Warner Springs Ranch had its beginning back when ranch founder John Warner was given 48,000 square acres just for becoming a Mexican citizen.
Of course, Warner had a little pull: he had married Anita Gale, who was raised as a ward of the soon-to-be governor of California. For a 37-year-old Connecticut native, Warner had done well for himself.
Warner’s little piece of Mexico – dubbed Valle de San Jose – was renamed Warner’s Ranch and, by the late 1840’s, this idyllic stretch of property became the only inhabited stopping place for wagon trains and Butterfield stagecoaches between New Mexico and Los Angeles. The ranch was located in eastern San Diego County and was once visited by famous stagecoach travelers including President Teddy Roosevelt. Grant, and many other notables.
One of the main attractions in those days was the hot mineral springs that were included in Warner’s little gift from the Mexican government. One can only imagine how good this early-day hot tub felt for those tired stagecoach travelers after a hard day of fighting Indians or just riding in a rickety wagon on washboard roads. The California Spa experience had been born.
Somewhere along the way, Warner’s oasis became known as Warner Springs Ranch and its proximity to Los Angeles – just a hundred miles or so – made it popular with Hollywood stars such as Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Gary Cooper, Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, John Wayne and Bing Crosby. Clearly, Warner Springs Ranch had passed the test of time, and that has since led to several generations of California families who have grown up enjoying their vacations in Warner Springs.
Whether coming from San Diego or points north, the drive to Warner Springs Ranch takes you through and around 6000-foot mountain ranges, across high-desert plateaus and along winding rivers and streams – which, thanks to this winter’s rains, actually have water in them. It’s a pleasant drive far away from the bustle of the city and light-years apart from the Southern California beach experience that is, as the crow flies, about 40 miles away.
At the end of your journey is the ranch, nestled in the foothills of Palomar Mountain. For a resort offering 240 cottages, we noticed on a recent visit that it doesn’t seem nearly that expansive from the road. Warner Springs Ranch really is like a small town by the side of the road that doesn’t offer much of a hint about what’s inside this gated community. Once inside, however, we could see that there was much to explore and do without even leaving the ranch.
First stop was our adobe cottage. Obviously built many decades ago, this house included a spacious living room area with cathedral ceilings and a couch that folded out into a double bed. The thick adobe walls – about two feet wide measuring the window insets – keep these units cool year around, but a stone fireplace was at the ready. Adjacent to the living room area was a bedroom …