This is an account of my personal journey, spending a week at The Ranch Malibu, a results-oriented, no-nonsense, no-options wellness retreat located in Malibu in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Those who know me well know that I am an “over-functioning” Type-A individual, meaning that I tend to fire on all cylinders most of the time. I am a self-professed foodie and enophile who literally plans my travel and, most days, around what food and wine experiences I will enjoy or share with the ones I love. I am also compulsively active, with my calendar filled to the rim with boot camp, cycling, racquet sports, and yoga. Then there is my job, which obviously involves a great deal of travel and time zones, but even more so, an excessive amount of technology and screen time. This may be a familiar scenario to many of my readers too.
I have been sending clients to the Ranch Malibu, and it has been on my personal wish list to experience one of their infamous 7-day programs myself. Taking the time for myself is not something I often do, and I’ll admit the cost of the program is not inexpensive either. I put the idea out to several women I know well, and after learning of the 5:30 am wake-up calls and 4-hour hikes with eight almonds, and perhaps more alarming – no alcohol and no caffeine, none agreed to join me. None, except for one, who later, during one of the brutal hikes, laughingly confessed that maybe she did not ask enough questions before agreeing to sign up.
The Peninsula Beverly Hills (but first a bit of hedonism!)
My girlfriend, Julie, and I met up at LAX on a Saturday and checked into the Peninsula Beverly Hills for one last day of “hedonism” before we started our 7-day program in Malibu. The Peninsula, by the way, did not disappoint with its lively living room, bar area, dining room, and the rooftop pool and restaurant — definitely the place to enjoy a big dose of the Beverly Hills buzz. We were welcomed into our lovely room with a bottle of champagne and Frette linen pillowcases, each monogrammed with our initials. We had a perfect lunch at Elephante on the beach in Santa Monica and a killer dinner downtown at the not-to-be-missed Bavel! Highly suggest!
So the next morning, we kicked off our healthy start with a lovely breakfast at the Peninsula, and then our car whisked us up to The Ranch Malibu. The Ranch hosts 25 men and women per week. Though everyone comes for their own personal intentions, the group quickly becomes a bit of a family as they soldier through physical challenges coupled with the rigors of dropping all vices cold turkey! We immediately started greeting our new “family” as my friend rolled down the suburban back window calling out to 4 other guests checking in, “Hello! I am Julie; I guess we are all in this adventure together!” Let the games begin!
The Ranch Malibu
The Ranches’ Ethos:
“Ideal for those in need of a vacation with lasting benefits, this retreat delivers sustainable results through a strict, “no-options” philosophy. Our program is based upon years of collective experience and observation, with ongoing regime adjustments to ensure maximum physical and mental results safely and sustainably. Amongst an intimate group of up to 25 guests, our highly knowledgeable staff tends to your every need and is trained in all aspects of fitness and rehabilitation to support and nurture while guiding you to achieve personal program goals.”
“Guests participate together in an active daily schedule consisting of 6 hours of low-impact exercise. Following a breathtaking and varied 4-hour group hiking excursion each morning, guests enjoy lunch, nap time, an afternoon strength training class, restorative yoga, and a daily massage. A 1,400-calorie-a-day organic, plant-based diet complements the intense physical regimen. The program is designed to allow guests to connect with nature’s healing elements along with experiencing more unique modalities, including a mid-week 60-minute sound bath. Guests also enjoy a weekly cooking class and tour of our onsite, certified organic garden. Pre- and post-program cholesterol testing and body composition analysis are also offered, along with infrared and cryotherapy saunas to enhance your results.”
“To further assist in calming the mind, our luxury accommodations do not include televisions, and we recommend disconnecting from your electronic devices to benefit your mental health further.”
“Guests routinely lose 3%-6% of their body weight along with substantial inches of fat loss and muscle gain. Improve cholesterol levels. Support immunity. Gain mental clarity. Adopt sustainable healthy habits.
Upon completing the program, guests feel physically and mentally transformed, logging over 60 miles of hiking, gaining strength, losing weight and inches, emanating a vibrant, healthy glow, and regaining mental clarity and peace of mind. Lasting nutritional and fitness guidance from The Ranch experts will continue after departure to ensure guests sustain the benefits of their stay.”
An Honest and Vulnerable Diary of my Experience…
Day 1 – SUNDAY
Upon arrival and check-in to our rooms, guests are shown how to use their radio to communicate with staff and hear the regular announcements about what we are doing and where to be. The radios are also an integral part of the hike as the über gregarious and positive staff, several of whom have been through the program themselves, communicate inspirational quotes and information about the trail, and encourage us through, and remind WATER, WATER, WATER.
After a tour of the grounds, including the spectacular organic garden where a good percentage of the food we will eat is sourced by resident happy gardner, Jordan (pictured), we enjoy our first hike. Today was a light property hike of about 90 minutes, just a chance to get our legs moving.
We settled in, unpacked, and then met up at 7 pm for our first dinner, which is served community-style in the dining room. This was our chance to enjoy the first bites of the glorious, colorful, soulful, delicious food that will nourish us through the week. The food is 100% plant-based and free of gluten, sugar, caffeine, and any processing. It is creative, rewarding, and truly a highlight of the stay at The Ranch. The shock to the system is the portions, they are small compared to what most of us routinely eat in our lives outside of the Ranch, being about a third of the size of meals served in American restaurants, and there are no second helpings like we tend to do at home. (Disclaimer, if you risk losing too much weight or can’t survive on 1400 calories a day, it is not a problem to ask for a bit larger portion or a supplemental smoothie or coconut water).
Below are some of the the meals pictured: 1 – Chickpea Frittata, 2 – Vegetable Lasagne with Cashew Macadamia ricotta, 3 – Curried Lentils with Chickpea Nan, 4 – Cauliflower Ginger Stirfry, 5 – Wild rice Stuffed Delicata Squash. (not pictured was my favorite Heirloom Jackfruit Tamales).
An inviting tea station and waters with lemon and fresh mint replace the typical happy hour. “Ranchers,” as we are called, drink so much clean liquid during their stay that (close your eyes if this is too personal), within two days of Ranch life, urine runs clear, rather than yellow, the way nature was supposed to run its course.
Meals are not a lengthy affair and everyone heads to sleep by 8pm.
Day 2 – MONDAY
5:30am – Beautiful chimes are rung outside my door and a cheery, “good morning, Laura” is called from outside my door.
6:00am – Morning stretch takes place in the barn.
6:30am – Hot herbal tea drinking starts (my body wanders…when and where the latte will be, my head knows that it’s not coming!). Never having been a big tea drinker, I thoroughly enjoyed the soothing mint, camomile, chai, and lemon-ginger teas throughout my day at the Ranch at and in-between meals.
7:00am – Breakfast
7:25am – Foot care. The team is expert at setting hikers up for success with preventative care, second skins and bandaging, foot goop to keep from rubbing inside shoes, and blister and toenail care for the casualties of the trail.
7:30am – We load up into three vans for our first big hike of the trip.
HIKE: Encinal Canyon – Etz Malloy Fire Road
Let me preface this we happened upon the week with record low temperatures and the coldest streak ever seen in Southern California, plus a whole lot of rain, so today was a particularly excruciating start to the trip and may have slightly beaten some of the gung ho spirit from many of us “Ranchers.” I think this is where my friend Julie said the bit about, “Maybe I should have asked a few more questions about this adventure before I signed up.” The hikes are not based on distance but on time, and they are always for 4 hours. No exceptions. It is up to the guest to decide the pace that works best. Ranch guests tend to be proportionately Type-A personalities with many CEOs or C-Suite executives of Global companies, serial entrepreneurs, successful financiers, actors, and even politicians. Not everyone has a big career and in fact work is not really talked about much, but everyone rates pretty high on the “driven” spectrum. So as this might entail, several started out at a very hefty pace right off the bat, including me, not realizing that is not really about the destination but about the hike. It is not a competition. I don’t think I realized how long 4 hours could be, and when the wind started whipping and the freezing rain dropping, water-proof hiking shoes were waterlogged, and the only respite was the mid-way snack, which amounted to…drum roll, please – 8 almonds in “Ranch Caviar,” black volcanic sea salt in a bag, the tears came pretty easily. My hands were so cold and my gloves so wet from gripping the poles outside my yellow Ranch poncho that I could not open my almond bag. It was pure desperation. Finally, one of the friendly and world-class guides came to my rescue; Carlos smiled, opened my almonds, and told me, ” You got this, Laura!” The team is truly beyond words.
You never really know who is in charge as each guide does everything and takes turns as lead sometime during the week. They are cheerleaders, they are foot wrappers, they are spiritual coaches, they are food servers, luggage haulers, yoga instructors, wake-up callers, problem solvers, soul soothers, comedians, rule-keepers, drivers, athletes, bad-asses. They are forever smiling, cheerful, and grateful but stern. If guests complain, they sing out happily, “we hike rain or shine.” Blister? “We got this; lets get you fixed!” It is not condescending; it is a way that is encouraging and stops complainers in their tracks. Not that anyone was complaining; everyone was a trooper. So we survived the first day, and it was the most challenging.
Mid-Way snack: 8 Almonds
11:30am – Back at the Ranch, foot care is king! It is simple but miraculous. First, we submerged our feet in an ice bath (Can you say ice-cream headache?!). After the ice bath, each person concocted their own recipe of herbs and medicinal leaves and ground it in a pest and morter with epsom salts. Delightfully therapeutic. And it works; presto, all pain was gone!
12:00pm – Lunchtime. Colorful and delicious. Tiny and precious. Every bit to be savored and truly satisfying. As in all meals prepared by the talented Ranch Head Chef Meredith Haaz, and her team, nothing but healthful goodness – real food to nourish the body. Water, water, water and tea, tea, tea!
Below the lunches were the Millet and Veggie Burger with Kale Chips and the Veggie Poke Bowl (my favorite lunch of the week!). Other lunches included the Black Rice Bowl with Chickpea Tofu, Split Pea Soup with chickpea focaccia, and Minestrone Soup with birdseed crackers. The Ranch sent us on our flight home with a Kale and chickpea salad packed into an adorable tiffin box.
1:00pm – Rest time and sign up for afternoon classes.
2:00pm – Fitness with Vinnie was a highlight each afternoon. The focus was on arms and core using the Fit Bench system – dumbbells, elastic resistance cords, and the bosu ball. His instruction was super targeted and interesting, always making suggestions for improving technique and results. This class started with a stretch and was over way too fast. Who says that about a fitness class?
3:00pm – Daily massages are included at the Ranch, and each therapist I had throughout the week was OUTSTANDING. I tend to get massages pretty much all over the world as I find that for me, the time that I need them most is when I am traveling, and it is the only time I feel free of guilt from all of the other items begging for attention on my to-do list at home. I say this because I have experienced many top-notch (and a good number of lackluster massages, too) along the road. Still, each of my seven massages at the Ranch were excellent and therapeutic in different ways.
Afternoon snack – is served at the Barn between classes and is highly sought after. I never imagined full-grown adults in an excited frenzy each afternoon. “Snack time? What is the snack today? Where are the snacks? Will you save me a snack?” The snack was usually a dollop of deliciousness, packed with protein and so satisfying – Quinoa Tahini Balls, Energy bites, Ranch greens popcorn, Be Well’bars, Sweet and Spicy Nut Mix, Kiwi Chews, and Berry Oat Cookies were some of the favorites.
4:00pm – Hot tub, infrared sauna, cold plunge, or swimming was a great way to balance the body after an active and taxing day. I would say that this is an area where the Ranch could consider putting a bit more investment in additional and more modern water therapy areas.
5:00pm – Restorative Yoga was the last class offered each day, and a wonderful way to stretch and calm the mind after a day of work.
7:00pm – Dinner time. We all gathered in the dining room, herbal teas flying and usually an excited buzz about a day well spent as we were grateful for our health and the delectable meal we were about to enjoy. Instead of cocktails, we gorged on organic teas and waters adorned with lemons and mint. Being hydrated is glorious. Meals are taken slowly, with each bite being thoroughly enjoyed. I learned to appreciate the colors, ingredients, and textures of each bite at the Ranch. Eat less, chew more. It really is more rewarding to dine this way in contrast to the typical frenzy or warp speed that meals in my regular busy life are often consumed. When we run so fast and furiously, it sometimes takes some recalibration to change our pace when we sit at the table.
8:30pm – Bedtime. Everyone retreats to their rooms to settle in for the evening and get a wonderful sleep. It is eye-opening how much our health and metabolism rely on a great night’s sleep to perform optimally. Getting at least 8 hours of sleep is not an old wives’ tale! It was glorious to sleep until the next morning’s 5:30 am wake-up call.
Day 3 – Tuesday
I am not going to lie, and I woke up today not feeling great. It was a combination of the awful weather from the day before, the thought of another long hike, and the simple truth that my body was in shock from the detoxification of all of its customary vices.
Thankfully, it was not raining this morning, but it was still very unseasonably cold for Southern California, and I knew I was about to spend a good part of the day out in the elements. I felt as if I had a head cold. I can say that I did not have the most enthusiastic attitude but I took a deep breath and pulled on my work out clothes and headed to morning stretch.
Solstice Canyon was today’s 4-hour hike, but after about 2 hours in the Ranch, the team realized that two of the three rivers we had planned to cross were just too high for safe crossing, not to mention that would also mean hiking in soaking wet shoes for the rest of the morning – a recipe for blisters. So almost like we won the lottery, we headed back to the Ranch two hours early and opted for a Spin class instead of the full hike. For me, this was actually a really welcomed upset of plans. I thought I loved hiking, and I actually do, but I was not prepared for more than the physical and mental endurance for a 4-hour hike. Maybe its because I am used to in-and-out workouts at home – 1-hour boot camps, 30 or 45-minute spin classes, 45-minute or 1-hour yoga classes, 30-minute runs, tennis is never more than 3 hours, even with golf, I prefer nine holes over 18. It’s my get-it-done attitude.
Our daily afternoon schedule was the same each day with yoga, fitness, and massages, but today we had an opportunity to visit a BOD POD. The BOD POD® measures how much air you displace and uses formulas to determine how much lean and fat mass your body contains. The body fat percentage is the ratio of body fat to total body weight. We later got to speak to the Ranch health expert, and she shared with us some astonishing facts about body fat. 80% of our body composition is determined by the food we eat, and only 20% results from working out. So it is possible to work out like mad, but if we are not consuming healthful and balanced whole foods, it is impossible to change the way we look. Strength training is critical to building muscle mass, which replaces fat. Cardio, which is my favorite exercise, won’t do that. Maybe the most significant take home for me was that when we consume alcohol, our bodies can not burn fat for between 12-36 hours. Well, NOW you tell me!!
Day 4 – Wednesday
Today I woke up knowing that it was going to be a tough day, but the sun was rising, and this made all the difference in my attitude. Serrano Valley was the location of today’s hike, and because the sun was out, we got the incredible views that Malibu is famous for – mountains, canyons, and ocean – that we missed on the first day’s hikes. The hike was 2 hours straight uphill, and I loved it. The descent was about an hour and a half, and mental toughness was what got me through it despite my very sore feet. This afternoon, in addition to our regular agenda, we had the option to meet with an acupuncturist who many of the Ranch guests said was exceptionally talented.
Above: Elevation and distance highlights, maybe deserved something a little bigger than a pear for snack, but it did taste amazing.
Day 5 – Thursday
Today I knew I could do it. We had just two more days of hiking. I made it through the most challenging part, and I was beyond the halfway point. My body was feeling good and now accustomed to being caffeine, alcohol, sugar, gluten, and preservative-free. My head was clear, I was no longer bloated, and I did already notice my clothing was looser fitting – though since I had been wearing pretty much workout clothes or pajamas since arriving at the Ranch, that part was hard to tell. I was still feeling a bit exhausted but much better than I had been. Today’s hike, the Ray Miller – Guadalasca – Sycamore Canyon Overlook (fire road), was spectacular, with insane views of the snow-capped Santa Monica mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The sun was even out enough for a beach lunch with this crew and the Ranch’s famous fabulous Beach Soup!
This afternoon we had a chance to meet with the Ranch chiropractor. I’ll admit I always have been a bit hesitant about the legitimacy of this practice, but I was completely taken with the Doctor of Chiropractic at The Ranch. He was patient, calm, and full of great information. I learned a lot about breathing and the importance of breathing from the stomach, not the chest, to calm your body and mind. With poor posture, stomach breathing is complex and thus can result in a more anxious and stressed result. Chiropractic spinal adjustments do not replace yoga and the strength work required to keep your body in place, but they can reset you, so your skeletal system is aligned and in good working order. A few light adjustments were made to me, and it was unbelievable how freely I could turn my neck again. Tips, make sure your chiropractor is an MC, and if your practice tries to suck you into a subscription plan – run the other way, he told me, as it is unnecessary.
Day 6 – Friday
Ok so I will admit, today was my happiest morning of the week. I almost did it—one more day of hiking, one more day until I got home. Please don’t misinterpret this glee, the Ranch is quite a formula for success and is incredibly well-run, but it is not easy, and the routine is grueling for all the right reasons. I missed home, and I missed my husband. Shockingly enough, I was not missing my coffee, nor my wine (my two favorite vices!) It is so easy to do without once it is out of your system and not part of your everyday culture.
Today’s hikes were my absolute favorite!! Yes, they coincided with our warmest weather of the week, but the hiking and terrain were glorious. We started with a meditation hike on the Yerba Buena trail. The Ranch team staggered each of us by 30 seconds, and then we started our solo hike of about an hour and a half. This was called a meditation hike, where we did not talk to anyone and put away our headphones or music. This was such an enlightening time for me – a chance to really think without the interruptions of everyday life – the noises and distractions that make up our day. Being out in nature with myself, I thought through so many things in which I finally felt clarity or others in which I could make conclusions that had previously alluded me. I thought about what I have learned this week at the Ranch and how I would incorporate simple changes in my life at home. I felt grateful that I could take this week for myself and that I had almost made it! Following our mediation hike, we met back up as a group, and Julie, and I set out on the final hike of the trip on the Mishe Mokwa/Sandstone Peak Loop. This was my absolute favorite hike. It was challenging but fun and interesting as we crossed streams and used our hands to scale up rocks on certain points of the trail; we talked about a million topics that you only find time for on a long hike. We pushed each other to the most beautiful summit with views of the entire valley below. WE REALLY DID IT!
The rest of the afternoon went as all others had gone – lunch, fitness, yoga, and a double massage to soothe the hard work put in all week. Tonight’s dinner had a celebratory feel as our group of individuals had developed into a bit of a family this week. We supported each other, encouraged each other, showed our most vulnerable sides to each other, suffered with each other, laughed with each other a lot, and cried with each other a little; we shared our goals, our takeaways, stories about our backgrounds, our families, our travels – we were a happenstance group who shared a transformational experience together, each coming for our own personal reasons and goals, together we became “Ranchers.”
Those that read my blogs know that I don’t sugarcoat anything, so I’ll be brutally honest, a Ranch week is brutal, but it is rewarding. The repeat guest ratio here is off the charts if that tells you anything.
Takeaways from the Week
- Get outside! Do anything, just go outside, into nature!
- American restaurants way over serve -the size of our plates is embarrassing to most cultures. Share an entree.
- Do something new – don’t get stuck in a rut, there is not one way to exercise, do something that is fun!
- Don’t be married to metrics – you know your body and what makes it feel good!
- Prioritize sleep – sleep well and sleep long. Make adjustments that allow you to do this!
Quote I loved the most
Alexis Carrel — ‘Man cannot remake himself without suffering, for he is both the marble and the sculptor’
During the week, I did forage a grapefruit from the garden, begged for an extra clementine after one hike, and enjoyed a coconut water not on the breakfast menu.
During the week, I thought this is one of those “one and done” trips, no need to repeat. But now that I am home, I am already plotting how to incorporate a return visit in the coming year. Yes, kind of like child birth, one forgets the pain.
The Nitty – Gritty
- The Ranch Malibu rate includes 6 NIGHTS / 7 DAYS (Sunday-Saturday) of:
- Private accommodations for each guest
- Daily guided hikes and afternoon fitness class
- Daily yoga or meditation class
- Daily massage for each full day
- Plant-based and nutritionally dense meals and snacks designed to nourish & detoxify you during the week
- Bod Pod body composition analysis
- Evening elective nutrition and wellness discussions
- Cooking demonstration and garden tour
- Laundry services Monday – Friday
- Return airport transfer to LAX on Saturday morning at 10 am
- Saturday night stay pre-/post-program can be arranged for $1250. This night is included in the rate for all multi-week guests.
Single Occupancy start at $9,200 per person and Double occupancy at $7,600 per person
There is a 16% service charge on all reservations.
Clients of Resort to Laura Madrid receive an extra massage with compliments so great to double up one day!
Experience = Priceless!