Over spring break we spent a couple of nights at Alisal, which is a family-owned ranch about 45 minutes north of Santa Barbara, that's been around since 1946. The drive over the Santa Ynez Mountains, and then past Lake Cachuma, was breathtakingly beautiful.
We loved our stay there--the rooms are sweet (working fireplaces, Pendleton blankets), there's something for everyone (hiking, horses, tennis, golf, swimming, proximity to vineyards, spa), and kids can be more independent than in most places (no cars in main area, and the property is so secluded and safe). Our friends who live in Santa Barbara go there several times a year they love it so much...and all the families we met there said they go at least once a year. It's the kind of place where your kid meets so many kids and just becomes a part of a pack. And for parents of an only child, that's pretty much the best thing ever.
One of the things we ended up liking the most is how caught in time it is--no tv in the room, no phones in the room. When you needed to make an appointment (for an archery class, or a horseback ride), you had to walk to an office to do it. We read books after dinner, and making a fire was an event.
One afternoon we did a drive down to Solvang, the Danish town which is about 5 minutes down the road from the Alisal. We loved the Hans Christian Anderson Museum within the bookstore The Book Loft, where we found some great used cookbooks and kids books. And Clara got a treat that was so delicious called a French Waffle.
Next time we go we'll make sure to build in time to go to the wineries in the area. We did hit the Hitching Post (remember it from the movie Sideways!) and had an epic steak.