Getaway to Santa Ynez Valley

How to Spend a Day or a Weekend

Street scene of Solvang, California, USA
Street Scene in Solvang. Jeff Hunter / Getty Images

The Santa Ynez Valley may have gained attention as the setting for the film Sideways, but it was a great place to visit long before that. Separated from the Pacific Ocean by the Santa Ynez Mountains, it's a broad, scenic valley with a distinctively rural feel - a perfect place for a Sunday drive or a relaxing weekend. We're defining it to include the towns of Solvang, Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, Buellton and the area along CA Hwy 154 between the San Marco Pass and US Hwy 101. Use these maps to get a better idea of where it is.

You can plan your Santa Ynez Valley day trip or weekend getaway using the resources below.

Why Should You Go? Will You Like the Santa Ynez Valley?

Santa Ynez Valley is popular with wine lovers, shoppers (who particularly like the town of Solvang) and anyone looking for a place to get away from it all. With lots of wide open spaces and excellent growing conditions, it's a good wine-producing region and a great place for outdoor activities of all kinds. It's also close to Los Angeles, making it a wonderful place to escape the city for a while or have a romantic getaway.

Best Time to Go to the Santa Ynez Valley

We've seen the Santa Ynez Valley in several seasons, and it always looks great. Like any part of California, it's more likely to be rainy in winter. Visit during the growing season to check out the fresh produce stands. During the Solvang Century Bike Ride in March, roads are busy and so are the local hotels.

Don't Miss

If you've only got a day, take a leisurely drive along CA Hwy 154 from Santa Barbara to Los Olivos, through Solvang to US Hwy 101.

6 More Great Things to Do in Santa Ynez Valley

Los Olivos: This cute little town is one of our favorites, with art galleries, boutiques and a couple of great places to eat strung along a two-block-long main street. You'll also find almost a dozen tasting rooms here, making it easy to sample without driving around.

Solvang: Solvang's Danish heritage is apparent everywhere, and while it's touristed up to the max, we still like the interesting shops which make its downtown a great place for a stroll. You can also sample traditional Danish foods at any of several restaurants and bakeries. If you're a particular fan of storyteller Hans Christian Anderson (The Ugly Duckling, The Princess and the Pea), you'll find a museum dedicated to him upstairs in The Book Loft Building at 1680 Mission Drive.

Cute Critters: With lots of great ranch land, it seems like someone is raising almost anything around here. You can visit Flying V Llama Ranch (appointment required), check out the miniature horses (only 36 inches tall!) at Quicksilver Miniature Horse Ranch at 1555 Alamo Pintado Rd. or stop by Ostrich Land to get a better look at the big birds which you can also see from the highway.

Local Produce: Seasonal farm stands offer fresh produce in season, and some provide opportunities to "pick your own." You'll find most of them as you drive around, but one that merits a stop, especially when their lavender crop is in bloom is Clairmont Farms near Los Olivos, where you can buy their organically-grown essential oils and lavender-scented personal care products.

Wine Tasting: Unlike the more daunting wine-growing areas up north, the Santa Ynez Valley is much more manageable, with only a little over a dozen wineries. Red wines do best in the east-west corridor, including Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Merlot, Rhône and Italian grape varietals. If you're a Sideways fan, use the local visitor's bureau's map to find many of the film's settings and tasting rooms.

Get Active: The Santa Ynez Valley is such a great place for bike riding that many professional riders have trained for the Tour de France here. If you'd rather go horseback riding than pedal, try Rancho Oso, one of the few public riding stables in the region. Cachuma Lake is a good place for boating, fishing and nature cruises and it has one of the area's nicest campgrounds.

Annual Events You Should Know About

Best Bites

Famous chef Bradley Ogden's Root 246 restaurant serves his signature farm-to-table cuisine - it's located in Solvang's Hotel Corque. If you're taking the drive on CA Hwy 154, Cold Springs Tavern is a don't-miss spot. It's an old stagecoach stop in the San Marcos Pass, about 15 minutes from Santa Barbara that some people think is one of the best places for a romantic meal in California.

Where to Stay

Solvang has the most hotel rooms in the area. Check guest reviews and compare prices on Solvang Hotels at Tripadvisor.

You can also try Fess Parker's Wine County Inn in Los Olivos for a more laid-back experience. Other nearby towns with lodging available are Santa Ynez and Buellton.

Getting To Santa Ynez Valley

You can get to the Santa Ynez Valley from US Hwy 101. Just point your navigation system toward Solvang or Los Olivos. For a more scenic approach, use CA Hwy 154, which exits US 101 north of Santa Barbara and rejoins it north of Los Olivos.