Visiting Santa Ynez Valley: Two-Day Itinerary
April 1, 2021
What To Do On Your Getaway To Santa Ynez Valley
If you are looking for a weekend getaway from Los Angeles, I highly recommend going to Santa Ynez Valley. Comprised of six communities: Santa Ynez, Buellton, Los Olivos, Solvang, Los Alamos, and Ballard, the variety of activities you can do during your stay in the Valley is outstanding. While I think places like Palm Desert, San Diego, and Santa Barbara come to mind more often when planning time away, I strongly believe that Santa Ynez Valley should be up high on that list. Santa Ynez is very much wine country; you drive down streets with gorgeous vineyards in endless rows on either side of you, but it also has a very down to earth vibe that makes you feel right at home and not out of place.
I had gone into this post thinking that I would write about the ideal day trip to Santa Ynez Valley, as I had grown up driving here from Los Angeles for the day, visiting Solvang for a few hours, and ending the day with a wine tasting in a surrounding area like Buellton. And although a day trip to Santa Ynez Valley would be very entertaining, I highly recommend staying the night and spending two days here as there is plenty to do! The town of Solvang is similar to a cruise port in that everyone comes up for the day and leaves by 5 or 6. So to avoid the crowds, come to Santa Ynez Valley for two days and revel in the peacefulness at night, or more realistically, nap like there is no tomorrow from your wine coma.
Account for a 3 hour drive up from Los Angeles or LAX. Once you arrive, you probably won’t be able to check into your hotel just quite yet, but you can drop off your bags and grab a late brunch/lunch at Paula’s Pancake House. The Danish pancake is the way to go at Paula’s. But, if you were hungry and caved and got In N Out on the drive up (totally understandable), skip the milkshake and go to one of the many Danish bakeries in Solvang. I highly suggest the Danish Waffle which is a flaky, sweet pastry filled with raspberry jam and buttercream. It’s so good! Spend about an hour or so acclimating yourself to the town of Solvang, exploring the charming streets, window shopping or real shopping, people watching, and admiring the traditional windmills.
Personally, I find what makes a good trip are three variables: outdoor adventure, culture, and food/drink (in this case, wine!). Therefore, I decided to do an afternoon activity (you should realistically try to schedule for around 3/3:30 PM) on this first day out in the valley. Before I planned my trip, I looked on both TripAdvisor and the Visit Santa Ynez Valley website for activities that would fit the bill. I found both a hot air balloon adventure and a horseback ride with wine tasting. I chose horseback riding at Vino Vaqueros which proved to be an excellent decision. I was a bit nervous as I had only ridden a horse one other time in my life, but there was absolutely no need to be scared. The horses and the staff are complete professionals. Jaye, the owner, tells you exactly what to do, which is pretty much nothing because the horses know what they are doing. The horseback ride is about an hour long and you journey through the most gorgeous valleys to start and end up in a sea of vineyards. Afterward, you can enjoy a glass of red or white wine out on the property anywhere you like and you can stay for as long as you want. I recommend bringing a snack of baguette and brie (of course, that is always my recommendation) and stay and picnic for awhile . It is truly serene. Also, beware that if you are not used to horseback riding, your butt will hurt! So bring some advil (or a heating pad)! Be sure to check the website for the different packages (most around $100 per person) and important information pertaining to the ride.
As the sun is setting, head back to Solvang to enjoy a live performance. This will take a little effort on your part as the events vary daily and monthly, but I am here to help! First off, check the Visit Santa Ynez Valley website and look under the events page to see if there is something special happening during your stay. If not, head to the Solvang Festival Theatre website and see if there are any performances while you visit. The theatre has great quality productions. If you strike out again, don’t despair! A bunch of the wineries and hotels have live music at night. I would suggest looking at the Lansby hotel to see if they have live music as well as the Sevtap tasting room and the restaurant root 246. Afterward, head to Copenhagen Sausage Garden for a late night dinner/snack, one of the few spots open late in Solvang. This beer garden will be a very refreshing change from the exorbitant amount of wine you are about to consume tomorrow. The ambience is great; there are a bunch of fire pits and the vibe is super low key. Eventually, head back to your hotel and get a good night’s sleep.
Outdoor adventure: Check. Cultural Performance: Check. What’s been missing in your life thus far? WINE! But not anymore. Personally, my magic wine tasting number is three. No, not three glasses! Three full tastings, so probably about 18 pours. Then, I can’t hang anymore. Now, ultimately, it is up to you to decide whether you are comfortable driving or you would prefer to do a tour. But, I am here to tell you about a couple of my favorite vineyards and my favorite tasting rooms.
First off, grab a quick bite to eat and set the stage for the day by heading out to a vineyard. My two favorites are Lincourt Vineyards and Sunstone Vineyards and Winery…talk about picturesque! Lincourt is very peaceful and doesn’t feel crowded and cramped like some of the other vineyards can because there is a beautiful outside space for you to go and sit on your own. Sunstone is much bigger and more impressive with multiple tasting sites, an outdoor patio and picnic areas. If you are looking for the wow factor, then Sunstone is your place, and if you are looking for something stunning but more quaint and relaxed, choose Lincourt. Tasting prices are generally $10-$15 dollars and the hours are typically 10-5, but be sure to double check prior to going.
After your morning vineyard visit, it’s time to drink in a different setting at some tasting rooms. But before you rush over there, grab some lunch either at Panino where you will get a delicious sandwich or at Los Olivos Wine Merchant and Cafe which is more of a sit down restaurant but still casual enough. Both of these spots happen to be right where all of the tasting room action is, so you can easily park, eat, and walk to and from the rooms with no issue. My tasting room “must” is Saarloos and Sons. They take family-owned to the next level and have so much pride in their wine. But the best part is that their pride isn’t displayed like you would expect in a typical “wine snob” fashion. The Saarloos family are some of the most real people I have ever met. If you have the pleasure to meet Keith, go out of your way to introduce yourself. We ended up spending hours talking to him about wine, life, family, and his motorcycle trip through Nevada. And even more importantly (sorry Keith), buy the cupcakes with your tasting! They are some of the best cupcakes I have ever had in my life and each cupcake corresponds to each glass of wine that you drink during the tasting. One carton of cupcakes really is good for two people if you don’t mind sharing. When you are finished at Saarloos and Sons and trust me you won’t want to leave, there are a bunch of other tasting rooms on the same street. We also went to Kaena Wine Company’s tasting room. If you are Hawaiian or are at all passionate about Hawaii, you will feel right at home here with the owner Mikael who grew up on Oahu.
After your day of wine tasting, hopefully you have left some room in your belly for one of the best dinners you will have in a long time. And that fabulous meal would be at SY Kitchen. I highly recommend getting the yellow beet salad as an appetizer to split amongst the table and then either the wild mushroom pappardelle pasta or one of the specials of the day. Usually I skip dessert, but the ginger creme brulee was worth that too full feeling you get when you continue to stuff your face. And, if you have any interest in an after dinner digestive, try the amaro. Personally, I never would have ordered these drinks on my own, but luckily the mixologist brought them out for us to try and it was the highlight of the meal. And that is really saying something since everything was so good!
After the meal, it is time to head home or back to the hotel depending on whether you live a few hours away or are traveling from much further. You might be “wined out” for the next month or so, but it will be worth it for this weekend away. And, if you want to see this weekend in action, check out my Santa Ynez Valley vlog on YouTube!
Thank you to Visit Santa Ynez Valley, Hamlet Inn, Vino Vaqueros, Sarloos and Sons, Kaena Wine Company, and SY Kitchen for hosting me and giving me a true sense of the Santa Ynez Valley, not just the one you get in a few hours of touring Solvang on a quick day trip. As always, if you have any questions or comments to add, please do in the comments below!
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