offer at least one vegan option (or dishes that can be easily veganized), it was great that we didn’t have to settle for a plate of steamed veggies. Chef Haas’s dishes were thoughtful plant-based creations. To start the meal, we had the most incredible avocado toast ever. It sounds basic, but it was anything but. Avocado with a perfectly piquant chimichurri sauce + sea salt = micro cilantro on bread from local Brian’s Bakery = a lemony, garlicky experience with an almost truffle-like essence. Perfection.
The meal continued with hoison mushroom lettuce wraps and then spicy eggplant, Thai basil and jasmine rice. The meal ended up taking a sort of Asian-inspired twist, which was nice.
For dessert, we had a remarkable trio of delights: passion fruit marshmallow, blackberry cheesecake made with tofu and cashew “graham cracker” crust, and a chocolate cup with lemon meringue and lingberry. As Chef Haas told us, the marshmallow was simply spun sugar, cream of tartar, passion fruit juice, and cucumber flower. Amaze! As long as you call ahead of time and let the restaurant know when you’ll be dining in, they can accommodate your dietary needs.
11. The Spa
It’s always a luxury to indulge in a spa treatment when resorting, and The Spa at the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe is no exception. Like the rest of the property, it’s all about understated elegance and simplicity. There’s a wall of ingredients where you can create a DIY mix for your treatments. (Think dried rose buds, lavender and the like.) The 3,000-square-foot wellness spa offers five treatment rooms (including a couple’s room), indoor and outdoor relaxation lounges, lockers, showers and vanity amenities.
12. You Can Stop to Smell the Roses
While we spent most of our time strolling through the grounds and stopping to smell the roses (that photo was taken after a morning rain), The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe offers plenty to do at your leisure. Play croquet on the lawn, take a dip in the heated pool and Jacuzzi, participate in a yoga class, play a game of tennis on the court, or let the kids learn about gardening and nature during weekend classes. The Inn also puts on events throughout the year such as Hats, Heels & Hooves celebrating the opening of the nearby Del Mar Racetrack, and Olde Fashioned Christmas. (Definitely something we’d like to go back and see.)
13. You’ll Feel Renewed and Refreshed
Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway or a family-friendly retreat, The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe in San Diego county is a must. You can even do a solo trip. (After all, traveling solo can be one of the best things you ever do.) From its first days in 1923 as a gathering spot for farmers and travelers to its current incarnation as a haven from the city, The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe is a lovely hideaway you’ll fall in love with for your own reasons. Let its peaceful charm whisk you away.
Lifestyle writer Mar Yvette is on a mission to bring you the best people, places and products to make your life pop!