When it comes to planning a trip to California’s Santa Ynez Valley, look no further. From chic digs to call home to elevated dining, the area is laidback and refined.
This last month I explored the Santa Ynez Valley for 48 hours as part of a larger road trip to central California. It’s an area that has long been on my list for checking out and after doing so, I wish I would have had a few days more to explore. It’s effortlessly cool — each town unique in offerings, small and quaint, and yet rich with a lot to enjoy.
The valley is compromised of several towns, some of which I perused through like Santa Ynez, Los Olivos, Los Alamos, and the town of Solvang. The beauty of this area is that all are within 15-20 minutes of each other. So if you pick a centrally located hotel, you can easily pop to each of these spots. As far as things to do in the valley, it’s chock-full of wineries, rolling hills, and mild weather to enjoy lounging outdoors.
So if you’re looking for a classically cool wine country to enjoy, check out the guide below to plan your trip to the Santa Ynez Valley.
The Ultimate Travel Guide to the Santa Ynez Valley
Good to Know Before Traveling
How Far from San Francisco: ~5 hours
How Far from Los Angeles: ~2.5 hours
How many nights: Since it’s a bit of a trek from the Bay Area, I recommend staying for three to four nights so that you can visit multiple places and make time to relax. If you are coming from LA, three nights in Santa Ynez should be plenty.
Time of Year: Though you can visit Santa Ynez Valley year-round, spring and fall are really nice. Winter can be pretty cold and rainy, and summer can get pretty sweltering in the valley. October is definitely one of the most beautiful months to visit the central coast in general, but spring features stunning blooms and rolling green hills thanks to the winter rain.
Destinations in The Valley: Santa Ynez Valley is full of the most charming and adorable wine-tasting towns. Los Olivos, Solvang, and Santa Ynez are all right next to each other in the valley, making it easy to see all three within a couple of days. Los Alamos is another must-visit that is a little further north, but definitely worth checking out.
This post contains affiliate links.
Where to stay in the Santa Ynez Valley
Hotel Ynez is a private and charming accommodation that is perfect for those seeking a relaxing weekend in wine country. The hotel sits on two acres of stunning land, and it’s easy to lose track of time as you explore the vibrant gardens and Oak trees. Whether you’re looking to lounge by the pool or enjoy a nightcap by one of the fire pits, Hotel Ynez has everything you need for a serene stay in Santa Ynez Valley.
From $217 per night
The Fess Parker Wine Country Inn is a more upscale option that is steps away from the main strip of wineries in Los Olivos. Their restaurant Nella is one of the best in the valley (more on that below), and the hotel itself offers a low-key yet luxurious stay.
From $631 per night
The Landsby is a modern and innovative hotel that is located right in the heart of Solvang. You can easily walk to all of the best wineries and eateries in the beloved Danish town without issue, and their on-site restaurant Mad & Vin is amazing.
From $238 per night
Los Alamos is on the northern end of the valley, and the Skyview Motel is one of the most unique and iconic accommodations in the area. Though it’s undergone a lavish renovation, it still has that small town, motel charm.
From $209 per night
If you like to use Airbnb to book accommodations, the Bodega House is definitely one of (if not the) best rentals in Santa Ynez Valley. It shares a property with Bodega, ensuring that amazing wine is just steps away from your front door.
From $389 per night
One of the most anticipated openings for luxury California hotels is right in Los Alamos. Auberge Resorts is amidst a large renovation of the Inn at Mattei’s Tavern. It’s set to open up this summer (tbd exact dates) but this will be the valley’s most luxurious hotel option. Auberge is known for spacious suites, plenty of amenities, and always a great food and beverage option onsite.
The Best Restaurants in the Santa Ynez Valley
Whether you’re looking for a full sit-down dinner or simple bites at the bar, Nella is a must for foodies visiting Santa Ynez Valley. All of their ingredients are locally sourced and seasonal, and the food never disappoints.
Located in Buellton, Industrial Eats serves up seasonal dishes in a communal dining space, creating a unique sense of community as you eat. They also have a craft butcher counter that you can browse if you’re looking to cook at home one evening.
After winning one of Santa Barbara county’s first Michelin stars, Bells in Los Alamos has become one of the biggest restaurants in the Valley. Even though it’s on the fancier side, it’s also super kid-friendly.
Santa Ynez is full of picnic-worthy spots to post up, and Lucky Len Larder sells amazing sandwiches that are easy to take on the go. You can even grab some special cheeses from the artisan shop while you wait for your sandwiches to be made.
Bar le Cote is a great option for those seeking a fine dining experience during their visit. They serve upscale, European-inspired fare with a California twist in a stylish and retro space.
S.Y. Kitchen brings a taste of Italy to Santa Ynez Valley. The menu is full of flavorful dishes that use local ingredients, and if you find yourself getting sick of wine, they have an amazing cocktail list to choose from.
Bobs Well Bread is a breakfast staple in Los Alamos. Start your day with their Egg-in-a-Jar or breakfast sandwich before snagging a loaf of their famous sesame sourdough to-go.
The Solvang Bakery looks like something straight out of a fairytale. From the pink sign to the aromatic goodies that line the walls of this bakery, this is a must-see when visiting the Santa Ynez Valley.
Pony Espresso in Santa Ynez is a quaint little coffee shop that is super convenient for when you need to add a little pep to your step. They also have sandwiches and bagels, along with some wine and beer if you want to make a short pit-stop for lunch.
If you want to get a real sense of just how tight-knit the community of Los Olivos is, go to Lefty’s. Visitors and locals alike love this coffee shop (and its sweet treats).
Things to Do in the Santa Ynez Valley
Shop the Local Boutiques
There are so many amazing artisan shops to explore in Santa Ynez Valley. Santa Ynez General and Forage Florals are two must-sees when in Santa Ynez. Just be warned, it is nearly impossible to walk into either of these places without buying something. The Los Olivos General Store is another great shop that has everything from gourmet foods to jewelry.
Stroll through Los Olivos
Despite the fact that it is incredibly small, there is so much to see and do in Los Olivos. Start your day off by getting a coffee at Lefty’s to prepare for all of the wine that you’re about to drink. Some of my favorite tasting rooms include Epiphany and The Bubble Shack, both of which are at the Fess Parker. Saarloos + Sons is another local gem that is a must for wine tasting. Once you’re ready to take a break, stop by the Los Olivos General Store and Global Eye Art and do some browsing.
Wine Tasting in the valley
There are several places in Santa Ynez Valley that look straight out of Italy. If you want to experience amazing wine with an even better view, visit Sunstone Winery. This is without a doubt one of the most breathtaking wineries in the valley. Brave and Maiden is another stunning spot that features a huge estate with sprawling vineyards.
Go to Bodega Los Alamos
Bodega is one of the most popular wine tasting spots in Los Alamos. This tasting room has a farmhouse aesthetic that is both warm and inviting, making it the perfect place to post up for a tasting. As you sip your wine, be sure to walk around the property to check out the gardens, greenhouse, and shop. In addition to a bottle of wine, I also highly recommend leaving with one of their famous fruit and beeswax candles (they smell amazing).
Stroll through Solvang
Simply walking through the Danish town of Solvang is a wonderful activity in itself. The European architecture and iconic windmills truly transport you to the other side of the world, and the streets are filled with smells of freshly baked goods. Though there are several bakeries in Solvang, The Solvang Bakery is my favorite. Once you’re ready for some vino, stop by Dana V. Wines for a tasting a snag a spot around one of the fire pits out front.