Why Visit Santa Ynez Valley?


In the Santa Ynez Valley, there are six picturesque, pedestrian-friendly towns, farmland as far as the eye can see, and welcoming locals. Pair that with grown-there world-class wines and dining, why are you at home reading this? It’s about two hours from the L.A. metro area and four from the Bay Area.

There are other reasons to visit the heart of Santa Barbara County’s wine country. There’s a craft beer scene, as well as hiking, cycling, horseback riding, spas, shopping, gallery hopping, and lounging (as in lay around and do nothing).

Ever wonder why the Santa Ynez Valley produces such wonderful wine? The secret ingredient is the Transverse Mountain ranges. They run east to west, allowing for more sunlight but cooler temperatures as the cool ocean breezes easily travel to the valley. Schedule ample time for wine tasting, because, guaranteed, it won’t be long enough.

But back to those six towns. Though individual in personality, they share a love of wine, farm-to-table dining, community spirit, and deep respect for the land. Their menu of getaways is as fruitful as their grapevines, with lodging and restaurant options to fit a variety of budgets.

• Ballard

Ballard’s pioneering spirit is alive and its charm well intact. Established in 1881, this hamlet is the smallest and oldest town in the Santa Ynez Valley. The population was 467 at the last census.

– Stay: Ballard Inn offers romance, luxury, and fireplaces. Breakfast is included. See ballardinn.com or (805) 688-7770.

– Eat: Gathering Table serves Wednesday through Sunday, 5 to 9 pm. The menu is Asian and French fusion. Visit ballardinn.com/restaurant.

– Play: You may be on vacation, but check out the little red schoolhouse, Ballard Elementary School. It was founded in 1883 and is still in use. 2425 School St, Solvang.

• Buellton

Long a well-known stop for weary travelers, Buellton sits at the intersection of U.S. Route 101 and Highway 246. The roughly 4,000-person town is easily identifiable by the windmill motel, or the Sideways Inn, made famous by the movie Sideways, on the west side of the freeway.

– Stay: At the Flying Flags RV Resort & Campground, you can go glamping or rent an Airstream trailer; see highwaywestvacations.com/properties/flyingflags.

Also in town, Hampton Inn & Suites has welcoming, peaceful grounds with an outdoor heated pool and whirlpool, bocce ball court, fire pits, and seating areas with hillside views. See bit.ly/HamptonInnBuellton.

– Eat: Industrial Eats is dedicated to quality food at prices for the masses situated in a re-purposed warehouse; see industrialeats.com or (805) 688-8807. The Hitching Post II Restaurant offers great steak and barbecue. Be sure to order a glass of the Highliner pinot, just like in Sideways. See hitchingpost2.com or (805) 688-0676.

–  Play: OstrichLand USA is a 33-acre wildlife refuge for the ostriches
and emus. Get up close and feed them. They are located at 610 E Hwy 246, Solvang, or see ostrichlandusa.com.

• Los Alamos

Seven blocks long and known for its foodie explosion along the main drag, Bell Street, Los Alamos’ dusty streets remain true to their Old West heritage despite the proliferation of galleries and antique stores.

– Stay: The Victorian Mansion is an 1864 stately home with six suites that feature hot tubs, fireplaces, and special themes, among other delights. See thevick.com. The Alamo Motel, meanwhile, is a true vintage style stopover in the middle of town. Fun! See rememberthealamomotel.com.

– Eat: There’s plenty to eat at Bell Street. No fuss, no muss; classic, simply delicious food. See plentyonbell.com or (805) 344-3020. Think you love bread? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet! At Bob’s Well Bread, you’ll find sandwiches, salads, pastries, and more. See bobswellbread.com or (805)

– Play: Window shopping, wine tasting, bakery sampling, plain ol’ relaxing is the name of the Los Alamos game. See visitsyv.com.

• Los Olivos

Rich in “Californio” history, Los Olivos dates back to stagecoach days, and today maintains its rustic appeal. Fun fact: There are 30 tasting rooms in the downtown’s five-block area.

– Stay: Fess Parker Wine Country Inn captures the charm of the Santa Ynez Valley and is a stone’s throw from the flagpole, the town’s
main intersection. See FessParkerInn.com.

– Eat: Sides Hardware & Shoes – A Brothers Restaurant is all about a creative made-from-scratch menu with top-notch service in a comfy atmosphere. It takes its quirky name from the 1901 business the building originally housed. See sidesrestaurant.com or (805) 688-4820 x 103. Wine-lovers will love Los Olivos Wine Merchant Café. It was voted “Top 100 Wine Lists in the Country” by Open Table and has been awarded the “Best Restaurants for Wine” by Wine Spectator since 2007. See winemerchantcafe.com or (805) 688-7265.

– Play: Art galleries. Begin at Gallery Los Olivos for a look at the works of more than 50 regional artists. Visit 2920 Grand Ave, Los Olivos, or see gallerylosolivos.com.

• Santa Ynez

A high-end cowboy-style community with an emphasis on fancy eats. See visitsyv.com.

– Stay: ForFriends Inn. Located in downtown Santa Ynez, their three-course breakfast is part of the stay. See forfriendsinn.com.

– Eat: Trattoria Grappolo. This Italian bistro supports local agriculture, and its patio serves as a community hub. See trattoriagrappolo.com or (805) 688-6899. There’s also Brothers Restaurant at the Red Barn. Always from scratch and always innovative, this American food is Central Coast in flavor. See brothersredbarn.com or (805) 688-4142.

– Play: Cycling. Given the mountains and flat valley floor, Santa Ynez is a world-class training center. Plus, the scenery can’t be beat.

• Solvang

The Danish Capital of America was founded in 1911, and its cultural roots are evidenced by the Scandinavian architecture, bakeries, and specialty shops.

– Stay: Wine Valley Inn & Cottages offers Danish hygge and wine country flavor. See winevalleyinn.com. Svendsgaard’s Lodge is
close to bakeries, restaurants, and more than 50 gift shops. See visitsyv.com.

– Eat: Root 246. Experience local, seasonal, sensational cuisine. See Root-246.com or (805) 686-8681.

– Play: Soak up the Danish charm strolling through town and a ride on the horse-drawn Solvang trolley. Or, see the Pacific Conservatory Theatre (PCPA) perform at the 700-seat, outdoor Solvang Festival Theater. See pcpa.org.

Your best bet is to use the above as inspiration. Maybe you’d prefer packing a picnic to sitting in a restaurant? Check out The Lucky Hen Larder at 1095 Meadowvale Rd, Santa Ynez (theluckyhenlarder.com). Or if you’re visiting to check out real estate, look up the Santa Ynez Valley Association of Realtors® at syvaor.com.

For more ideas see visitsyv.com, where you’ll find a complete smorgasbord of restaurants, shops, wineries, tasting rooms, events, wedding venues, and more.

Now, get moving. Those six towns are waiting to welcome you!