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Just because you live in a mod­ern city does­n’t mean you can’t be a cow­boy. At least for a lit­tle while, any­way. About 100 miles from the sky­scrap­ers of Down­town Los Ange­les are men and women who wran­gle hors­es and ride them, spurs clank­ing, through Refu­gio Canyon in the San­ta Ynez Moun­tain range set in San­ta Bar­bara Coun­ty, with ocean breezes cool­ing their trail. Fam­i­lies or cou­ples can join them, for a week­end or a day, in a part of the coun­try that seems like a throw­back to a time when fron­tiers­men and women had to tame the bustling land to set­tle it. 


Horseriding at the Circle Bar B Stables

When 5‑star accom­mo­da­tions were in cov­ered wagons.…photo by Mark Zim­mer­man via Unsplash



It is the Cir­cle Bar B Guest Ranch that staked its claim on the smidge of a city called Gole­ta in San­ta Bar­bara Coun­ty in 1939 when a sin­gle mom, Flo­rence Brown, bought 60 acres of land and moved the chil­dren’s day camp she had been run­ning on her sis­ter’s prop­er­ty in Los Alam­os over there. It was a rev­o­lu­tion­ary endeav­or at the time since women had only been allowed to own land since 1848 and had just been grant­ed the right to vote 19 years ear­li­er. “She had help from a gen­tle­man friend,” Brown’s grand­daugh­ter, Kathy, told us as she showed us around when we vis­it­ed for an overnight anniver­sary cel­e­bra­tion this sum­mer. Brown saw the pos­si­bil­i­ties in the sprawl­ing canyon refreshed by the sea and even­tu­al­ly opened the guest ranch and horse sta­bles so city dwellers like us could retreat into this coun­try cocoon for a split.







Circle Bar B Guest Ranch

Untamed Coun­try © Rina Nehdar


It’s a life dom­i­nat­ed by nature and the appre­ci­a­tion of it you get when you step away from the tech­no­log­i­cal wind­storm in which most peo­ple live in the 21st cen­tu­ry. Flo­rence’s chil­dren and grand­chil­dren took over the dai­ly oper­a­tion of the guest ranch when Flo­rence even­tu­al­ly passed on. 


We think she was 94 but she nev­er real­ly did tell peo­ple her age so we don’t real­ly know, Kathy confided.



Circle Bar B Guest Ranch

Flo­rence Brown pho­to cour­tesy of the Brown Family



Today, Kathy runs the day to day oper­a­tion of the Cir­cle Bar B Guest Ranch with her hus­band, Hen­ry, with help from var­i­ous fam­i­ly mem­bers and a few long term employ­ees. Her broth­er, Patrick, oper­ates the Cir­cle Bar B Sta­bles, where vis­i­tors who love to go horse­back rid­ing can rent a ride on a horse for 90 min­utes to four hours. A crew of loy­al cow­boys take care of the hors­es and guests that ride them from the ranch’s sta­bles through Refu­gio Canyon trails. It was on one of these trails that Howard pro­posed to me 15 years before. When I first spoke to Kathy about com­ing out to review her ranch, I had for­got­ten this was the place. I remem­bered horse­back and the cliff but the excite­ment of the day blocked every­thing else.



Circle Bar B Guest Ranch

But first, he sang me a song by the creek on our dri­ve up to meet the hors­es  © Rina Nehdar



The Rooms


Circle Bar B Guest Ranch

Home Sweet (overnight) Home  © Rina Nehdar



There are 18 cab­ins set­tling into the hill­side switch­back that make up the guest ranch. Most are one-bed­rooms but three have two bed­rooms. The two-bed­room we stayed in had two floors and the upper floor had a bunk bed and a queen-sized bed, per­fect for a young fam­i­ly with the grand­par­ents — or teenagers — stay­ing in the bot­tom room. 



Circle Bar B Guest Ranch

All in the out­door fam­i­ly © Rina Nehdar



Circle Bar B Guest Ranch

The Cozy Liv­ing Room  © Rina Nehdar



Our Room  © Rina Nehdar 



All Cir­cle Bar B Guest Ranch cab­ins could be found in the pages of a Lau­ra Ingalls Wilder Lit­tle House on the Prairie book. Most have no tele­vi­sions but don’t wor­ry, the cab­ins come with cof­fee mak­ers, although break­fast and din­ner are includ­ed with each stay. Also includ­ed is a pool sur­round­ed by oaks and sycamores blow­ing away city con­cerns and a jacuzzi to fin­ish melt­ing them.



Circle Bar B Guest Ranch

Jump in and let your wor­ries float away.… © Rina Nehdar



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Food and Drink


There is a club­house with a saloon-style bar where Hen­ry is known to make a potent and tasty mar­gari­ta. A stuffed griz­zly bear looks down at guests who, in non-pan­dem­ic times, might hov­er around the couch­es set around a rocky man­tle fire­place. Ani­mal tro­phy heads dec­o­rate the cow­boy hang­out. A hall­way down is where meals are usu­al­ly served but dur­ing these times, all tables are set out­side under a canopy of trees held back by a wood­en overhang.



Circle Bar B Guest Ranch

Cow­boy Club  © Rina Nehdar



We enjoyed din­ner and then bought a bot­tle of wine at the saloon that we shared in the adja­cent game room. A live­ly game of pool fol­lowed by some ping pong round­ed out our parental festivities. 



Circle Bar B Guest Ranch

A love­ly round of whole­some © Rina Nehdar



Even in a pan­dem­ic, it’s pos­si­ble to make friends. We met a cou­ple in the attached library, full of books vis­i­tors could bor­row, and a TV where they were watch­ing a soc­cer game. Howard start­ed talk­ing to the hus­band, Estafan, about our boys, who also play soc­cer. Nor­ma and Estafan had also come to cel­e­brate their anniver­sary, turns out they shared our wed­ding date, only theirs was three years ago, so they still enjoyed their kid-free rela­tion­ship. We told them not to hur­ry. We part­ed ways promis­ing to seek each oth­er out the next day before their sched­uled wine tast­ing tour. These tours are still hap­pen­ing in a mod­i­fied fash­ion with COVID restric­tions in place.




Horseshoes and Horses


Yes, we got to sleep in and rel­ish the sounds of hawks call­ing and a creek rolling over rocks just out­side our cab­in. After an alfres­co break­fast at our assigned table, we spot­ted Nor­ma and Estafan and chal­lenged them to a game of horse­shoes before our sched­uled horse­back ride at 11. Turns out horse­shoes is a lot hard­er than it looks. You know the say­ing about close only counts in horse­shoes and hand grenades but my throws weren’t even close. Howard had to retrieve many of the met­al horse­shoes from sur­round­ing bush­es and the road into which they rolled.


Circle Bar B Guest Ranch

Not quit­ting my day job.…© Howard Nehdar


When 11 am came around, we walked down to the sta­bles and met Cow­boy Jack who made us feel wel­come with his south­ern drawl and col­or­ful jokes. 


Circle Bar B Stables

Cow­boy Jack at the Cir­cle Bar B Guest Ranch Stables



He intro­duced us to Cow­boy John­ny who guid­ed our pri­vate ride. 



Circle Bar B Stables

Cow­boy John­ny lead­ing the way.…© Rina Nehdar



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Howard told him about the roman­tic sig­nif­i­cance of the occa­sion and the part it played in the his­to­ry of our mar­riage. Although we tried to iden­ti­fy the cliff, hov­er­ing over trees and the ocean, where we had dis­em­barked from our hors­es and Howard launched into his speech that began with, “You know how much I love you and how impor­tant you are to me…” 


Circle Bar B Stables

Was this the cliff where we decid­ed to take the plunge?



We real­ized that the rid­ing routes the guides used had changed since that day, 16 years before, so, instead, we enjoyed lis­ten­ing to John­ny talk about the rob­bers that had used the canyon as escape routes after exe­cut­ing their heists and giv­ing the canyon its noto­ri­ous name.



Circle Bar B Stables

We’re back!


Although we may not have bro­ken any laws, our escape from the city into the tran­quil­i­ty of the coun­try moun­tains left us feel­ing a kin­ship with the refugees from years past.


Circle Bar B Stables

Feel­ing a con­nec­tion with the masked maraud­ers…© Rina Nehdar



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When To Go


Accord­ing to Wikipedia, “The cli­mate of the moun­tain range is Mediter­ranean. Sum­mers are warm and almost entire­ly rain­less, save for occa­sion­al mon­soon show­ers in August and Sep­tem­ber, though in most years there is no rain between May and Octo­ber.” Although, it’s still South­ern Cal­i­for­nia so real­ly, any­time there will be beau­ti­ful just in dif­fer­ent ways.


Circle Bar B Guest Ranch


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If You Bring The Kids


Painted Caves


About 40 min­utes away from the Cir­cle Bar B Guest Ranch, south on the US-101 and up State Route 154 is Chu­mash Paint­ed Cave State His­toric Park where Native Amer­i­cans left evi­dence of their cos­mic beliefs through eas­i­ly acces­si­ble art­work. Anoth­er great oppor­tu­ni­ty to explore the past.



Family Beach


In the same south­ern­ly direc­tion, you can vis­it the beach where dogs are wel­come and peo­ple are friend­ly at Hendry’s Beach. It’s a small beach bor­dered by dra­mat­ic cliffs. Kids and dogs run leash free on the sand and waves. If you go hun­gry, don’t miss the incred­i­ble crab­cakes at onsite restau­rant, Hendry’s Boathouse.



Getting There



Cir­cle Bar B Guest Ranch is about 120 miles from down­town Los Ange­les via the US-101 N