Escaping to Bar SZ Ranch…

When you reach the point where you want to throw your cellphone out the window, don’t. Instead book a few nights at Bar SZ Ranch, a charming dude ranch just a few hours south of San Francisco, CA. Set in a valley east of Pinnacles National Park, Bar SZ Ranch is the Bay Area’s best kept secret getaway. With miles of rolling grassy hills and open space, it’s easy to feel like you’re a world away from Silicon Valley.

The ranch is like a throwback to the times before technology dominated daily life. The family that owns the ranch is personable, smiling, and goes above and beyond to be hospitable. Even the farm cats are uncharacteristically friendly. So friendly that you need to keep a close eye on your corn on the cob because the cats are happy to share your meal with you.

Without cell-service as a distraction, guests share stories around the communal evening campfire. You’ll wake up to the sound of roosters crowing and you’ll go to bed listening to coyotes yipping in the distance. Even if you weren’t aware that you needed it beforehand, within a few hours at the ranch you’ll realize how badly you needed this detox from the busyness of modern life.

tractor ride at Bar SZ Ranch
Tim giving guests a ride on the tractor

A Day at the Ranch

I was surprised at how quickly a day can pass at Bar SZ Ranch. There are ranch related activities such as, walking a pig, brushing a horse, learning to shoot a bb gun, and archery practice, that are included in your stay. There’s also the twice a day animal feedings in which the guests get to help feed the sheep, goats, pigs, donkeys, and whatever baby livestock they have at the moment. While we were there by sons bottle fed a calf.

There are also activities that guests can pay extra for. Kids will love the horse riding lesson. Kids learn the basics of riding a horse and are guided around a large arena. If they are comfortable on their horse, their riding instructor will give them fun challenges to try while atop of their horse. They might try to throw a ring over a cone or toss a ball into a bucket while staying balanced on the horse. Definitely more exciting than your average pony ride!

If you’re over the age of 12 you can opt for a horseback ride on the trails that surround the property. There’s also skeet shooting if you want something a little more hefty than a bb gun. We stuck with the arena rides and bb guns since we were with young children but other guests really enjoyed those activities.

Active guests will appreciate the different hiking opportunities in the area. If you want something convenient, throw on your shoes and explore the trails around the property. Otherwise, if you have more time and motivation head to Pinnacles National Park. The east entrance to the park is only about a fifteen minute drive from Bar SZ Ranch. With incredible rock formations and fascinating caves, the hiking in Pinnacles is some of the best in Central California.

*A word of advice to hikers: if you’re visiting Bar SZ Ranch in the summer or early fall it can get hot. Think daytime temperatures in the 100’s. I would highly recommend hiking in the morning during these months. There isn’t much shade and many of the trails in the area can be sun-baked by noon. Nobody wants to return to camp from a hike feeling like a burnt marshmallow.

brushing horses at bar sz ranch
Brushing the horses in the barn
horseback riding at bar sz ranch near san jose ca
Horseback riding lesson in the arena
hiking above bar sz ranch
Explore the rolling hills of the Bar SZ Ranch property
learning to shoot a bb gun at bar sz ranch
Learning the basics of archery and aiming a bb gun

Evenings on the Ranch

In the evening you can grill food on the massive BBQ’s while your kids play on the hockey rink. If it’s a hot evening, wander down to the creek and splash around in the shallow water. When the sun goes down a bonfire will be lit in the communal fire pit and guests gather around to roast marshmallows. After the kids reach their marshmallow sugar quota they can run off the sugar under the starry sky on the large lawn. With the kids happy and safe, parents can crack open a beer, relax, and forget about the never-ending to-do list that awaits them at home.

Getting Some “Shut Eye” At The Ranch

Camping

Camping is the cheapest option for staying at Bar SZ Ranch. The camping area is basically a big grassy field with a few trees on the perimeter. You can drive your car right up to your site. The sites are very basic, no fire rings or electrical hook-ups, but there’s plenty of space to spread out.

kid friendly camping near the bay area
The camping area at Bar SZ Ranch

Glamping 

If you like the idea of camping but want the comfort of a real bed and a little more protection from the elements, Bar SZ Ranch has two large canvas “glamping” tents. These glamping tents are awesome! They’re spacious, furnished with enough comfy bunk beds to easily fit two families, and the cute front wooden porch is the perfect spot to put your feet up at the end of the day. Adjacent to the glamping tents are a few picnic tables and a fire ring.

Anyone staying at Bar SZ Ranch is welcome to use the outdoor kitchen. Sheltered under an old farm structure, the owners have provided it’s guests with a surprisingly functional kitchen. From afar it doesn’t look like much, but when you go in you’ll find a water dispenser with drinking water, a microwave, a propane stove top, and a big dishwashing sink. There’s even a sponge and dish soap. If you’ve ever tried scrubbing marinara off a pot while hunched over a campground water spiqot you will appreciate the luxury of washing camp dishes in a proper sink.

glamping tents
The glamping tents are adjacent to the camping area

The Houses

If camping and glamping aren’t your thing, there are a few houses on the property. The houses are stocked with basic cooking supplies and toiletries so all you need to bring is food and clothes. The perfect option for when you want to feel like you’ve spent the weekend camping but  not deal with the hassle of actually camping. 

What to Bring to the Ranch

  • Sturdy shoes for hiking, riding horses, and walking around the ranch
  • Plenty of layers. It’s extremely hot in the summer and chilly in the winter
  • Food. The nearest grocery store is miles away
  • Hat, sunscreen, sunglasses
  • Camp stove/cooking supplies if you don’t want to use the kitchen
  • Water bottles/ day pack for hiking

Bringing The Ranch Home

Fun fact: many of the animals at Bar SZ Ranch can be adopted! The ranch regularly fosters animals from nearby shelters and is happy to place them in caring homes. If you’re interested in becoming a guinea pig or rabbit parent, this is a great spot to pick out a furry family member. The animals are well taken care of and get plenty of socialization which makes them extra friendly. We had so much fun with all the animals that it was really really hard to leave without taking one home! 

boy playing with rabbit at Bar SZ Ranch

What Makes Bar SZ So Special 

You really just have to go there to understand the magic of Bar SZ Ranch. The opportunity to disconnect from technology and reconnect with your inner animal loving child is such a blessing. Taking the time to stroke a horse or watch kittens scamper around a barn. Waking up at sunrise to a symphony of noisy hens. Feeling the thill of having a hungry goat snatch a handle of hay from your hand. It’s easy to forget what really matters in life but spending a few days with Tim, Michelle and their wonderful children is truly inspiring. Seeing their commitment to family, love, and living a genuine, fulfilling life, you can’t help but go home vowing to do a little soul searching.   

The Bottom Line: Advertised as a dude ranch, a weekend at Bar SZ Ranch is more than just a vacation to a ranch, it’s a trip back to simpler times .

Further Reading on Kid- Friendly California Travel

Glamping at El Capitan Canyon

Escaping Summer Crowds at Lakes Basin, CA

The Best Hikes for Kids in Santa Cruz, CA

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