The Santa Ynez Valley, located about 35 miles north of the city of Santa Barbara is home to around 75 wineries, all of which are perfect for a long weekend and wine tasting tour. While Chardonnay, Syrah and Pinot Noir are the most prevalent grape varietals grown, you’ll find many more for your wine tasting experience. Although the area is most well-known for the movie Sideways, which was filmed in 2004 in and around the valley, it is the preservation of a simpler life that makes it such a great escape from the rat race.
The Valley encompasses five communities that are home to about 20,000 citizens. In between the Santa Ynez and San Rafael mountains you’ll find Ballard, Buellton, Los Alamos, Los Olivos, Solvang and Santa Ynez. Each of these small towns has maintained much of their original charm and historic characteristics. Yes the vineyards and wineries are in abundance, but you’ll still find buildings and houses that were built in the 1800s. Be forewarned, the Santa Ynez Valley is no Napa, and that’s so much of the appeal to so many people. Following are some of the features of the tiny communities that are big on hospitality:
- The town of Ballard features a little red schoolhouse from 1883 and the restaurant voted “Best Restaurant in Santa Barbara” – The Restaurant at The Ballard Inn. This Zagat rated epicurean delight is home to Chef Budi Kazali who honed his skills in some of the world’s best restaurants including Restaurant Gary Danko. But be forewarned, this little gem has only twelve tables so reserve early.
- Buellton is located half way between Highway 101 and Highway 246. It is most well known for being the home of Pea Soup Andersen’s Restaurant whose famous signs have been prominently displayed along the highway for years and make an indelible impression on anyone that has traveled 101 over the past 90 years.
- Los Alamos is the northernmost town in the Valley. It is a small town with just a seven block main street, but the place is worth visiting if you want to go antiquing.
- Los Olivos is located near where Highway 154 meets up to Highway 101. It is home to over 20 wineries located along what is commonly referred to the Los Olivos Promenade. You can literally walk back and forth across the streets and run into a tasting room. This is a great place for your wine tour to start or end.
- Santa Ynez itself is officially known as a township and is located about a mile away from Highway 154 and Highway 246, both within easy reach of California’s scenic Highway 101. It derives its name from the Old Mission Santa Ines that was established in 1804. There’s plenty of history still to be experienced here as you can find yourself in an old time saloon or take a horseback trail ride on the same paths that were ridden 200 years ago.
- While wine tasting in Santa Ynez, it’s probably best to hire a professional driver or wine touring service. The Wine Line, which serves both Paso Robles and Santa Ynez Valley offers a truly unique way to experience the wine country here. Instead of be taken to where the driver wants to take you, you’ll get to choose where you want to go and how long you want to stay. It truly is wine tasting “your way”.
While at most of the wineries, they will generally pour between 4-6 tastes of their current wines. Most wineries do charge a small tasting fee, but this is often waived or credited with a purchase of wine. While on your Santa Ynez Valley wine tour you are definitely going to have to eat, so why not take advantage of all the great spots the area has to offer. The majority of wineries have either dedicated picnic areas or will allow you to throw down a blanket. Of course it wouldn’t hurt to buy a bottle of that wineries wine to show your appreciation.
If you need a bit more information on the Santa Ynez Valley wineries, you can go to the Santa Ynez Valley Winery Association’s website to get a nice overview of the area and all of its member wineries.