At the southern gates of California’s Central Coast, just a half hour drive north on the scenic U.S. Highway 101 from Santa Barbara, lies the Santa Ynez Valley AVA. Consisting of over 42,000 acres with more than 100 wineries, this valley is home to a quaint Danish-inspired town (similar to our very own Leavenworth, Washington), noteworthy horseback riding and hiking trails, and is a short distance to gorgeously preserved state beaches and bluffs. For this Pacific Northwesterner — and I assume countless others — this valley is nothing short of the California dream.
Within these rolling hills and their individual microclimates are seven sub-AVAs, one of which is the second oldest in California history. With such a variety of microclimates, myriad varietals thrive. The ranches and farms hemmed in between the vineyards offer a dreamy insight into what it truly means to indulge in California abundance — here, Pinot lovers, Grenache fans, Cabernet connoisseurs, farm-to-table foodies, beach drifters, even ranchers and rodeo wranglers all unite under one clear blue sky. What more could you ask for? Year-round perfect weather? They have that too. So next time you want to escape the yearly Pacific Northwest heatwave or just need a break from the rest of the year’s rain, consider taking a trip to California’s Santa Ynez Valley. You won’t regret it.
Where to Taste
The Good Life Cellars – Owners Lisa and Alfred Mesa opened The Good Life in 2012 with a very clear mission: to represent local labels that don’t otherwise have their own space to market themselves. The result is a boutique wine shop dedicated to relaying the personal stories of carefully selected, small production wines and their makers. Fortunately, they keep this same mentality when choosing their beer selection, as well! Located in the heart of Solvang, the aforementioned Danish-inspired town, I highly recommend making this your first stop to get the lay of the land.
Roblar Winery – Enjoy your wine tasting on a gorgeous patio tucked in between the estate vineyards and thriving gardens. The cattle-ranch-turned-winery specializes in Bordeaux varieties that won’t fail to impress you.
Casa Dumetz – Few winemakers convey their stories through their wine as well as Sonja Magdevski, the creator of three different labels: Casa Dumetz, Clementine Carter and The Feminist Party. Each portrays a special and individual part of Magdevski’s narrative, from her first steps in viticulture through Pinot Noir to a GSM blend that honors inclusivity in all aspects. And if wine isn’t enough, the adjoining business, Babi’s Beer Emporium, has you covered.
Artiste Winery – True to its name, here you’ll find wine inspired by art at this tasting room. Whether enjoying a glass while sketching or gazing over portraits while analyzing a tasting flight, you’re bound to be inspired.
Global Gardens – When you need a break between wine and beer, visit Global Gardens for an incredible and educational tasting experience. Thedora Stephan became the first producer of olive oil in Santa Barbara county after learning the art of making it in Greece and importing olive trees all the way from the Mediterranean. Let your mind be blown by the taste of fresh olive oil and vinaigrettes that will demand a spot in your suitcase home.
Where to Eat
Vega Vineyard & Farm – Good wines are good, but good wines that are food friendly are even better. Let Chef Christopher Rossi take you through their seasonally inspired and winemaker-paired menu with ingredients straight from their fully functioning farm. This spot is family friendly, with space to roam the vineyards, opportunities to feed the farm animals, and take in stunning views of the valley’s hills.
Ellie’s Tap & Vine – Honorably named after the owner’s mother, it’s no surprise that as soon as you walk into Tap & Vine, you immediately feel as though you’ve been welcomed home. With a cozy candlelit interior, outdoor seating on a wraparound porch and elevated home cooking made with love and real passion for seasonal ingredients, you become part of Chef Joy’s family when you dine here — a truly comforting place to be.
Bell’s – As the first restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star in the valley, Bell’s French-inspired cuisine won’t disappoint. Visit the easygoing staff at their refined venue for casual lunch or a prix fixe dinner showcasing hyperlocal partnered producers.
Peasants FEAST – Started by two industry natives, husband-and-wife team Michael and Sarah opened the restaurant in the heart of Solvang during the surge of COVID-19. Peasants FEAST is nothing less than an honest representation of delicious farm-inspired meals handled with care by those dedicated to serving and representing their community.
Where to Stay
The Genevieve – While there is no shortage of hotels and quaint B&Bs in which to stay in the Santa Ynez Valley, being a guest at The Genevieve is to treat yourself to the next level of vacation indulgence. Entering feels like you’re walking into a classical palace fully equipped with an outdoor hot tub, daily wine socials, gourmet breakfast, dessert hour, a spa and sauna, and even a whiskey library — yes, you read that right, a chic study where you can enjoy whiskey flights while playing chess or delving deep into a novel. Stroll through the garden past the fire pits and corn hole, and arrive at the hotel restaurant, The Victor. Enjoy pregame cocktails at their seductive bar or a romantic dinner on the terrace.