Ultimate guide to the Santa Ynez Valley
Old West facades and horseshoe-embedded crosswalks hint at the cowboy charm of the Valley’s namesake. Mosey into town early for baked treats and coffee at The Baker’s Table. Then head to the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum to learn about the region’s history, including the Chumash Indians, ranchers, and see carriages on display from the old stagecoach route. Venture to nearby Sunstone Vineyards and Winery or Bridlewood Estate Winery for tastings, and take along a focaccia sandwich and provisions from Lucky Hen Larder. Side trips might include Summerset Farm for berries and jams, Rancho Olivos for local olive oil, and Quicksilver Ranch—recently up for sale—to meet the mini horses. No visit would be complete without a meal at S.Y. Kitchen, where you’ll find meticulously crafted cocktails and local wines to pair with excellent, modern spins on Italian fare showcasing local produce. Afterward, wet your whistle at the Maverick Saloon, a well-weathered country bar where you can see cows from the porch. Catch live country acts, pin dollars to the ceiling for luck and witness multiple wedding after-parties (there’s even a “Walk of Shame” drink special on Sundays).
Continue along the road to the enchanting Danish-themed town of Solvang where windmills and half-timbered, farm-style buildings are home to tasting rooms, bakeries, galleries and gift shops. At the new Good Seed Coffee Boutique, a small-batch roaster and stylishly modern coffee shop, try the unique Trifecta brew—a pour over and French press hybrid—alongside house-baked cinnamon buns and challah bread (Fridays only) plus gluten-free and vegan options. Get cultured at the Elverhøj Museum of History and Art and the Hans Christian Andersen Museum above the Book Loft, while gearheads should hit the Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum. Grab lunch at the Solvang Restaurant, a long-running favorite for aebleskiver, round Danish pancakes filled with raspberry jam. At shops around town, you’ll find year-round Christmas decorations and adorable tchotchkes. For something more modern, be sure to visit The Copenhagen House to shop for all things Danish-designed, including home goods, LEGO, watches, amber jewelry, and more. Then escape to the High Roller Tiki Lounge, a tropical getaway of wine-based tiki drinks hidden inside Sort This Out Cellars’ tasting room. Make your way through homebrew supply shop Valley Brewers to The Backroom, a laidback speakeasy-style tasting room with hard-to-find craft brews. For dinner, head to First and Oak inside the enchanting Mirabelle Inn (an infinitely charming option for boutique accommodations), where you’ll savor a customizable tasting menu with creative, often locally sourced menu of seasonal hits like lamb risotto and truffle roasted cauliflower. Another top notch hotel option in town is Hotel Corque, which offers views of the surrounding valley and dining at the celebrated Root 246, which recently underwent a redesign, menu and bar upgrades and has a new chef de cuisine, Crystal DeLongpre.
As you roll into Buellton, an essential pit stop is the Mendenhall Museum, where you’ll be led on a reservation-only tour of colorful vintage gas pumps, porcelain road signs, classic vehicles and other stunning “petroliana” and auto-centric antiques. While a visit to the nearby Americana classic Pea Soup Andersen’s is tempting, consider heading over to the the new Hitching Post Winery tasting room for lunch. Adjacent to the iconic Hitching Post II of Sideways fame, here you can sip a flight of their famed pinot noirs and other vintages, chow on tender, wood-grilled artichokes, wonderfully juicy burgers and more, while taking in the bucolic rolling hills from picnic tables in the back. For a surreal detour, there’s the nearby Ostrichland where you can feed the namesake big birds and fellow emus. Next, head to the recently opened tasting room of Brick Barn Wine Estate, tucked inside a former Arabian horse barn on an historic 1,100-acre ranch, where you’ll encounter beautifully balanced pinots, aromatic whites like their Viognier and more. For dinner, you wouldn’t be wrong to head back to the Hitching Post II for steaks, or you might go for wood-fired pizzas, cured meats and other artisanal bites at Industrial Eats. For some stylish glamping in a vintage Airstream or cabin, head to the Flying Flags RV Resort, or look for the windmill of the adjacent Sideways Inn and its charmingly redesigned hotel rooms. For a nightcap without leaving the property, head to the new Sideways Lounge.
Upon arriving in Los Olivos, pull over to the cheerful, giant lemon that’s home to Los Olivos Lemons, a new stand serving fresh-squeezed lemonade with homemade syrups like blueberry, jalapeño and rose. For a small town—roughly three square miles—Los Olivos is packed with over two dozen tasting rooms tucked into quaint, clapboard storefronts you’d expect from wine country. Longstanding favorites include Carhartt Vineyards and Saarloos & Sons, but don’t miss relative newcomer Community Craft, where you can sip a range of excellent local and international vintages, as well as craft beers and ciders, in a laid-back space. Conveniently, you can order lunch from the neighboring Doggy Door, which features fully loaded gourmet spins like the pesto dog and the Reuben with vegan versions available. Nearby wineries worth a visit include Fess Parker Winery and Vineyard and pioneer Firestone Vineyards. For an exceptional dinner—not to mention lunch, brunch and happy hour—head to The Bear and Star, where you’ll find an inventive menu featuring their own wagyu beef and lamb raised on the Fess Parker Ranch, and seasonal heirloom produce also sourced from the ranch.
Tucked farther north just off the 101 freeway, Los Alamos is sometimes woefully neglected by food and wine seekers—don’t make the same mistake. A former stagecoach stop and home to the last standing Pacific Coast Railroad Station (now a sprawling antique mall and wine pub), Los Alamos offers plenty of Old West character with the added bonus of innovative eateries and great local wine. Start the day with Bob’s Well Bread for top-notch artisanal pastries, loaves and breakfast plates. Browse vintage home decor at Sisters Gifts & Home, then unwind with local vintages and play bocce in the spacious backyard of Bodega Los Alamos. Other great tasting room options include Lo-Fi Wines for natural wines and vinyl, and Bedford Winery for syrahs and forgotten varietals. At Casa Dumetz sip well-balanced pinots and grenaches, and visit the adjoining Babi’s Beer Emporium for craft brews and ciders, paired with the colorfully creative tacos on house-made tortillas from Valle Fresh.
Relative newcomer Bell’s offers phenomenal French bistro-inspired fare from two Per Se alums, including a coveted French dip sandwich and classics like coq au vin made with rotisserie chicken. For phenomenal wood-fired flatbreads like the date and bacon or smoke-dried tomato and mushroom, plus farm-to-table fare like dried and aged persimmons with prosciutto and burrata, head to local stalwart Full of Life Flatbread—Los Alamos’ pioneering artisanal eatery helmed by Clark Staub. They’re open for dinner Thursday through Sunday and for lunch on the weekend, but they fill up fast, so get there early.
For an exceptional dinner featuring sustainable and local ingredients, alongside great cocktails and wines, stop by Pico (where they also have a burger night on Mondays). For a nightcap, there’s the historic 1880 Union saloon, which has been fixing drinks since the stagecoach days (and has the carriage chairs and ranch decor to prove it) and now serves craft cocktails and upscale bar fare. The adjoining 1880 Union is an event venue and a former, supposedly haunted hotel once used to film the Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney’s music video for “Say, Say, Say.” For accomodations, choose from the wonderfully quirky Victorian Mansion featuring creatively themed rooms, the Alamo Motel for stylishly cozy desert chic, and the beautifully restored Skyview Motel, which features a pool, on-site restaurant and stunning views. Possible side trips include nearby wineries like Presqu’ile and Martian Ranch.