In Rancho Carrillo, a romance with California's past

Carlsbad's Rancho Carrillo neighborhood owes its beginning to, as D.J. Waldie put it in his text for Diane Keaton's " California Romantica," an actor's "longing for a lost place of romance." Leo Carrillo brought that romance to his rancho, which is still the neighborhood's centerpiece. His influence is reflected in the community's mix of Spanish-style housing. Close your eyes on a warm summer night and you just might hear the faint cry of "Hey, Cisco! Hey, Pancho!" echoing in the hills.


The history of Rancho Carrillo is tied to the actor, best known for his role as Pancho in the 1950s TV series "The Cisco Kid." Carrillo had a long career on Broadway and in film and was also a noted conservationist; Leo Carrillo State Park near Malibu is named in his honor.

Carrillo bought the land called Rancho de los Quiotes (Ranch of the Spanish Daggers) in 1937 to build a retreat where he, his wife, Edith, and daughter Marie Antoinette could escape the big city.

The actor built a hacienda and other structures in an eclectic mix of Southwestern, Spanish and Old California styles. He used the working cattle ranch as a weekend hideaway and hosted such guests as Clark Gable and Will Rogers.

Edith died in 1953, and Leo retreated to his Santa Monica home; he died in 1961. Daughter Marie Antoinette stayed at the rancho until her death in 1978. That same year the property was acquired by Carlsbad. Many of the buildings have been restored, and the rancho was opened to the public in 2003.

The land surrounding the rancho was gradually sold off, and much of it was transformed into the master-planned community of Rancho Carrillo.

What it's about

Rancho Carrillo covers about 700 acres of rolling hills several miles inland from the Pacific coast. Its 18 "villages" (tracts), and 1,500-plus single-family residences were built from the late 1990s to the mid-2000s.

The community retains some of the rural feel of the original rancho (descendants of the actor's beloved peacocks still roam the area). The architecture leans toward Spanish or Old California and each village has its own style. Some, on quiet canyons, have expansive homes with backcountry views, and there are areas reserved for natural habitat.

A citywide trail system loops through the community and connects with Leo Carrillo Ranch Historic Park. There is a swim center that has picnic areas with barbecues and a clubhouse.

Insiders' views

Robert Woelffer lives in a 2,400-square-foot home overlooking a canyon. He moved to the area in 2001, when he and his wife, Barbara, retired.

"We like living here because it has a small-town feel but is still part of the larger San Diego metropolitan area," Woelffer said. "My wife and I walk every morning through the neighborhoods and along the trails."

Bill Sahota moved to San Diego County from Ventura. "I looked at roughly 70 homes, but we kept coming back to Rancho Carrillo. It has wonderful, family-oriented neighborhoods and a beautiful environment."

Good and bad

"We moved from Beverlywood in L.A., which is a very nice community too," Woelffer said, "but we feel much safer here. The air is cleaner, and there's less traffic and congestion."

McClellan-Palomar Airport is a concern for him, though: "All too often, we get a jet . . . not abiding by the noise abatement program." The county is considering extending the runway to "allow larger jets to land here," which he said bothers him.

Housing stock

"There is a wide range of types of homes," said Bryan Devore, a Realtor with Prudential California Realty. "Each village has four to five models, ranging from single-story homes to larger two-story ones."

Prices for "single-family homes range from $500,000 to over $1 million," Devore added, "and the homes in each village are close in price to one another." For example, a five-bedroom, three-bathroom, 2,995-square-foot, two-story, single-family home on a cul-de-sac was recently listed for $640,000. For $1,139,000, there was a six-bedroom, 4 1/2 -bathroom, 4,248-square-foot home with 180 degree views.

Making the grade

Most younger pupils attend Carrillo Elementary, which scored 907 out of a possible 1,000 on the 2008 Academic Performance Index Growth Report.

After that, students may move on to San Elijo Middle School (851), then San Marcos High School (773).

Lechowitzky is a freelance writer.