The Santa Ynez Valley is having a moment. Okay, let’s rephrase. This corner of Santa Barbara County has always been a gem, but the things to do in Santa Ynez for food lovers are at an all-time high.
As one of the California Central Coast’s premier wine regions, Santa Ynez Valley is a small area packed with small towns and dozens of wineries. Many claim the movie “Sideways” put the area on the map. But, the truth is, this quintessential California countryside spot has been adored by everyone from horse lovers to wine aficionados (or both — like Fess Parker) for decades.
While the Santa Ynez Valley (known by locals as SYV) is an enchanting landscape of rolling hills, sprawling vineyards, and rustic charm, there’s more to this region than its wine such as doing a combo horseback ride and wine tasting, baking sourdough at a local farm, or picking your own blueberries. We’re partnering with our friends at California Grown to share our pick of the best things to do in Santa Ynez for food and wine lovers.
Where Is Santa Ynez Valley?
The Santa Ynez Valley is set among rolling hills dotted with oak trees in northeast Santa Barbara County. Just a short drive (about two hours) from Los Angeles, Santa Ynez Valley is a place you would miss if you (literally) took a different road. This destination has acres of wine country and local farms as well as many a quaint boutique hotel, antique stores, and chic art galleries making it a perfect place to do a day trip from Santa Barbara.
The valley is named for the small town of Santa Ynez but, in total, there are six towns — Los Alamos, Solvang, Santa Ynez, Ballard, Los Olivos, and Buellton — that make up the heart of the SYV. Each of the Santa Ynez towns has its own distinct flair, from the European vibes of Solvang, founded by Danish-Americans in 1911, and the vintage western feel of Los Alamos to the early 20th century Santa Ynez and the artsy wine-drenched streets of Los Olivos. Yet they all promise easy drives, great food, an and easier lifestyle.
The Agricultural History Of Santa Ynez
For centuries, this valley has been a thriving epicenter for agriculture. The indigenous Chumash people first occupied the region and they tended the land long before the Spanish missionaries brought European farming techniques. This valley’s traditional agricultural roots were in cattle, dairy, barley, and beans. Today there are more select, high-value crops such as wine grapes, pumpkins, squash, and bell peppers.
What Is Grown in Santa Ynez?
The Santa Ynez Valley is just one piece of the Santa Barbara County agricultural puzzle. The Santa Ynez Valley is located just northeast of Santa Barbara, sheltered by the San Rafael Mountains to the north and the Santa Ynez Mountains to the south. The geography means the area has a Mediterranean climate, which makes it an ideal growing area for a multitude of crops. The top ten crops grown in the county by value are strawberries, cauliflower, wine grapes, nursery products, head and leaf lettuces, broccoli, celery, avocado, and blueberries.
What Wine Is Grown In Santa Ynez?
First and foremost, the Santa Ynez Valley is an area known for producing some top-quality California wines. It’s an especially great place to grow Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Rhône varietals. The Santa Ynez Valley is its own wine area or AVA that has four different sub-AVAs including Sta Rita Hills, Ballard Canyon, Los Olivos, and Happy Canyon. There are over a hundred wineries that invite enthusiasts to savor their creations, each with a unique story to tell.
Things To Do In Santa Ynez FAQs
The Santa Ynez Valley is renowned as one of the California Central Coast’s premier wine regions. It's a small area filled with small towns and numerous wineries. The valley offers a picturesque landscape of rolling hills, expansive vineyards, and rustic charm. Apart from its famous wines, the region boasts a rich agricultural history and offers a plethora of activities for food and wine enthusiasts.
The Santa Ynez Valley is a part of the broader Santa Barbara County agricultural scene. The region's Mediterranean climate makes it suitable for a variety of crops. The top ten crops grown in the county by value include strawberries, cauliflower, wine grapes, nursery products, head and leaf lettuces, broccoli, celery, avocado, and blueberries.
The Santa Ynez Valley is particularly known for producing exceptional California wines, especially those made with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Rhône varietals. The valley has several sub-AVAs, including Sta Rita Hills, Ballard Canyon, Los Olivos, and Happy Canyons, with over a hundred wineries inviting enthusiasts to taste their creations.
12 Things To Do In Santa Ynez For Food Lovers
Make a point to make time to explore the burgeoning agritourism in this area. You can book activities in advance or play it by ear — we’re fans of a mix of the two since hanging with locals will help give you a sense of place.
Shop the Solvang Farmers Market
As the Danish capital of America, Solvang is known for its flower-lined streets, Danish bakeries, and as home to the Hans Christian Andersen Museum. But don’t sleep on the Solvang Farmers Market. This California farmers market is bursting with vibrant colors and the freshest produce. Running on Wednesday afternoons from 2:30 PM to 6:30 PM, head there to rub shoulders with local farmers and artisans and sample some of the finest the valley offers.
Solvang Farmers Market, 1st St, Solvang, CA 93463
Explore Clairmont Farms
This organic, family-owned lavender farm specializes in growing the Grosso variety of lavender. They have culinary lavender that can be used for baking as well as lavender personal care products like oils and lotions. The farm is open to the public from Wednesday to Sunday from 11 AM to 5 PM meaning you can head there to meet a local farmer, wander the fields, to picnic, or to shop their boutique.
Clairmont Farms, 2480 Roblar Avenue, Los Olivos, CA 93441
Bake Sourdough at Full Moon Farms
Leanne Schlinger inherited this 10-acre family farm in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley and has renovated it to be part vacation rental and part event and workshop space. We adore that you can unleash your inner baker at Full Moon Farms. With their hands-on bread baking sessions, you’ll combine ancient grains and traditional techniques, culminating in a warm, crusty loaf crafted by your hands.
Full Moon Farms, Santa Ynez Valley, CA 93463
Horseback Ride With A Wine Tasting
The two things Santa Ynez Valley is best known for are as a quality wine region and as an epicenter of California horse culture. At Vino Vaqueros, you can experience both at once by pairing the thrill of horseback rides with the elegance of wine tasting. They offer private trail rides through the countryside of Round Up Valley Ranch and Estelle Vineyard and finish it off with wine tasting.
Vino Vaqueros, 2178 Mora Ave, Santa Ynez, CA 93460
Olive Oil Tasting at Rancho Olivos
Rancho Olivo’s owners, Shannon Casey and her husband John Copeland, have grown olive oil in the Santa Ynez Valley for almost twenty years. They focus on classic European olive varieties like Arbequina, Frantoio, Leccino, Grappolo, and Pendolino. All of their olives are grown, harvested, milled, and bottled in the Santa Ynez Valley, and you can stop by their stand to do a tasting in the field!
Rancho Olivos, 2390 N Refugio Rd, Santa Ynez, CA 93460
Shop the Finley Farms Farm Stand
This certified organic farm is one we frequent when we shop at Southern California farmers markets because they always have incredible fresh, high-quality produce. When you’re in the Santa Ynez Valley, head to their farmstand (which operates on an honor’s system!) to get fresh-from-the-farm seasonal produce ranging from corn and berries to carrots, sunflowers, and leaf lettuce.
Finley Farms, 141 100-061, Santa Ynez, CA 93460
Summerset Farm U-Pick
For a family-friendly farmstand and U-pick, head to Summerset Farm. While they have seasonal produce boxed up for purchase, visitors can also grab a basket and pick their seasonal fruits and vegetables. This is the ideal place to go in the fall when there are loads of pumpkins and gourds, FYI.
Summerset Farm, 3450 Baseline Ave, Santa Ynez, CA 93460
Shop the Roblar Farm Stand
Not too far from downtown Santa Ynez, the Finley Farm Stand, or Vino Vaqueros, you’ll find Roblar Winery. While they are primarily known for their prized wines and lovely tastings, they also have a farm stand boasting all sorts of local, seasonal produce.
Roblar Farm, 3010 Roblar Ave, Santa Ynez, CA 93460
Eat Farm To Table Food
With its location amongst farms, wineries, and ranches, it should be no surprise that there is a lot of great eating in this area. Though we’ve shared places to eat in the Santa Ynez Valley, one place of particular note is Full of Life Flatbread in Los Alamos. This beloved local spot has been around for almost two decades and is known for serving wood-fired pizzas and other inspired dishes made with quality local produce. The menu changes based on what seasonal produce is available, so there’s always something new. But one of our favorite permanent dishes is the Coachella Valley date and bacon flatbread with California walnuts and arugula.
Full Of Life Flatbread, 225 Bell St, Los Alamos, CA 93440
Shop Local at Elderflat Farm Shop
Just down the road from Full of Life Flatbread and walking distance from Bob’s Well Bread, you’ll pass by one of our favorite places in Los Alamos: the Elderflat Farm Shop. Created by local farmer and maker, Carla Malloy, this farm shop in the middle of town is a must-visit. The shop sells a collection of artisan products, quality packaged ingredients, and local produce that comes from Finley Farms (above) and their organic family farm, Elderflat.
Elderflat Farm Shop, 325 Bell St, Los Alamos, CA 93440
Go Wine Tasting At Sanford
Of course, the primary reason many head to the Santa Ynez Valley is for wine tasting. Though the area is not as well-known to non-Californians as Napa or Sonoma Valley, the wine history goes back to the late 18th century. But, similar to Paso Robles, the industry only began in earnest a few decades ago. In the early 1970s, Richard Sanford and Michael Benedict planted Sanford & Benedict Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills, and it is still very much one of our favorite wine-tasting experiences in the area. A few other wine-tasting rooms worth booking at are Stolpman, The Hilt Estate, and Alma Rosa Winery.
Sanford Winery, 5010 Santa Rosa Rd, Lompoc, CA 93436
Santa Barbara Blueberries U-Pick
Santa Barbara Blueberries is located at Restoration Oaks Ranch, a 1000-acre cattle ranch, retreat center, and, of course, a blueberry farm. The public is welcome to pick from their thousands of blueberry plants and the various other produce they grow, including melons, raspberries, and blackberries.
Santa Barbara Blueberries U-Pick, 1980 US-101, Gaviota, CA 93117
How To Get To Santa Ynez
Located in Santa Barbara County, the Santa Ynez Valley is a 3-hour drive north of Los Angeles. Whether journeying from Los Angeles or the San Francisco Bay Area, the scenic drive to Santa Ynez is as easy as a Pacific breeze. If you’re venturing from more distant locales, consider touching down at Santa Barbara Airport or San Luis Obispo Airport.
Have Us Plan Your Santa Ynez Trip
If you plan a trip to this region, read up on the Santa Ynez towns to find which one is right for you. But also? Did you know we’re also a boutique travel agency specializing in California vacation planning? If you want to plan a trip to California, our California trip planner services are here to help you plan your perfect itinerary.