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Santa Ynez: An Underappreciated California Gem
While Napa and Sonoma get all the headlines, Santa Ynez quietly delivers California's charm.


Photos courtesy of Santa Ynez
Take a trip to an underappreciated region of California.


Santa Ynez offers an historic saloon, and a carriage house and museum.”
It’s a glorious descent from the Santa Ynez Mountain range into the long, fertile Santa Ynez Valley. For wine tourists coming from the city of Santa Barbara, the first vista view is so stunning, they often pull off the road to take it all in. The Santa Ynez Valley is Santa Barbara County’s largest AVA region covering 76,000 acres with more than 100 wineries and tasting rooms to discover.

It’s about as authentic Wild West as you’ll find these days, with lone cattle grazing on golden hills; silent, narrow country lanes; and farmers wearing cowboy hats in the fields. There’s more elbow room in the Santa Ynez Valley. But don’t let the wide-open spaces fool you. In every direction, there is plenty to see and do.

Besides the rural countryside, where opportunities for horseback riding, hiking, bicycling, and motorcycling abound, there are museums, galleries, theaters, a casino, spas, shops, and eateries. What’s more, around every turn there’s another winery or tasting room with wonderful new varietals and blends to discover.

You can’t possibly see and do it all in a day, or even two—so when you make your descent into the Santa Ynez Valley, bring your suitcase.

Six unique towns brimming with genuine hospitality, each town in the Santa Ynez Valley offers delightful places to stay while you explore the others. The historic town of Ballard is home to a 120-year-old red schoolhouse and quiet streets for strolling. Buellton offers beautiful parks and two great brew houses. The main street of Los Alamos has an historic train depot with an antique mall, and quaint shops. Los Olivos offers scores of tasting rooms and art galleries. Santa Ynez offers an historic saloon, and a carriage house and museum. The Danish-influenced town of Solvang’s flower-lined streets feature shops, galleries, and tasting rooms.

LOCAL WINES

Caressed by Pacific breezes and evening fog, the vineyards in the western end of the Santa Ynez Valley (Sta. Rita Hills) are known for exceptional Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. A bit further from the sea in the center of the valley, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, and other Rhône varieties thrive. And in the eastern end of the valley (Happy Canyon), Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon reign supreme. The diversity and quality of wines grown in the Santa Ynez Valley is amazing. To learn more, see sbcountywines.com

LOCAL FOODS

As with its wines, the Santa Ynez Valley offers a remarkable variety of food choices. If hunger strikes along the wine trail, don’t despair. Each town in the Santa Ynez Valley has at least one restaurant, and most have more. Feast on pan-seared duck breast, baked brie, linguine pasta, flatbread pizza, aebleskiver, pea soup, and beef tri-tip. There are also great local bakeries, groceries, and farm stands for picnics and quick bites along the way.

LOCAL FINDS

The longer you stay, the more you’ll find to do. Play blackjack or see a concert at Chumash Casino Resort. Take a 90-minute horseback ride with wine tasting and lunch in Los Olivos. Try beer tasting in Buellton, Los Olivos, or Solvang. Visit a lavender farm, feed ostriches, play golf, ride a mountain bike, and learn to say skål (Danish for "cheers"). Toast yourself for discovering Santa Barbara wine country, an exceptional place to tour, taste, and stay.

NEARBY HOTELS & RESORTS

The Alisal Guest Ranch
Located in the heart of Santa Barbara Wine Country on a 10,000-acre working cattle ranch, the Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort gives wine tourers enough outdoor activities to warrant a real vacation.

Santa Ynez Inn
The Santa Ynez Inn has been honored with the AAA 4-diamond award rating every year since opening.

Fess Parker Wine Country Inn
Fess Parker Winery consistently creates wines of the highest quality. Led by a talented winemaking team that includes two former recipients of the André Tchelistcheff Winemaker of the Year Award—Eli Parker and Blair Fox—the wines are routine winners in all of the top tier wine competitions.

Fess Parker Wine Country Inn
Fess Parker Winery consistently creates wines of the highest quality. Led by a talented winemaking team that includes two former recipients of the André Tchelistcheff Winemaker of the Year Award—Eli Parker and Blair Fox—the wines are routine winners in all of the top tier wine competitions.

Hotel Corque
Naturally warm and elegant, Hotel Corque personifies Santa Barbara wine country, making it an ideal retreat for anyone wishing to settle back in this special part of the world.

Bacara Resort & Spa
Set on two miles of private, natural beach within minutes of the charming community of Santa Barbara, the four-star Bacara Resort & Spa provides its guests an unrivaled vacation destination.

NEARBY WINERIES

Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard
Long before grapevines were planted on the hilltop at Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard, it was home to horses, goats, and chickens; trees bearing fruit, nuts, and olives; and gardens filled with vegetables, herbs, and flowers.

Foley Estates
Founded by Bill Foley in the late 1990s, Foley Estates has earned a solid reputation for its ultrafine, handmade, cool-climate wines from Sta. Rita Hills.

Foley Food & Wine Society at Bacara
Aptly located on the elegant front courtyard of the Bacara Resort & Spa, the captivating tasting room of Foley Food & Wine Society inspires guests to pursue their passion for wine, food, and travel.

Happy Canyon Vineyard
With a passion for the countryside and a rancher’s way of life, Thomas J. Barrack Jr. acquired Piocho Ranch in Happy Canyon in 1992. Today, Piocho Ranch is home to the Barrack family, a vineyard, with two regulation-sized polo fields, and many powerful ponies.

Lincourt Vineyards
Nestled under California pepper trees on a property that was once a dairy farm, Lincourt Vineyards retains the rural charm and simplicity of an earlier era.

Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards
The vineyards of Lucas & Lewellen have fast become legendary for lovers of distinctive premium wines from Santa Barbara County.

Pence Ranch
Tucked away in the hills of Santa Ynez Valley, Pence Ranch is a small artisanal winery dedicated to producing world-class wines that highlight the unique complexity of Santa Barbara terroir.

Riverbench Vineyard & Winery
In Santa Barbara County, the name Riverbench is synonymous with premium quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Sanger Family of Wines
Sanger Family of Wines invites guests to fully savor the Mediterranean lifestyle as they discover three distinctive wine brands, all born on California’s Central Coast.

Westerly Wines
The name Westerly resonates in the Santa Ynez Valley. It was the name given nearly 50 years ago to a magnificent 3,900-acre Santa Ynez Valley horse ranch called Westerly Stud Farms. Today, the name Westerly represents one of the most diverse portfolios of wines in Santa Barbara County.

Touring & Tasting is a media company that produces a wine and travel magazine and is also partner in the Hitched Wine Club.

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