The ranch was originally named Rancho de los Picos after José Jesús Pico, a Mexican immigrant who homesteaded it and built the original adobe house in 1871. The Pico family owned the ranch until 1941, when one of Jose Pico's sons, Joe, sold it to Frank Flournoy, a surveyor for Santa Barbara county, for $6,000. He, in turn, sold the ranch to Roy and Rosalie Cornelius, who purchased additional land for the property.
The Reagans bought the ranch from the Corneliuses for about $527,000 in 1974 when his second term as Governor of California was coming to an end. The estate contains a pond called Lake Lucky, stables and a barn for horses, and a 1,500 ft² (139 m²) house decorated with 1970s-style furniture. The ranch was landscaped at this time by Jim Everett of Paradise Landscapes. He was paid in boulders. Three for every one he moved. The ranch is located on the crest of the Santa Ynez Mountains adjacent to Refugio Pass. It can be reached from the ocean side of the mountains by the one-lane, paved Refugio Road from U.S. Route 101, and from the other side of the mountains by an unpaved, one-lane road from Solvang, California. The dirt road may not be passable during the rainy season.
Reagan spent vacations during his presidency at the ranch, which became known as the Western White House. Reagan signed the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981 at the ranch, as well as hosted British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher various times, Queen Elizabeth II, and Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
After leaving the presidency in 1989, the Reagans moved to a home in Bel-Air, California, but kept the ranch as a retreat. Ronald Reagan last visited the ranch in 1995 due to his affliction with Alzheimer's disease, and Mrs. Reagan last visited in 1998, before selling the property to the Young America's Foundation, a conservative group which preserves it today as what it calls "a living monument to Reagan's ideas, values, and lasting accomplishments." Although the ranch is closed to the public, Young America's Foundation offers students and supporters the opportunity to visit the property Reagan called "heaven."