Santa Ynez Valley Travel Guide

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Located between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the San Rafael Mountains in Santa Barbara County, Santa Ynez Valley includes the communities of Ballard, Buellton, Los Olivos, Solvang, and Santa Ynez. For a small community with about 20,000 residents, "the valley" (as locals refer to it) has a lot to offer—hiking, biking, shopping, and of course, wine tasting to name a few. The wine-fueled film Sideways was shot on location in the area, and many visitors come to town to tour the actual sites of the movie—the Buellton Days Inn, the Hitching Post, and Alma Rosa Winery tasting room are key spots along the trail. But if you're heading to Santa Ynez, there is a lot more to explore than its moment in the Hollywood sun.

Solvang is a Danish word meaning "sunny fields," and it lives up to its name. The town was founded in 1911 by a group of Danes who sought a temperate climate away from harsh Midwest winters. Danish architecture, bakeries, restaurants, tasting rooms, and shops (yes, you can find wooden footwear here) dot the quaint streets and hearken back to another time... and country. Of all the Valley communities, tourists descend on Solvang--especially in the summer--but that doesn't take from the charm of the place. Hadsten House and Hotel Corque both steer clear from kitsch with modern lodging in town, while The Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort is a tranquil, off the beaten path hideaway, which has beckoned horseback riders, anglers, and golfers since 1946.

Nearby Los Olivos is a small town of only 1,000 residents, but don't be fooled by its size—impressive food, wine, and shops can be found downtown. Fess Parker Wine Country Inn & Spa provides cozy rooms, indulgent spa treatments, and delectable Greek fare at its Petros Los Olivos Restaurant. A hop down the street you'll find wineries and shops to peruse. Grab a sandwich at Panino (chicken curry salad with balsamic dressing is only one of this spot's delectable offerings) then head across the street to Saarloos & Sons winery to indulge in a wine paired with cupcakes. If you want to be a part of the dusty, Old West feel of Santa Ynez, stop into Jedlicka's western wear shop—which has outfitted the town's cowboys and girls since 1932. Down the street you'll find handmade jewelry at Waxing Poetic. Located in an refurbished Victorian, it's the latest addition to the Los Olivos' handful of shops.

You simply cannot visit wine country without a walk through a vineyard and a few stops in the area's many tasting rooms. You can pick up a map and wind past oak groves and horse pastures stopping in to wineries along the way, or call a tour company to whisk you to choice spots. Sustainable Vine Wine Tours takes oenophiles to organic and biodynamic wineries, with a stop for organic sandwiches at a vineyard that produces grapes for Ampelos Cellars. Whatever way you decide to tour wine country, Firestone, Fess Parker, Rusack, and Sunstone are only a few of the hundreds of vineyards that make Santa Ynez famous.

When you've had enough wine, take a hike to Figueroa Mountain, known for its abundance of wildflowers, usually in bloom from February until April. For a different view of the Valley, hike, swim, and stay a night a Zaca Lake, a rustic getaway with a storied--if not spooky--past. The camping crowd who want a spot less off the radar than Zaca are welcome to Lake Cachuma, a popular destination for families.

Where to Go in Santa Ynez Valley

TOP PICKS BY OUR LOCAL EXPERTS

ALAMO MOTEL

425 BELL ST
LOS ALAMOS CA US 93440

Zaca Lake Retreat

8000 Foxen Canyon Road

Rustic cabins and mysterious waters promise peace and quiet at this off the radar retreat.

Dos Carlitos Restaurant

3544 Sagunto Street

Authentic Mexican fare.

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