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Uncorking the Santa Ynez Valley Wine Country

This stunning wine region on the southern end of California’s Central Coast is by far one of the more unique and dynamic.

We have all heard of Napa Valley and Sonoma, two of the most renowned wine regions in California and all of the United States. But, have you heard of the Santa Ynez Valley? If not, you should know about it.

Only 40 minutes from Santa Barbara Municipal Airport, two hours north of Los Angeles and four-hours south of San Francisco, you’ll find the Santa Ynez Valley wine country. What might be Hollywood’s closest wine region is nothing like its star-studded neighbor.

The laid back, farming communities of the Santa Ynez Valley make up the largest of the six federally-sanctioned American Viticultural Areas AVAs within the Santa Barbara County AVA.

The Santa Maria Valley AVA is the second largest within the Santa Barbara County AVA. The other four AVAs are actually sub-AVAs of the Santa Ynez Valley – Sta. Rita Hills, Ballard Canyon, Los Olivos District and Happy Canyon.

Map of the Santa Ynez Valley
Image Credit: Michelle Castle / The Giving Ink in Solvang.

Towns in the Santa Ynez Valley

The Santa Ynez Valley is home to six distinct towns, each with its own lodging and restaurant scene, but all only 10-15 minutes from one another. Each is worth spending time sipping in.

Ballard

One the smallest towns in the Santa Ynez Valley both in size and population, is home to the infamous Ballard Inn and award-winning restaurant, The Gathering Table. This little town offers visitors a quiet, retreat in wine country. (We got the scoop from Chef Budi Kazali on his Grilled Rib Eye Steak with Chimichurri Sauce. Get the recipe for your next food and wine pairing.)

Buellton

One of the larger, more active towns within the Santa Ynez Valley, Buellton offers visitors a variety of hotels, distilleries, outdoor activities and wineries.

Los Alamos

At the northern end of the Santa Ynez Valley you’ll find the quaint town of Los Alamos. It’s only seven blocks long yet filled with a world of Old West heritage. While you may feel a bit transported back in time with the historic buildings and scenery, this little town is quickly becoming a hip, culinary and wine tasting destination. With restaurants such as Bell’s French Bistro, Plenty on Bell, Pico Restaurant, and Bob’s Well Bread this little gem of a town is one worth exploring in the Santa Ynez Valley.

Where to eat in the Santa Ynez Valley
Picos in Los Alamos

Los Olivos

This is a charming, picture-perfect country town that has done an amazing job melding its history with modern-day wine tasting rooms, art galleries and upscale shops.

Santa Ynez

The town of Santa Ynez is the largest in size in the Santa Ynez Valley. It does an excellent job in taking visitors back to the Old West with its period-style false-front building facades housing shops, saloons, feed stores and random horses hitched to posts.

Solvang

Founded in 1911, the community of Solvang has held true to its Danish-American heritage. Farm-style architecture and windmills of all sizes line the streets of the pedestrian friendly village. You can easily spend the day in Solvang exploring the boutiques, restaurants and of course tasting rooms. Solvang and all of its neighbors make for the perfect Los Angeles weekend getaway.

Things to do in Santa Ynez Valley
Solvang, California
Photo Provided by Santa Ynez Valley Tourism

Happy Canyon

Happy Canyon earned its name during the years of Prohibition in the United States since it was one of the areas only moon-shine making sites.


Sip In More with our Santa Ynez Valley Wine Country Guide

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.