Holiday at the Rancho

Hike at Leo Carrillo Rancho Historic Park in Carlsbad

Oh Cisco! Oh Pancho! Many remember prolific actor Leo Carrillo for his starring role in the 1950s western TV hit, The Cisco Kid, but to our beautiful state, he gave much more than his two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Carrillo was an impassioned environmental activist whose efforts as the state’s goodwill ambassador notched him the nickname Mr. California and an eponymous state beach in Malibu. He also lived in and helped preserve an 1868 working ranch—and the once 1750-acre homestead is now the beautifully restored 27-acre Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park, a cultural gem in Carlsbad that can be explored as part of a serene 2-mile loop.

Woman on a wide open trail at Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park

Woman hiking a trail at Leo Carillo Ranch Historic Park

Woman hiking among Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park

Park in the large paved lot west of Carrillo Elementary School off of Poinsettia Lane and find the trailhead at the south end. Grab a map and start your descent on the dirt path. Turn left at the bridge that stretches over the expansive riparian ravine and great views. After the bridge, stay right (the leftward singletrack trail is overgrown) and head uphill on the wide path, which bends left under willows and amongst colorful bloom offerings of morning glories and bougainvillea. You’ll eventually reach a paved suburban street (Via Conquistador) alongside century plant (aka agave and American aloe). Make two lefts onto Carrillo Way, which leads you to the Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.).

Woman hiking at Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park

Take the trail on the right of the driveway, heading down the hill to the park’s large lot. Grab a visitor’s guide at the entrance kiosk (Bienvenidos!). There’s a short park loop you can follow that starts at the visitor center barn (guided tours on weekends at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.) and continues past the windmill and stables. You’ll be treated to various restored ranch architecture and historic structures such as the stable, cantina, adobe hacienda (where Leo and family stayed) and even a cabana and reflecting pool, where you can reimagine old Hollywood parties. Stay as long as you like, enjoying the gorgeous grounds and reading interpretive signs detailing the history. 

Find the park exit at the northeast corner of the park (labeled the Historic Entrance on the map/guide), where you will resume your hike. If you want a trail extension, head right to exit to Melrose Avenue, where you can find a trailhead for a 2-mile loop heading east. Otherwise, head left to continue via a gentle ascent along the park’s perimeter, which deposits you back at the lot. Gracias, Leo!

BONUS HOLIDAY AT THE RANCHO: December 4 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park is having Holiday at the Rancho; watch the holiday tree lighting, and participate in festivities like cookie decorating, an outdoor movie, and a “plush” snowball fight. Santa’s making an appearance too! $10 admission per person; no fee for children ages 3 years and younger to attend. Get tickets!

To get to the Rancho Carrillo trailhead and lot, take the I-5 to the Poinsettia Lane exit and head east. After 5 miles, look for signs for Carrillo Elementary School on your right. This is the lot and trailhead. No dogs at Leo Carrillo Ranch.

Story and photos by Matt Pawlik

Trending Stories NorCal

View all Stories
  1. Big Wave Hiking

    Pillar Point Bluff's amazing trail system is a coastal haven most popular for being the best spot to watch the famed Mavericks surf break in winter. But this place is beautiful year round for hiking.

    View
  2. Barnabe Bonanza

    Sure, there are higher mountains in Marin (Mount Tam) and easier ascents (Mount Burdell), but is there a more expansive North Bay view? Barnabe Peak in Samuel P. Taylor State Park offers a glorious panorama including Mount Tam, Mount Diablo, and Mount St. Helena.

    View
  3. Sweet and Salty

    Located on Highway 1 about 18 miles north of Jenner, Salt Point State is wild, scenic, and one of the most beautiful places to do some classic coastal camping.

    View
  4. Up Umunhum

    Rising from the Santa Cruz Mountains, Mount Umunhum is one of the Bay Area’s highest points, reaching an impressive 3,486 feet. With the new 7.4-mile (round-trip) addition to the Bay Area Ridge Trail, locals can finally step up to its peak.

    View

Trending Stories SoCal

View all Stories
  1. Secret Stair Master!

    Step up to a wonderful 2-mile, nearly 1000-step workout in peaceful Pasadena that is part leg labor, part suburban stroll, and all serene secret.

    View
  2. Sponsored

    Adventure Plan Portland

    With the Willamette River running through it and Mt. Hood rising crisply on the horizon, Portland is well-known for its exceptional food, coffee, culture, and beer scene. But it’s also an ideal basecamp for branching out into nature and a bevy of outdoor adventures within city limits and just beyond.

    View
  3. Hidden Stairway in Silver Lake

    Life in Los Angeles can be vibrant in so many ways, including stairways! This hidden stairway hike in Silver Lake features colorfully artistic and historic steps via 1.5 miles, four unique staircases, and countless local food options for a bite to eat.

    View
  4. Hidden Trio

    A trio of hidden canyons is often found in more remote places, but they're also on this urban walk in the serene hills of eastside’s Mount Washington. Head here for a beautiful 7-mile (round-trip) neighborhood tour of historic homes, ample greenspace, and, yes, three hidden canyons.

    View