Looking for a quick, fun and restorative getaway from Austin? JL Bar Ranch, Resort & Spa is only 3 hours from Austin, in Sonora, Texas.
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to stay at the JL Bar Ranch, Resort & Spa in Sonora, Texas for a few days of recreation and relaxation.
JL Bar is located in the majestic Texas Hill Country, a 3-hour drive from Austin. Situated on 13,000 acres, this all-inclusive luxury destination is five star all the way, without being stuffy or pretentious. After all, it’s a ranch!
Whether you want to relax and unwind for a few days at the spa, or whether you want to indulge in nonstop fun with activities like horseback riding, pistol shooting, and ATV exploring, JL Bar truly has something for everyone.
JL Bar aims to be a world-class destination, complete with the sorts of amenities you’d expect at a five-star resort, such as fine dining, wine tastings, banquet facilities, and a spa and fitness center. But what JL Bar offers that not many other properties do is a commitment to recreation, music, and natural beauty that allows guests to have a unique experience every time they come to stay at the ranch.
What surprised me most about JL Bar is how much FUN it is. It’s like a playground for adults (and kids). From the moment I checked in and was given a personal golf cart to ride around in during my stay (since the ranch is so big), I knew I was going to have a good time. During my few days there, in addition to getting spa treatments, I rode a horse, I explored the vast property on an ATV, I went shooting, I tried axe throwing, and I spent way too much time in the “living room” of the main lodge, hanging out at its bar, playing pool, and singing karaoke.
The main lodge is gorgeous, extremely well-appointed, and straight out of a rustic chic Pinterest board, but it’s also where all the nighttime fun and shenanigans take place. There are cozy fireplaces, a big central bar, a pool table, and a karaoke machine setup that gets a surprising amount of use. Because of the homey, communal feel of the lodge, you never know who you’ll be rubbing elbows with at the bar, or sharing a mic with at karaoke. On my recent visit, I decided to take a turn at karaoke and cued up “Life is a Highway,” only to be joined at the second mic by an unfamiliar bearded man in jeans and a puffer vest. As I stumbled through the lyrics and fumbled the melody, he put me to shame with his perfect pitch and mastery of the mic. When I left after the song finished to refill my wine glass, he stayed at the mic and chose another song, performing a solo. Everyone’s jaws collectively dropped as his deep, soulful singing filled the room, no longer blended with mine. Were we really hearing this guy? He was amazing. We later found out he’s a successful recording artist with his own band in New Orleans. We had been told by the staff earlier in our visit that “you never know who’s gonna take the mic next at karaoke,” and they were right on!
One of the reasons the karaoke sessions at JL Bar get so interesting is that the ranch also houses a professional music recording studio on its premises, and many well known and up-and-coming musicians have recorded songs there. (There’s also an airport on property, so stars can fly in incognito via their private jets). Apparently it’s not uncommon for musicians to come together at the ranch, share some libations (the wine selection at the ranch is AMAZING), and engage in songwriting at the ranch. And once they’ve written a song there, it’s easy to move into the recording phase, since the state-of-the-art recording studio is right there. The owners of the ranch are patrons of the arts, and they actually own the rights to many songs by novice and famous songwriters alike. Ever heard of Kacey Musgraves? Some of her songs are owned by the ranch.
Besides all the fun to be had on the ranch, it’s also a great place to go to to veg out and reconnect with yourself (or a friend or romantic partner). The setting is beautiful and luxurious and big enough that you can keep to yourself if that’s what you prefer. The manager of the ranch compared the feel of its grounds to South Africa, and I could instantly make the connection. There are incredible views from the ranch, and the landscape and sky are reminiscent of what you might experience there.
Another high point for me is the quality of the staff at JL Bar. From the gregarious bartender who kept our glasses full every evening (the ranch is all-inclusive, so drink away), to Mike, the group sales manager who floored us at karaoke with his versions of “Sweet Caroline” and “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before,” everyone who works at the ranch is warm and engaging and the type of person you’d want to spend a few hours getting to know. Which is what we did! The common spaces at the lodge really encourage socializing and interactions, although if privacy and romance is what you’re after, you can certainly find quiet, private spaces as well.
Two of my favorite staff members are John and Sydney, a couple who live and work at the ranch. John is the resident horse trainer and wrangler who took me horseback riding, and his wife Sydney is the wine sommelier who has the ability to teach anyone about wine while making it exciting. Having lived close to Napa and Sonoma for many years, I’ve been to my share of wineries, wine tastings and wine events, and I’ve heard lots of winemakers speak about their craft. But Sydney’s knowledge of wine, and her ability talk about it in easy to understand terms, really resonated with me. She offers wine tastings at night before dinner, and selects the perfect wine pairings to go with your meal as well.
The spa at the ranch is also amazing. The deep tissue massage I had was excellent, and they offer a number of skin treatments (both traditional and cutting edge) that I hear are phenomenal. Just one more reason to go back!
The food at the ranch is plentiful, hearty, and delicious. Because the ranch is all inclusive, all your meals are covered, and boy are they good. Standout breakfast choices include chicken fried steak, eggs benedict, and breakfast tacos. Lunch one day was pizza made to order in an outdoor brick pizza oven. Dinner is over the top, with everything from huge cowboy steaks and melt-in-your-mouth pork chops to lighter fare like entree salads, salmon and halibut.
My time at JL Bar was restorative, yet packed with fun, and I'd gladly go back. There's so much to do there (or not do, if that's your preference), that every trip has the potential to be unique. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to get away from it all and unplug from life and rediscover themselves. Whether it’s couples who want to play together by day and be wined and dined at night before indulging in some couple time, or families with kids who want to bond over activities like paintball, archery, ATV riding, axe throwing, fishing and horseback riding, or girlfriends who want a getaway that includes a fabulous spa and great meals and wine tastings, this all-inclusive ranch really does offer something for everyone!
If you’d like to visit JL Bar Ranch, Resort & Spa, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org to book a reservation.
by Meaghan Clawsie, Elated Escapes (www.elatedescapes.com)