For miles along State Route 126 in Ventura County, the view is dominated by neat rows of fragrant lemon and robust avocado trees. These are the signature crops of the Limoneira Company, an agribusiness that helped establish the state’s citrus industry.
Headquartered in Santa Paula, Limoneira is more than just one of California’s oldest and largest working citrus ranches; it’s also a bustling destination for meetings and events because of its historic buildings and scenic fields and lawns.
Founded in 1893 with 413 acres, Limoneira supplied the Sunkist cooperative with much of its citrus for decades, says John Chamberlain, Limoneira’s director of marketing. Today, the company farms nearly 8,000 acres, yet its enormous growth hasn’t erased the historic look or feel of the original property. Farming artifacts, like century-old field equipment, and early 20th century architecture in several venues provide a tangible link to bygone eras.
Within an hour’s drive of Los Angeles, and 16 miles from the Pacific Ocean and Ventura, Limoneira can accommodate from 20 to 3,000 guests. The sprawling ranch has become a popular site for sizable outdoor weddings, intimate birthday dinners, small business meetings and large fundraisers for area community groups.
For Moonlight at the Ranch VI, an annual masquerade fundraiser for the Santa Paula Police and Fire Foundation and the Santa Paula Chamber of Commerce, organizers set up booths for tastings and auctions, a stage and a dance floor across outdoor ranch sites that comfortably accommodated 800 guests.
Community event organizers stage every kind of meeting or function at the ranch, says Maria Sust Bombara, vice president and director of marketing for Santa Clara Valley Bank and a Chamber of Commerce board member who helped design Moonlight.
"People here have a lot of pride in Limoneira, and we like to go celebrate there," she says. She prefers the ranch over a hotel ballroom because of the versatile, built-in atmosphere: "You can dress it down to be rustic or dress it up to be formal."
If overnight lodging is required, guests typically stay locally at Santa Paula’s Glen Tavern Inn, 15 minutes away at the Crowne Plaza Ventura Beach, or at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, a 40-minute drive.
Planners make use of the vast open spaces (parking for 750-plus cars), varied topography and the company’s unique options for entertainment and tourism. Limoneira may be the only place in the world where an event can combine a bocce ball tournament on championship courts with a tour of a historic citrus packing house, and cap it all off with a Jeep ride through orchards or a hot air balloon flight above the tree tops.
Here are some of the most popular event spaces:
The Visitor Center: Filled with historic ranch artifacts and photographs of Limoneira’s founders, the light-drenched Visitor Center once served as the company store for ranch employees and their families. Well-preserved wood floors, century-old architecture and vintage gasoline pumps make the site a popular location for Rotary Club gatherings, civic events and weddings.
Designed to adapt for many uses, the building also includes pre-installed audio-visual equipment and wheeled furniture that rolls into custom configurations. Slide open the backyard barn door to reveal the adjacent cantina in the Visitor Center Bar and set up cocktail tables or a dance floor on the Visitor Center Patio. Seats 200 to 275.
Hilltop Orchard: Perched high above the ranch, the Hilltop Orchard is a terraced outdoor event space with endless views of the Santa Clara River Valley, sunsets and glimpses of the Pacific Ocean. Fire pits and candlelight illuminate the space, which is popular for seated birthday dinners, says Ashley Holley Whitcomb, a Ventura event planner. The ranch’s open-air trolley can transport guests to the site. Jason Collis, Limoneira’s site coordinator and on-site chef, sets up a kitchen tent to service barbecues, plated dinners and buffets.
"We’ve done everything from weddings to 50th birthday parties to fundraisers," says Holley Whitcomb. "There aren’t that many places with that kind of view, where you don’t hear anything but birds or wind, but it’s still accessible." Seats 130.
Fireside Hall: Built in the 1920s, the building’s rustic lobby was once a gathering spot for workers who relaxed beside the floor-to-ceiling, four-sided fireplace. "It’s one of the most intimate spaces at the ranch," says Holley Whitcomb. The lobby is popular for pre-event cocktails or small dinner parties, and offers curbside parking. Seats 30, 60 standing.
Side Courtyard: Adjacent to the Fireside Hall, this manicured garden courtyard is a popular outdoor wedding site. Seats 125.
North Lawn: This wide-open grassy space is framed by mountain views, orchards and commanding fir trees. Large enough to hold a convoy of food trucks, or a 1,000- person fundraiser, the lawn is adjacent to the ranch’s specialty citrus orchard.
Citrus Pavilion: Rows of picnic tables are sheltered under the open-sided pavilion, which is set in a lush lawn in view of historic buildings and near the bocce ball courts. Seats 144.