California’s Santa Ynez Valley is home to one of the best wine regions and a collection of charming towns. It’s an idyllic getaway from Santa Barbara along Highway 101 on the Central Coast of California.
Once there, you’ll see why travelers are coming. It’s the ability to visit incredible wineries, dine at award-winning restaurants, and have all the charm of the laidback California countryside. For me, it’s a win-win for a weekend road trip getaway, having everything I love in one place.
Last year, I traveled down from San Francisco to explore the Santa Ynez Valley. I can see why so many people love visiting here after spending a weekend enjoying everything it offers. As a food lover, I was surprised by how great the restaurants were. I know it was one of the best wine regions, but I had no idea how great the food would be.
So you’ve booked yourself in for a weekend — what things to do in the Santa Ynez Valley? I’ve got you covered. With a bit of planning, there are a few stops you’ll want to carve out time for, and it’s all listed before. But first, the Santa Ynez Valley itself.
What Towns Make Up Santa Ynez Valley?
The Santa Ynez Valley is large and small at the same time. It encompasses an area that includes the six towns of Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, Ballard, Buellton, Solvang, and Los Alamos. When in one, you’re never more than a 15 to 20-minute drive to the next.
What Is Santa Ynez, California, Known For?
Wineries, chic hotels, and charming towns are major draws for travelers to the Santa Ynez Valley. It has some of the best wine tastings for the region and is a popular day visit from Santa Barbara and other central coast communities like San Luis Obispo.
You’ll find Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and other grapes grown in the valley, which is what makes such amazing wine. The wine enthusiast will find several great wineries to enjoy with a very easygoing atmosphere.
The Idea Food Lovers Santa Ynez Itinerary
Day 1 in the Santa Ynez Valley
2 p.m. Arrive and check in to your hotel
When settling in for the weekend in Santa Ynez Valley, several options exist for places to call home. Since the valley is quite small, you can’t go wrong with either being in Santa Ynez itself or one of the smaller towns nearby, like Los Olivos.
After my last stay at the chic roadside inn, the Hotel Ynez, I have to say it’s one of the best locations in town. You’re close to everything from the wineries to only a 15-minute drive to Los Olivos. The rooms are a design-lovers dream, set back with individual hammocks on a beautifully landscaped property. Guests can access the pool, fire pits, and the bocce ball court. Let’s not also forget the well-stocked shop in the main building with local apothecaries, wine, cheese, and tinned fish.
Then again, I have an eye on a few other hotels in Santa Ynez Valley for my next visit. Other Santa Ynez Hotels to consider include:
- Fess Parker Wine Country Inn in Los Olivos
- The Inn at Mattei’s Tavern in Los Olivos
- The Landsby in Solvang
- The Ballard Inn in Ballard
4:30 p.m. Make Your Way To Los Olivos
Quite possibly my favorite of the small towns in the Santa Ynez Valley, Los Olivos has all the charm and wine-tasting rooms. Go for a stroll through the town to peep into art stores and stop at the well-curated Los Olivos General Store. Some tasting rooms close around 5 p.m., so you can squeeze in a tasting at spots like Dreamcôte Wine Co, Saarloos and Sons, and Epiphany Cellars are a few favorites.
7 p.m. Taste Europe’s Seaside Capitals At Bar Le Côte
Make a reservation a few weeks in advance (p.s. some tables are held for walk-ins, but there are tough chances on weekends). Dubbed a “seafood tavern” inspired by Europe, Bar Le Côte feels like a summer dream for fresh seafood. The Jonah Crab claws and the local Santa Barbara sea urchin on ice are a hit. The paella to share will take you to Spain, and pulpo al la plancha is just right paired with the Rancho Gordo Royal Corona beans.
Day 2 in the Santa Ynez Valley
9 a.m. Fuel up at Pony Espresso
Right on the main street of Santa Ynez itself is Pony Espresso. An unassuming coffee shop from the outside, but inside full of beautiful options for breakfast. Their entire coffee menu is lovely, but what can’t be missed on the menu are the breakfast tacos. Grab your order and sit on the patio; it’s the perfect spot to start your day in wine country.
10 a.m. Stroll through Santa Ynez
The town of Santa Ynez has a handful of shops I think you’ll want to stop at. The first is the Santa Ynez General Store — one of the most beautiful home stores I’ve entered. Curated antiques, Cire Trudon candles, Farmhouse pottery, and more. You could spend a proper amount of time here, then stroll down to their clothing outpost store for men and women.
Another favorite find in the town was a floral store called Forage Florals. While you can pick up a fresh bouquet, there is an assortment of dried botanicals, pottery, and other decor items inside.
12 p.m. The Lucky Hen Larder
It’s casual but oh so good and a must before heading out for wine tasting. The Lucky Hen Larder is a shop serving up some serious sandwiches. They do have a larder and cheese shop as part of it where you can even make your own cheeseboards to go.
If you’re tight on time, the pro move is to order ahead online, so your sandwiches are available at pickup. The boxed lunch accompanied by housemade pickled vegetables and brittle is my choice. Pending on where you book to go after, consider taking your food to your wine tasting.
1:00 p.m. Sunstone Winery
Go for a scenic drive through the rolling hills with a final destination of the organic vineyards of Sunstone Winery. One of the best places to go wine tasting in the area, it’s their bright wines paired with a French countryside setting that makes it memorable.
Book your reservation in advance if visiting on the weekend and choose a seat by the lavender-lined walls. It’s something of a dream, sipping down sun-drenched white wine varietals like their signature Viognier. And if you’re wondering, you can bring your own food — consider taking your lunch from the Lucky Hen Larder.
4:00 p.m. Downtime Or Another Winery
Pending what you feel like doing, take the afternoon to relax poolside at your accommodations, or consider adding another wine-tasting stop. Personally, I like to see it all, so I’d add one more to the itinerary.
There are a few other wineries nearby Sunstone Winery as you depart. Brave & Maiden Estate would be my choice for a by-appointment tasting. You do have to reserve in advance, but I think you’ll be smitten with the wines and setting once there. Their sustainably farmed wines are discovered through very intimate tasting. Think bold reds that are handcrafted for small production.
7 p.m. S.Y. Kitchen
End the night right back in town in Santa Ynez. S.Y. Kitchen has made quite the name for its fresh take on Italian food with local ingredients. Think artichoke appetizer with Moroccan seasoning, wagyu meatballs, and wood-fired pizzas.
9 a.m. Bob’s Well Bread
No trip to the Santa Ynez Valley is complete without a stop at Bob’s Well Bread. Bob’s passion for creating artisan bread and pastries at the bakery is inspiration alone. Grab a loaf and fuel up on pastries or small breakfast plates served all day. The location in Ballard is my personal favorite.
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Photo Credit: All photos by Jessica Wright