The RIGHT Places: The Reagan Ranch

A visit to Rancho del Cielo, the 688-acre ranch located in the hills northwest of Santa Barbara, California, the getaway that served as a vacation home for the late President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan affords a splendid opportunity for immersion into history while communing with glorious mountains and the azure blue Pacific ocean.

The ranch was originally named Rancho de los Picos after Jose Jesus Pico, a Mexican immigrant who homesteaded it and built the original adobe house in 1871. The Pico family owned the ranch until 1941, when one of Jose Pico’s sons, Joe, sold it to Frank Flournoy, a surveyor for Santa Barbara county, for $6,000. He, in turn, sold the ranch to Roy and Rosalie Cornelius, who purchased additional land for the property.

The Reagans bought the ranch from the Corneliuses for about $527,000 in 1974 when his second term as Governor of California was coming to an end. As President Reagan himself said, “From the first day we saw it, Rancho del Cielo cast a spell over us. No place before or since has ever given Nancy and me the joy and serenity it does.”

The estate contains a pond called Lake Lucky, stables and a barn for horses, and a 1,500 square foot house decorated with 1970s-style furniture. Located on the crest of the Santa Ynez Mountains adjacent to Refugio Pass, it can be reached from the ocean side of the mountains by the one-lane, paved Refugio Road from U.S. Route 101, and from the other side of the mountains by an unpaved, one-lane road from Solvang, California. The dirt road may not be passable during the rainy season.

Reagan spent vacations during his presidency at the ranch, which became known as the Western White House. Reagan signed the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 at the ranch, as well as hosted British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher various times, Queen Elizabeth II, and Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

There is no better place to understand Reagan’s principles, and his practical, down-to-earth manner, than at Rancho del Cielo. A much needed counterpoint to the constant buzz of Washington, D.C., Rancho del Cielo conveys the true spirit of Reagan. If you want to understand Ronald Reagan, says former First Lady Nancy Reagan, then go to the Ranch.

Just as Monticello and Mount Vernon convey the distinctive personalities of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, Rancho del Cielo uniquely communicates much about Ronald Reagan that could not be readily gleaned from other sources. The very essence of his character is found here at the Ranch — his humility, his idealism, his diligence and hard work. Since Reagan built much of the Ranch himself, The Washington Post called it the "place to see the hand of the man" and "a true national treasure."

The Ranch reflects the endless vistas of freedom and possibility that Reagan considered the fundamental elements of the American experience. At the same time, the Reagans viewed the Ranch as a private retreat — a haven from the frenzy of public life. There, in a setting both rugged and pastoral, they could spend time alone or with family and friends.

Visitors to the Ranch have been deeply moved by the property. After a private tour, Pat Perrot of Northridge, California, wrote, "All five of us in our party have traveled widely throughout the world but none of us remember visiting any place that had such an enormous impact on our hearts and spirits as President Reagan’s beloved ranch. From the time [we] spotted his home nestled in that magnificent valley, we were overwhelmed by the sense of presence of that great man."After leaving the presidency in 1989, the Reagans moved to a home in Bel-Air, California, but kept the ranch as a retreat. Ronald Reagan last visited the ranch in 1995 due to his affliction with Alzheimer’s disease, and Mrs. Reagan last visited in 1998, before selling the property to the Young America’s Foundation.

The Young America’s Foundation stepped in to save President Reagan’s Western White House in 1998 to preserve it as a living monument to Reagan’s ideas, values and lasting accomplishments and to make it the centerpiece of the student programs. President Reagan committed himself to reaching young people with his ideas — a goal that is also central to the Foundation’s mission. Preserving the Ranch and passing on the President’s values and ideas is Young America’s Foundation’s way of thanking Ronald Reagan for all he did for our country and the world. Today, Rancho del Cielo is a place of learning, a place of encouragement, a place of inspiration for generations to come.

Although the ranch is closed to the public, Young America’s Foundation offers students and supporters the opportunity to visit the property Reagan called "heaven." Tours can be arranged, however, to President’s Club members, those who have donated $1000 to the Young American’s Foundation. In addition, the names of the donors are engraved on the Freedom Wall at the ranch.

The Ronald Reagan Ranch Center in downtown Santa Barbara at 217 State Street provides a place for visitors to see Reagan artifacts and learn more about the ranch and family.

In Santa Barbara, an ideal headquarters is the pretty Canary Hotel in the center of the city just off State Street.

As the Ranch is in heart of the beautiful Santa Ynez wine country, do not fail to visit to the charming art gallery-filled town of Los Olivos (Fess Parker’s Wine Country Inn and Spa) is a delightful spot. The quaint village of Ballard (The Ballard Inn) has lovely rooms, should not be missed.

Other resources for the Santa Ynez Valley can be found at the Santa Ynez Valley Visitor’s Association, and at Santa Ynez Valley Wine Country.