Retreats
Try these ideas for great family or business getaways

There are times when getting away means getting together — a chance to meet with friends, family or co-workers in a setting that is far away from your everyday life. Butthose who have planned such events come away with a new appreciation for the logistical challenges of, say, the D-Day Invasion.

Whether you're planning a family reunion, a weekend with several couples or the mother of all business retreats, it's not quite as simple as calling up to book a few rooms. There are the numbers to consider — cost and number of available accommodations — and the location. What about food? There is a big difference between a retreat center that requires you to use their caterer and a multi-purpose lodging that doesn't mind you making your own sandwiches.

We'll concentrate more here on the location and basic amenities and give you a few choices scattered throughout the state of California. The common thread is that these are all getaways we discovered that seemed to us to be fun suggestions for retreats of various sizes. They range from a spectacular beach house where participants will occupy bedrooms in the same house to a group of cabins in the woods where you can all play together but close the door and kick back in your own cabin when you're tired of the group.

Pacific Edge

For location, it's hard to beat the Pacific Edge house on Laguna Beach. This three-story house really is like a private inn with its sleeping accommodations for 12 and no fewer than five fireplaces. The views from all three floors are breathtaking, especially as the sun sets on a part of the California coast where there almost always are clear blue skies.

Operated by Vacation Village — which also has several regular hotel-style rooms in the same vicinity — the Pacific Edge is so big it's easy to get lost in. Our family of three had the extraordinary experience of sampling the house all by ourselves, but we were swimming in space and realized this would be perfect for a family reunion. The four bedrooms are all private, most with their own bathroom. Still, there will be more interaction in this house than in most types of lodgings because everyone will be sharing the same spacious, modern kitchen.

This Cape Cod styled home is quite different from the average hotel accommodation. The French country interior is distinctive, with furnishings that look like they were chosen by well-to-do family designing their own beach house. There are nooks and crannies everywhere you look with the tiled hallways leading you to such discoveries as a full size walk-in closet with a crib, or an elaborate, romantic Jacuzzi tub, or a wine cellar, or an outside deck where all 12 guests can relax on beach chairs and watch the beach-goers and sunset without ever setting foot in the sand.

Pacific Edge is just a five-minute walk to the main intersection in Laguna Beach, an upscale artists' enclave and haven for the Orange County professionals who can afford to live there. The beach is gorgeous but it's also fun just to browse the galleries, visit the shops, grab a latte and observe the trendy young people who are so hip there is a television show named after the city.

For more information on Pacific Edge, contact Vacation Village at 800-843-6895 or visit www.vacationvillage.com. If more than 12 guests are in your party, other Vacation Village units are adjacent to Pacific Edge.

Rankin Ranch

Bill Rankin gives new meaning to the words "family retreat" with his popular Rankin Guest Ranch, located about 40 miles each of Bakersfield. When guests come to the Rankin Ranch,more than likely they will become part of Bill's extended "family" — legions of repeat customers who now account for 75 percent of ranch guests. While most resorts would be happy to get guests to come back every couple of years, Rankin guests tend to return every year for decades at a time.

Part of the reason could be the area's beauty — a majestic tapestry of meadows and pine forests found in the mountains of Kern County. Part of it could be the boundless recreational opportunities in the area, including several daily horseback rides at the ranch. And part of it could be the Kids Program that provides trained counselors for the youngsters almost any time of day.

While all of that's appealing, we have our own theory why people get hooked on Rankin Ranch: The Rankin family.

There's just something that feels good about experiencing a few days in the life of a hard-working ranch family where old-fashioned family values aren't really old-fashioned. Bill and his wife, Glenda, set an example for a son and three daughters who have been raised on ranch chores and self-reliance. Throughout their stay, guests will encounter family members cooking, serving, organizing and, yes, making sure those ranch chores still get done every day.

When you plan your group retreat at Rankin, your participants can be as busy or laid-back as they want to be. We kept busy with daily horseback rides, swimming, hiking and the social activities that accompanied most meals. At night, there's no sitting in your room watching television because there is no TV. This is a great time for you and your group to get together to talk, play games or even discuss business.

If you hold your retreat at Ranking, you'll want to take advantage of their meal packages. As you might expect, they offer offer plenty of tasty beef for many of the meals and "Rudy" and his kitchen staff serve up steaks as good as any high-priced steakhouse.

With so many activities, we didn't spend much time in our room. But our air-conditioned cabin was well-appointed with a double, single and day bed, as well as a couple of lounge chairs. There are seven cabins altogether, each with two separate units. The cabins are spaced throughout the wooded property, making each feel somewhat remote from the other cabins.

For more information, phone (661) 867-2511 or visit www.rankinranch.com.

Sorensen's

It's not often that a resort gets put on a map just as if it were a town, but there it was on our Rand McNally map: Sorensen's, a little berg near the intersection of Highways 89 and 88, deep in the Sierras southeast of Lake Tahoe.

We double-checked with Innkeeper John Brissenden and, yep, there are eight souls who call this place home. And on any given summer night there are another 33 cabins full of people who have come from places like Los Angeles and San Francisco to put some distance between them and the steel, glass and asphalt of everyday life in the big city.

If you're looking for a good group getaway, this is one of those places where everyone can spend as much or as little time with each other as they please. The cabins are like a little village so they're ideal for families and couples to each have their own totally separate accommodations, but within close proximity to each other.

Out here where the mountains are high and the stress is low, Sorensen's Resort sells what Brissenden describes as "the magic of the surrounding wilderness area." In fact, this wilderness is like staying in a national park without the bumper-to-bumper RVs. A network of trails and lakes are just minutes away in any direction, with the Carson mountain range always close at hand, just waiting to provide the perfect backdrop for your next family photo.

Just in case you big-city types suffer serious withdrawal, South Lake Tahoe is just a short scenic drive away — 16 miles to be precise.

We enjoyed our simple, but modern log cabin with a loft and bathroom area. The kitchen, complete with microwave, two-burner stove and a small refrigerator, was along one wall of the main cabin area. Nearby, a queen bed was covered with charming home-made quilts. The main room also included a sitting area and a dining area, as well as a free-standing wood stove with plenty of wood at the ready even though it was not needed this warm summer night.

Sorensen's also operates a small gourmet restaurant on the property that has been written up in many newspapers and magazines. It's just large enough for your small group to enjoy meals together. If you have a large group, you'll likely need to have separate seatings.

For more information call 800-423-9949, or visit www.sorensensresort.com.

Photos: Pacific Edge at Laguna Beach; couples enjoy Laguna Beach; guests take part in a hay ride at Rankin Ranch; a cabin at Sorensen's. Photo credits: Cary Ordway, Sandi Ordway

OTHER DESTINATIONS:  If you're planning a California getaway or vacation, be sure to check out other California Weekend articles on Laguna Beach, La Jolla and Coronado.

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