Horse and cattle ranches have been an integral part of California culture since the founding of the first mission in 1769. Spanish influence spurned vaquero culture, which set the stage for the iconic American cowboy. Today, the tradition remains strong with more than 40 million acres of public and private ranch land stretching across the state. Want a closer look? A handful of these history-rich properties are open to guests. Get a taste of the dude ranch lifestyle, participate in a high-stakes cattle drive, learn how to rope like a pro, and perfect your horsemanship at these unforgettable spots, listed north to south.
Kennedy Meadows Resort & Pack Station
This Tuolumne County ranch offers seasonal cabin stays (last Friday in April to Columbus Day in October) where guests can enjoy daily horseback rides followed by evening tipples at a 100-year-old saloon. But book in summer for a truly unforgettable experience. The customizable 8- to 14-day Kennedy Meadow to Tuolumne Meadows Pack Trip takes guests 70-plus miles along the Pacific Crest Trail on horseback. See Tilden Lake, Chittenden Peak, and Matterhorn Canyon all atop your trusty steed.
Founded by Napoleon Bonaparte Hunewill in 1861, this Mono County ranch has remained in the family for six-plus generations. Originally developed to feed the gold-thirsty miners in nearby Bodie, Hunewill now invites guests to join in on the fun. Opt for an adventure-filled 5-night or weeklong stay. The whole family will love creekside cookouts, square dancing lessons, horseback rides, and colt gentling. Bonus: Yosemite National Park is a short 30-minute drive away.
Bar SZ Ranch
The ranch version of glamping (granching?) awaits at Bar SZ Ranch, located 2.5 hours south of San Francisco in the San Benito County town of Paicines. Stay in the 2,800-square-foot Art House with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking rolling hills, or opt for a few nights in a canvas cottage under a sparkling sky. Daily activities include roping courses, horseback lessons, skeet shooting, chicken snuggling, and hayrides.
Make your home out on the range (for a few nights anyway). The V6 Ranch stretches across 20,000 acres of the Cholame Valley, about 30 miles northeast of Paso Robles. Tap into your inner Lone Ranger with the Cattle Drive experience. You and your V6-raised quarter horse will help move the herd to their new seasonal grazing location by day and relax around the campfire come nightfall. Appropriate for all riders ages 8 and up.
Circle Bar B
This 60-acre family-owned ranch was originally part of the Ortega-Stokes Mexican Land Grant in 1843. California looked a lot different back then, but now the part-ranch, part-resort lies just up the coast from Santa Barbara. Circle Bar B has the perfect balance of rough-and-tumble mixed with luxury. Head to the stables to take a ride through the Santa Ynez Mountains, enjoying views of the bright blue Pacific below. Afterward, indulge in a spa massage and enjoy a gourmet dinner before falling asleep in your four-poster bed.