The Santa Ynez Valley is a collection of six distinctive communities encircled by the Santa Ynez and San Rafael mountains. It is a fantastic destination if you’re looking for a mellow-paced trip to California wine country. It is just 35 miles from the Santa Barbara Coast, 125 miles up the coast from Los Angeles and 300 miles south of San Francisco. I suggest it as a destination no matter where you are from, no matter the time of year. When I think of Santa Ynez I think of wide-open space, pure quiet, fresh crisp air and nice wines. You’re also in luck if you like olives, olive oils, balsamic vinegars and anything made with lavender.
I recommend a 3 day visit. Making the rounds to the wineries can be pretty fun and sometimes includes wine making tours, art galleries, and samples of wine infused snacks, sauces and jams. If you have not been wine tasting yet, and especially if you think it’s for stuffy wine snobs, you really should go for it. Try it, be silly, and make it fun!
Almost all of the communities in the Valley (Ballard, Buellton, Los Alamos, Los Olivos, Santa Ynez and Solvang) have a large number of options for accommodations, restaurants and wine tasting rooms. In total, there are over 70 tasting rooms at your fingertips, so you really can’t go wrong no matter where you stop. Some of my personal favorites are Koehler, Cimarone, Zaca Mesa and Kalyra.
If you plan to visit more than four wineries, consider saving money with a Wine Tasting Pass for $40 from the Santa Ynez Valley Wine Country Association. They have partnered with 14 different wineries in the area and the pass is offered year round. Double plus: the pass will also get you discounts at several great restaurants in the area. Another way to do wineries smartly is with the free phone app called WineryGeek which will point you to tasting rooms and deals in wineries all over California.
On my most recent trip I visited a tasting room in Los Olivos that very quickly became my new favorite: Coghlan Vineyard & Jewelers. It was unique, personal, colorful and delicious. I entered this historic Victorian home turned wine tasting room and was directed to a private tasting room that was colorful and comfortable. Just outside the window was a nice big porch shaded by a tree covered trellis and a large garden complete with Bocce ball court. We were treated to their flight of 4 wines, each paired with a complimenting chocolate that had been infused with the paired wine. Wow – so yummy!
Another ‘first’ on this trip was a visit to the Cold Spring Tavern. It was historically a stagecoach stop in 1886 and to be honest, I don’t think much has changed. The menu is appropriately historic and we loved everything we tried. It’s cozy. It’s romantic. It’s history. Go check it out. Live music Friday and Saturday and otherwise Sundays are famous for the live music and Tri-tip sandwiches.