It was early Saturday morning and my son D and daughter A and I were about to embark on a getaway to Santa Ynez Valley. Our plan was to celebrate D’s birthday in this California wine country, where the air is fresh, the vistas wide and outdoor living is at its finest. It would be a weekend of creating wonderful memories with my two favorite people.
A relaxing drive to Santa Inez Valley
We packed up the car and headed north from L.A. on HWY 101. To create the relaxed mood, D set Spotify to Harry Styles’ Harry’s House. With songs like “Daydreaming” and “Keep Driving” I felt like I was being transported into another realm.
It was a beautiful 2.5 mile drive north, first along the Pacific coast and then through the Santa Barbara mountains. We had booked an AirBnb casita on a ranch where cattle and horses roam. The small house had everything we needed — two bedrooms, comfy living room and farmhouse kitchen.
Getting to know Santa Inez Valley
Before I tell you about our adventures, I have to tell you about how trendy this area is right now. The popular yet humble wine region was made famous by Alexander Payne’s 2004 film Sideways. (Do you remember this movie? Since visiting SYV I want to watch it again.)
Today, almost 20 years later, its home to the majority of Santa Barbara County’s roughly 20,000 acres of vineyards and ranks high on media “best” lists. According to Visit the Santa Inez Valley, “SYV was recently named one of the world’s 50 Best Places To Travel In 2022 by Travel + Leisure, as well as one of Forbes’ 22 Best Places To Travel In The U.S. In 2022 Santa Barbara County was also named global 2021 Wine Region Of The Year by Wine Enthusiast.
We visited four of the six historical communities including Los Alamos, Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, and Solvang. Each has a unique character. I definitely want to return sometime to see the two towns we missed – Ballard and Buellton.
BTW, it’s also trendy for destination weddings! Plus, many wealthy Angelenos and celebs have homes in SYV. Some even live here. We learned that Pink owns Two Wolves Vineyard. Alas, no celeb sightings this trip.
Let’s get started. Ooh, ooh, I can’t wait to share.
First stop Los Alamos
We dropped our bags and spent Saturday afternoon in Los Alamos, the most northern stop in SYV. Walking along the seven-block downtown strip I felt like I was transported into the Old West. I wished I had a cowboy hat and boots.
We passed a few hipster shops and antique storefronts. We peeked into 1880 Union, a former 19th century stagecoach stop that serves as an hotel and event space.
D was up on the venues and suggested we have our initial craft beer tasting at Bodega, an open-air wine and beer garden. By the time it was early evening, we opted for dinner at Full of Life Flatbread, known for wood fired pizzas and locally sourced ingredients. I had one of the homemade small batch kombuchas and we shared a Little Gems and Rancho Sta. Cecilia Avocado Salad and Central Coast Sausage Flatbread. It was so good, so good, so good, especially the whole milk mozzarella.
Sunday morning in Solvang
The next morning we headed for Solvang, known globally as “Little Denmark.” Totally not what I was expecting compared to the day before in Los Alamos. The streets were packed with tourists waiting in long-lines for authentic Danish breakfasts.
This charming village was founded in 1911 by a group of Danish immigrants and is home to old-fashioned Scandinavian-style buildings, windmills and lots of Danish bakeries. It’s the largest of the SYV towns.
Beyond the old-feel, there is the new. New craft breweries, eateries, and wineries for tastings. Peasants Feast was our choice for brunch. I enjoyed my Pastrami Smoked Salmon Sandwich and Carrot Soup. It was so good, so good, so good.
Feeling compelled to sample more wines, we did a wine tasting at the boutique Alma Rosa Winery, whose vineyards are close by. We tasted five wines including Pinot Blanc and a few Pinot Noirs. Not knowing my wines or how to taste, I was glad Alma experts were there to guide us.
Wine and olive oil tastings in Los Olivos
For the afternoon, we decided we would hit Los Olivos, where the serious oenophiles hang out. This SYV city boasts 30+ tasting rooms within a five-block area. There are art galleries, fancy clothing and home decor shops and an abundance of eateries.
Instead of just wine tasting, I was glad to experience an olive oil and vinegar tasting at Los Olivos Olive Hill Farm Store. We dipped bread in pesto basil, blood orange, and rosemary olive oils. We sampled lemongrass vinegar and aged balsamic. It was all so good. I have to admit I loved it more than the wine tastings.
”Would you like to purchase any bottles?” asked the nice salesperson. “Of course I would,” I replied. I bought pesto oil and lemongrass vinegar. Every time I cook with my oil and vinegar I think of SYV.
For our final wine tasting, we selected Stolpman Vineyards Fresh Garage, a natural organic wine bar. D and A did the sampling, I was a tag-a-long.
Our stay went so quickly. How could our wonderful escape to SYV be coming to an end? We saved the best for last and dined at Nella Kitchen and Bar. We had made reservations in advance and were lucky to get a table at this hot spot. Caesar Salad with Hazelnut Dressing and Nella Meatballs were appetizers and Artichoke Pizza and Basil Pesto Spinach Pasta our entrees. It went down with comfort. So good, so good, so good.
Saying goodbye to Santa Ynez Valley
Drinking wine, eating good food, being with my two fav people in the most magical relaxedsurroundings. What could be better? And now the memories remained.
P.S. I recently read that “thanks to its popularity there are now 25 daily non-stop arrivals to SYV from 12 major markets. For more information on traveling to the Santa Ynez Valley, or to research attractions, book lodging and activities, and create a custom travel itinerary, visit VisitSYV.com. The tourism team created an excellent website.