Once the secluded Sonoran Desert estate of cosmetic mogul, Merle Norman, the Inns at El Rancho Merlita are now shared with discriminating travelers from all over the world.
Built in the 1950’s, this luxury ranch property was Ms. Norman’s getaway from her busy schedule. It was also a place where she could entertain guests for extended stays, sometimes more than 100 at a time. She would in fly chefs and even charter buses to bring her employees & their spouses from LA for a couple of starry nights with cowboy campfire dinners and adventure-filled days.
El Rancho Merlita guests could hike in the grandeur of nearby Saguaro National Park East, go horseback riding through the desert & over the hills with magnificent views of the Santa Catalina Mountains just a few miles to the north. Here too they could play golf on Ms. Norman’s private 9-hole course. And, of course, swim in the huge pool.
Today, guests can luxuriate in the spa. The pool is now filled with saltwater; no smelly chlorine or other chemicals to irritate skin & eyes. Unlike chlorine pools, saltwater leaves skin feeling soft & refreshed, rather than dry & itchy.
Today, the Inns at El Rancho Merlita are owned by architect Diana Osborne, who has modernized & remodeled the property, but kept a great deal of the original 1950’s look & feel.
In 2010, Mrs. Osborne reached out to Pattie Bell, perhaps Tucson’s most experienced innkeeper, to join her in making El Rancho Merlita the most distinctive luxury Bed & Breakfast in Southern Arizona. Together they have succeeded splendidly. This once grand estate of a grand lady is now a world-class inn.
When Pattie gave us the tour, the first & most striking feature we noticed was its spaciousness. For an inn, El Rancho Merlita is big. Next, it was hard to miss the large manicured lawn, the well-maintained desert gardens, & the clean, meandering flagstone paths. In our travels, we have seldom seen patio areas or a swimming pool more inviting.
Once inside the main residence, it takes a while to absorb & appreciate all the architectural features, accents, & furnishings that effortlessly transport guests back to a slower, simpler time.
This portion of the property, the Ranch House Inn, has 4 beautifully appointed guest rooms, including the grand Merle Norman Suite.
Down a winding path in another part of the estate is the Arroyo House Inn with another 4 exquisitely-furnished guest rooms created from Ms. Norman’s original ranch-style guesthouse.
All of the guest rooms & suites have their own unique décor. All include luxury linens & towels, robes & slippers, specialty bath products, private baths, WiFi, refrigerator, flat-screen TV w/ premium cable, and direct access to spacious outside patios.
When we visited El Rancho Merlita, Pattie prepared an excellent breakfast of fresh brewed coffee, a bowl of fresh fruits topped with shredded coconut, blue corn blueberry pancakes, with both mesquite & prickly pear syrups, accompanied by sizzling turkey-apple sausages. A fine meal to get the day started right.
When Ms. Karen & I visited here (August 2013) there was only one other couple. So breakfast was served on the dining room table. When there’s a full house, Pattie prepares a hearty full breakfast served buffet-style that includes, among other dishes, fresh fruits, juices, Ranch House Granola & yogurt sweetened with agave nectar. Consider yourself most fortunate if Pattie bakes Arizona citrus pistachio muffins or her specialty, pumpkin gingerbread.
Special dietary needs can usually be accommodated.
When we recommend a place of lodging, location & proximity to attractions are important. The Inns at El Rancho Merlita are located in a gated community on the far east side of Tucson. Easily within a scenic hour’s drive you can be in a pine forest atop 11,000-feet-high Mt. Lemmon or enjoying our world-famous Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Not far are the Tucson Museum of Art and the historic districts of Downtown Tucson; the fascinating Pima Air & Space Museum; the Tucson Museum of Miniatures; and literally dozens of other worthwhile attractions. Also nearby are fine restaurants offering just about any cuisine you can think of. For a more extensive list of all there is to see & do at El Rancho Merlita or nearby, click HERE.
Given all that El Rancho Merlita has to offer, you might assume that staying here is unbelievably expensive. It isn’t. Consider: in the summer, $99 per night will get you a luxury guest room AND a better breakfast than you can get in any restaurant in town. Perfect for locals to enjoy a staycation and live the good life of a Southern Arizona tourist for a few relaxing days.
Even the splendid Merle Norman Suite, WITH BREAKFAST … IN HIGH SEASON, is only $295 per night. At that price it’s a bargain.
Is El Rancho Merlita the best B&B in Tucson? It’s hard to imagine any that would surpass it. But we still have six more inns to review before we rank them. So for now we withhold judgement. Next week we will review another one.
For a list of more Lodging Reviews in Southern Arizona see our Lodging Review page.
For a map and reviews by area see our Lodging Maps and Reviews page.
The Inns at El Rancho Merlita
1924 North Corte El Rancho Merlita
Tucson, AZ 85715