A perfect trip to the Santa Ynez Valley means just a little something different for every visitor. This is exactly what makes the wine country of California’s Central Coast such a gem: With so many incredible options and attractions — from morning hikes that peak with Pacific Ocean views to lush vineyards that produce a broad array of varietals to a diverse culinary scene rooted in the farm-to-table movement — the Santa Ynez Valley offers more than a few things for everyone.
It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure book … but with better wine.
Less than 45 minutes from the Santa Barbara Airport (SBA), two hours from Los Angeles, and four hours from the San Francisco Bay Area, getting to the Santa Ynez Valley is the easy part. Choosing from the array of unforgettable experiences that the six distinct communities of the Santa Ynez Valley offer is the bigger challenge.
Here are a few suggested itineraries to help you get started:
For the Baby Boomer
Arrive in late afternoon at the Santa Ynez Inn or the Ballard Inn, two of the most charming and romantic wine country bed and breakfasts in California. Once settled in, head to dinner at the Ballard Inn’s The Gathering Table, where award-winning chef Budi Kazali melds Asian and French cuisine to create a truly unique dining experience.
Begin the day with an Old West exploration of the shops, museums, and galleries of Santa Ynez. Then have a local wine tour operator pick you up for a day of wine tasting. First stop is The Lucky Hen Larder, where a gourmet picnic lunch will be prepared and packaged for you to enjoy at one of the many picturesque estate vineyards near Santa Ynez. Finish the day with dinner at S.Y. Kitchen, where you’ll treat yourself to fresh, modern Italian dishes that are almost entirely locally sourced.
Day Two starts with a spa treatment at the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn & Spa or the The Spa at The Chumash Casino Resort. Next, move to downtown Los Olivos, enjoying lunch at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe. Save time for the boutique shopping, art, and tasting rooms that have given Los Olivos so much character. Then cruise the estate vineyards of Foxen Canyon Wine Trail. Cap a perfect day and trip with the refined ranch cuisine of The Bear & Star.
For the Gen X family
The Santa Ynez Valley Marriott or the “glamping” experience at Flying Flags RV Resort & Campground make Buellton the perfect base for family travelers. In Buellton you’ll find a visit to Ostrichland USA will please the kids while two family-friendly breweries, Figueroa Mountain and Firestone Walker, will help adults unwind after a day of travel.
Day One begins in the storybook Danish-American town of Solvang. Enjoy a famed Aebleskiver at Solvang Restaurant, then treat the kids to a chocolate-making or cookie-decorating experience at one of Solvang’s authentic Danish bakeries. After lunch, it’s time for a group horseback ride through the vineyard with Vino Vaqueros or KAP Land & Cattle. Then relax with a family-friendly wine tasting at Buttonwood Farm and Winery. Return to Solvang for some fun at The Ultimate Escape Room or Space VR (virtual reality) and some authentic Italian at Leonardo’s Ristorante & Pizzeria.
Day Two begins at Nojoqui Falls State Park, where a relatively short, shady hike ends with a big payoff. Stop at El Rancho Marketplace for picnic supplies, then head to Lake Cachuma for a day of fishing, wildlife viewing, or water recreation. Finish the day with a casual dinner at La Tequila in Buellton.
For the Millennial
Make your basecamp in the Scandinavian chic confines of The Landsby, an urban retreat in downtown Solvang, or the themed rooms of The Victorian Mansion at Los Alamos, nestled in the foodie haven of Los Alamos. Start the trip with dinner at PICO at the Los Alamos General Store, named by Wine Enthusiast as among the best wine country restaurants anywhere.
Begin the first full day with breakfast at The Baker’s Table in Santa Ynez followed by a glider ride over the Santa Ynez Valley from Cloud 9 Glider Rides, which operates out of the Santa Ynez Airport. After the ride, head to Los Olivos for a tour and tasting at Global Gardens, renowned for its estate-produced, organic olive oils. Return to Los Alamos, where tasty eats such as the moules frites at Bell’s await. Visit the urban tasting rooms such as Casa Dumetz and finish the day with dinner at Full of Life Flatbread, a pioneer of Los Alamos’ culinary scene.
Begin the second day with a scenic three-hour hike through Gaviota State Park, which includes 2,775 acres of oak-dotted trails, a natural hot spring, and views of the Pacific Ocean. After the hike, grab lunch at Industrial Eats in Buellton then explore the wineries around the area, including Standing Sun Wine, which boasts a unique combination of wine, art and music. End with dinner at First & Oak in Solvang for a truly intimate experience.
For more information or to begin planning a trip to the Santa Ynez Valley, visit visitsyv.com.
About the Santa Ynez Valley:
Barely two hours from Los Angeles and a scenic four-hour drive from San Francisco, the Santa Ynez Valley is home to six distinct towns each with their own culture, vibe and menu of experiences. Blanketed with fruitful farms and vineyards, the California Central Coast wine region’s temperate weather allows for year-round activities of all sorts, spread throughout the historical communities of Ballard, Buellton, Los Alamos, Los Olivos, Santa Ynez and Solvang. Destination dining and world-class wines await, accompanied by lodging at every level, all painted into atmospheric backdrops which colorfully mesh Old World and Old West. Visit more than 100 wineries, feast on chef-driven cuisine, and enjoy festive events and design details from Victorian-era to mid-century to modern Danish. For more information, including a listing of wedding venues, restaurants, wineries, tasting rooms and events, go to VisitSYV.com.