Do you need to get away from it all and escape to the hills, the ranch or farm? In California, that's do-able, thanks to over 100 places where you can stay in anything from luxury four diamond accommodations to rustic cabins. Here's our working list of ranches and farm stays. Letting you pay to stay at a dude ranch, mountain retreat with four hour mountain hikes daily at the Ranch at Live Oak Malibu (theranchmalibu.com), or even a working ranch where you can intern for several months doing all the chores the locals perform, you don't have to feel removed from your roots and food sources.
For most, the farm vacation is merely an attempt to step back from the rat race and get a few days of grounding. One of the coolest working farms that doesn't use chemicals in the crops and on the ranch is Rinconada Dairy near Paso Robles on the Central Coast. This working farm is fairly small and intimate, specializing in lambs and sheep, mostly for dairy use and breeding. You can check out their Farm Stay program (rinconadadairy.com).
The Sea Ranch (shown in photo) on the Sonoma Coast is a simple place that blends with the coastal environment. Morning and day hikes, beach exploring, and fishing, kayaking and drive tours all make this a beach vacation that's small enough, with amenities to satisfy even city dwellers. Note: There's not much of a ranch at this facility, which is mainly a ranch-style vacation accommodation.
A New Zealand style farm, Work Ranch (workranch.com) in San Miguel is extremely popular and sells out at Thanksgiving & Christmas. The 12,000 acre oak woodland cattle ranch is a 5th generation family farm inviting couples, families, friends, and individuals to visit and stay. Bed linens are dried in the sunshine and meals are served Lazy Susan style, or you can eat out on the porch. Trail rides are one of the best ways to see the ranch, where you can look at and pet some of the farm animals.
The Apple Farm (philoapplefarm.com) in Philo is a biodynamic apple orchard, garden, cooking school, and has animal husbandry, rotational grazing, homestead-scale goat milking, cheese-making. This is a working farm that seeks interns for several months stays.
The Farmhouse Inn (farmhouseinn.com) located at 7871 River Road, in the town of Forestville is owned by siblings, a brother and sister who are 5th generation farmers. If you've never visited Forestville near the Russian River, this is the ultimate rural escape in the heart of Sonoma's wine country where you can spend your days next to the lazy river, or driving the wine trails and sampling the wines.
Double L Ranch (doublelranch.biz) in San Luis Obispo County's Rancho Santa Margarita was purchased as a rundown turkey ranch in 1965, then transformed into a working ranch fulfilling a family dream to raise registered Hereford cattle, racing Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses. Today the 300 acre ranch bordered by large, privately owned ranches on three sides provides a place where family and friends can come hide out and enjoy a way of life that is rapidly disappearing.
There a few regions of California where you won't find ranch and farm stay opportunities-Orange County comes to mind as one. But if you love the north Coast from Mendocino to Napa, the Central Coast, Gold Country, the Sierras and California's Central Valley, you're in luck! They are abundant with farm and ranch accommodations with many located in the heart of working farms.