Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park. (Courtesy of the National Register of Historic Places)
When you think of movie stars from the Golden Era of Hollywood who had second homes in San Diego County, Bing Crosby probably comes to mind. With his development of the racetrack in Del Mar, the popular crooner helped make North San Diego County a desirable getaway for the Hollywood crowd. However, “Der Bingle” wasn’t the only Tinseltown bigwig who built a second home in the area in the late 1930s.
In Carlsbad, California, a coastal town 86 miles south of Los Angeles and 34 miles north of San Diego, there lies the Leo Carrillo Ranch. This historic park is a designated local, state, and National Historic Landmark, which is owned by the City of Carlsbad and maintained by the nonprofit organization Friends of Carrillo Ranch, Inc.
Rancho de los Quiotes
Many destinations claim the status of being a hidden gem, but the Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park deserves the title. About 6 miles off the I-5 freeway, this unique destination lies hidden among the beautiful rolling hills of Carlsbad. Follow the road signs from the freeway to this historic park for a free trip to the Alta California region of years gone by.
The property’s original name was Rancho de los Quiotes, which means Ranch of the Spanish Daggers; it was named after the flowering chaparral yucca plant which is native to the area. It started as an 1868 homestead of the Kelly family, and an adobe home was built on the property in 1882. The land originally included 2,538 acres as part of a Spanish land grant. Today, 27 of those acres make up the park.
After driving down a long easement and parking, a short walk leads to a historic sign welcoming you to the Rancho de los Quiotes. You can explore the beautiful grounds at your own pace, and there’s plenty to see! A total of 17 historic structures are spread out across the property, which is beautifully landscaped with native Californian plants. In addition to the natural wildlife in the area, like bobcats, coyotes, and rabbits, beautiful peacocks and peahens roam the property. These exotic birds are descendants of the six peafowl which Leo Carrillo brought to the property in 1937.
Informative signs throughout the property describe the history and significance of each building, plant, and feature. You can either start or end your trip to the ranch with a stop at the Visitor Center Barn, where you can pick up a walking guide, grab a commemorative postcard, buy a peacock-themed gift, and watch a 10-minute movie on the history of the ranch and its developer, Leo Carrillo.
Photo of actor Leo Carrillo in 1934. (Public Domain)
About Leo Carrillo
Leo Carrillo was a popular character actor in the 1930s and 40s who made over 90 films during his long career, although he achieved his greatest fame as Pancho in the 1950s television series “The Cisco Kid.” In 1937, when he was 57 years old, Carrillo bought 1,750 acres of historic ranch land in Carlsbad with the goal of establishing a working ranch in the traditional Californian heritage of his ancestors. He restored the original adobe buildings, constructed new structures in the same style, and developed the abandoned land into a beautiful weekend retreat for himself, his family, and his many friends. He called it the Flying LC Ranch.
Leopoldo Antonio Carrillo was born in 1880 in the historic Olvera Street area of Los Angeles. He was a 7th-generation Californio, a background few can claim, and he was very proud of his heritage as a member of California’s leading family. With relatives who included Californian mayors, governors, senators, and settlers of Alta California alongside Father Junipero Serra, Leo Carrillo indeed had a rich Californian heritage, which he wanted to honor in his own life. He loved working the ranch himself alongside his workers, riding his beloved horses.
Carrillo enjoyed the Flying LC with his beloved wife, Edith, or Deedie, and their daughter, Marie Antoinette, or “Tony.” He lovingly designed the whole property, from the traditional hacienda to the beautiful swimming pool, as a place his friends could enjoy. On the hacienda’s threshold are engraved the words, “Su casa, amigo” (Your house, friend), and that is truly the welcome he extended to Hollywood luminaries like Clark Gable and Carole Lombard as well as troops of Boy Scouts, whom he frequently let camp on the property. He was a family man who lived a good life, and he wanted to share his happiness and honor for tradition with others. Acting as the state’s goodwill ambassador later in his life and serving on the State Beaches and Parks Commission for 18 years, he truly earned his nickname “Mr. California.”
Carlsbad’s Sleeping Beauty
Rancho de los Quiotes has been affectionately dubbed Carlsbad’s Sleeping Beauty, and it indeed invokes a deep sense of peace and tranquility in all who visit it. The buildings have been beautifully maintained with excellent historical integrity. Due to the casual, relaxed nature of admittance, it really feels like you’re visiting an old friend’s house rather than touring a landmark. Like any gracious host, the ranch offers an abundance of conveniently located restrooms and drinking fountains, comforts which are often not available at historic destinations.
The ranch is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily with no admission fee. There are free guided tours at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday and a guided botanical tour on the second Friday of the month at 9:30 a.m. You can explore the property on your own any time the ranch is open, but you may not be able to go into all the buildings. A friendly volunteer in the Visitors Center Barn will happily answer any questions you may have and play the fascinating film about Leo Carrillo and his ranch in the charming theater located in the barn. Community events are frequently hosted at the Rancho, making use of the beautiful architecture, many seating areas, and even the poolside barbecue Carrillo used to cook for his friends!
Leo Carrillo would be very pleased that his beloved ranch is open for anyone to enjoy at no cost, since he said, “Beauty spots, historic sites and notable buildings should be preserved for future generations. ... never used for any purpose except the benefit of the citizens and the education of children.”
Photo of Leo Carillo as Pancho and his horse, Loco, from the radio and television program "The Cisco Kid." (Public Domain)