Were you ever curious about what it was like to live in California 150 years ago? Fortunately, we still have wonderful remnants of that historical period. Close to home, we have Rancho Los Cerritos and Rancho Los Alamitos, but Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park in Carlsbad, California is also an excellent example.
Roots of Carrillo’s ranch date back to the 1880’s when a small adobe hacienda was first built on a 13,000 acre land grant. More than 1,000 head of cattle once grazed the land. Between 1937 and 1939, Leo Carrillo bought over 2,500 acres that he named Rancho de Los Quiotes (Ranch of the Spanish Daggers). Following his death in 1961, ownership of 27 acres eventually shifted to the City of Carlsbad.
The first creatures I noticed in this peaceful ranch environment were the peafowls running wild throughout the park. Nobody at the ranch knows how many of these beautiful critters live there, but there are perhaps hundreds. One of them is a rare all-white peacock. It’s not an albino – just a rare pigmentation – but it struts around the grounds like it owns the place.
Characteristics of these birds vary with the seasons. Peahens are somewhat muted all year, but in springtime the peacocks sport their awesome plumage. Toward the end of summer, the peacocks begin shedding their distinctive tail feathers, much to the delight of park visitors. You are allowed to pick up one stray feather per visit or you can buy them in the Visitor Center.
Key features of the ranch include the hacienda-style home, surrounding adobe service buildings, large lawn, pool, hiking trails, windmills, barbeques, and stables. Gardens, festooned with bougainvillea, agave and birds of paradise add a touch of serenity to your stroll along earthen pathways dressed with decomposed granite.
The park hosts many special events during the year, but it’s closed on Mondays. The historic buildings are only open for twice-daily guided tours.
To truly appreciate this great venue, it helps to know a little about its former owner, Leo Carrillo, a true native Californian, born in Los Angeles in 1880 and dubbed “Mr. California” by Governor Pat Brown. A short film about his life is repeated in the Visitors Center throughout the day. It highlights milestones in his life as a vaudeville performer, Broadway actor and finally a movie actor in more than 90 films.
Carrillo is best remembered as Pancho in the 1950’s TV series The Cisco Kid, a role which he assumed at 70 years old. He was politically connected, too. His great-grandfather was the first provisional governor of California, his great-uncle was mayor of Los Angeles and his father was the first mayor of Santa Monica. It’s easy to understand why we have a Leo Carrillo State Park and a Leo Carrillo State Beach.
Carlsbad is only about 75 miles south of Long Beach, an easy day trip, but if you’re not coming back the same day, you may also want to visit nearby LEGOLAND California Resort – a great adventure for little kids – for grownups, not so much.
For a truly grownup adventure drive a little farther south to the Torrey Pines Gliderport and watch local aficionados Hang Gliding and Paragliding. For a few hundred bucks, an experienced pilot will take you on a tandem ride for about 20 minutes. It looked like fun, but for me, I prefer the easy stroll around Leo Carrillo Ranch. Besides, I think one of those peahens has a crush on me.
Did I mention that admission to Leo Carrillo Ranch is free?