With 50 hotels and B&B’s in the Santa Ynez Valley, finding a place to stay in wine country is easy to uncork. However, not all hotels and B&B’s are created equally.

During our visit to the Santa Ynez Valley to sip our way through wine country, we spent a few nights at the Ballard Inn & Gathering Table. As soon as I walked into the quaint B&B I was reminded that not all hotels and B&B’s are created equally.

The bright, airy entry way was so inviting and the sweet aromas of cinnamon took me back to my grandmother’s house, if only for a moment. I found myself wanting to linger, to cozy up in one of the plush chairs in the sitting area and just be. Alas, it was 10 a.m. and my UberWINE was waiting outside ready to whisk us to the first winery of the day.

The Ballard Inn - Where to Stay in Santa Ynez Valley
Photo by Elaine Schoch

I had asked the driver to stop into the hotel before heading out to the wineries to drop off our bags. I know you can leave your things in an UberWINE for the day, but it was my first go with the service and didn’t want to risk leaving all my gear.

The front desk happily agreed to hold the bags, did a super quick and informal check-in, then sent us on our way. When we returned that afternoon our bags had been taken up to our room and we were invited to join the other guests at the nightly wine happy hour.

Every evening guests at the Ballard Inn are invited to gather together in the sitting room or on the wraparound patio to sip back and enjoy one another and the surrounding rose gardens.

The Ballard Inn - Where to stay in the Santa Ynez Valley
Photo by Elaine Schoch

The Gathering Table

Located within the Ballard Inn is the award-winning restaurant, The Gathering Table. Following in the theme of gathering together, the center piece of the restaurant is a large, shared table surrounded by smaller, more intimate tables.

Featuring French Asian inspired cuisine from gourmet chef Budi Kazali and an amazing wine list complied of local vintages, The Gathering Table offers one of the best fine dining experiences in the Santa Ynez Valley. Make sure to plan ahead and make a reservation. It’s sooo worth it! It’s also worth splurging on your carb intake.

I’ve been trying to follow the Keto diet this summer but gave into my carb craving on this trip. The Pan-Fried Noodles, Wild Mushroom Risotto and the sliders did not disappoint! The menu offers several small, sharing plates, perfect for gathering with friends…

The Gathering Table - Where to eat in the Santa Ynez Valley

Now, you can stay Keto if you want to with the Seared Spanish Octopus and Pork Belly (along with a lot of veggie and meat options) but why? Chef Budi is an artist in the kitchen, it’s a crime not to enjoy his master pieces. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to meet him in his element during your meal. Each evening chef Budi takes time out from the kitchen to greet his guests and spend a bit of time “gathering” with them.

OMG, I’m getting so hungry just thinking about the fried noodles!!!

The Gathering Table - Top Places to Eat in the Santa Ynez Valley
Photo by Elaine Schoch

If you’re stay at the Ballard Inn you’ll be treated to a complimentary breakfast as well. This is not your traditional hotel breakfast, it’s cooked to order and includes a variety of seasonal ingredients. I suggest you sit at the large, shared table to try and meet other guests at the hotel. It’s a great way to start the day while also hearing what everyone else is doing – sipping – in the Santa Ynez Valley.   

I think one of the things that really sets the Ballard Inn apart from other hotels and B&Bs is the gourmet dining experience at The Gathering Table. Even if you’re not staying at the Ballard Inn, you should make it a point to eat dinner at The Gathering Table. Note, the restaurant is closed Monday and Tuesday nights for dinner.

The Rooms at The Ballard Inn

The rooms at the Ballard Inn are exquisite. They are bright and airy with a mix of luxury and old-world style. When I stepped into our room – The Vineyard Room – I felt as if I had stepped back in time – just a bit.

The Ballard Inn in the Santa Ynez Valley
Photo by Elaine Schoch

Each of the rooms at the Ballard Inn are named after things the Santa Ynez Valley is known for. It’s a fun take on educating guests on the area. We were clearly in the Vineyard room given we were there to sip our way through the valley.

There are no TVs or phones in any of the rooms. However, you do have access to a television on the main floor where there is a cozy, sitting area. The front desk also offers a landline if you need to make a call out. The hotel is equipped with WiFi so you can be connected if needed. Each room is also individually heated and air conditioned, which may sound silly to mention but if you’ve stayed at other B&B’s you know it’s not always the case. It’s the little things like this – and the homemade chocolate chip cookies with the turn down service – that set the Ballard Inn apart.

The Ballard Inn in the Santa Ynez Valley

The One Con

The Ballard Inn is truly the perfect romantic, wine country getaway in the Santa Ynez Valley. It’s just too bad we had to work every morning, which was difficult to do. There is WiFi at the hotel but cell phone connections throughout the Santa Ynez Valley are spotty, unless you have Verizon. Even then it’s not consistent.

To make our conference calls one morning, The Husband and I walked a mile up the road to a four-way stop and sat on the bench at the bus stop. It was the closest place we could get two bars – thanks AT&T. (The WiFi at the hotel is good, but not strong enough to keep a Skype call from glitching.) The next morning, I sent The Husband in a taxi to Solvang so he could get all his calls made at a local coffee shop. And yes, I did say taxi. No cell service = no Uber connection.  

The Ballard Inn is really setup so beautifully that working remotely in the mornings would have been so much nicer to do in the room or garden area. I mean there are little, private sitting areas everywhere and just look at this table setup in the room… Hopefully, the cell phone connection will improve in the coming months when Bob’s Well Bread and few other stores open directly across the street from the Ballard Inn.

The Ballard Inn in the Santa Ynez Valley

A Few Added Bonus for Wine Lovers

In my write-up about UberWINE, I mentioned that Christine Forsyth, the General Manager at The Ballard Inn, saved the day…and my ensuing panic attack when I couldn’t connect to UberWINE. She hooked me up with a driver for the day, who ended up being even better than UberWINE. Everyone I encountered during our stay offered the same level of customer service and professionalism. Something you don’t always see these days.

For those of you who are coming to the Ballard Inn for the wine country experience, you need to know that the hotel that teamed up with nearly 20 local wineries to offer its guests complementary wine tastings. That’s huge considering tasting fees can run upwards of $20 a person. The wineries on their list do change so when you call to book your room, get the list to help map out your Santa Ynez Valley wine getaway. Oh, and you only get this complementary wine tasting coupon when you book directly. So call and book with the hotel!! (Direct bookers are also offered complimentary room upgrades.)

Sip In More Santa Ynez Valley Wine Country

Disclaimer: I was invited to tour the Santa Ynez Valley by Visit Santa Ynez. This included our stay at the Ballard Inn & Gathering Table. All thoughts and comments are my own.

Elaine Schoch

Elaine N. Schoch

Elaine Schoch (pronounced the German way – Shock) is the editor and founder of Carpe Travel as well as an award-winning travel writer, wine judge, certified by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 and certified American Wine Expert. She is married to The Husband and has two kids, Princess One and Two – who’s interest and knowledge in wine is quite extensive. Not to mention the stamps in their passports.