California is known far and wide for it’s booming agricultural industry, and perhaps most notably for its wine. From North to South practically the entire state is populated with Vineyards that produce varietals of grapes used primarily in the production of wines. California wines are so prominent in fact that if you were to head to most major grocery stores or liquor stores in the United States to browse their wine selection, we would venture to guess that the majority of them would be from there. Some very well-known places are synonymous with wine, being Napa and Sonoma, but there are so many other great places to experience a wine tour throughout the state.
Our trip started out from Los Angeles where we drove Northbound on the iconic Highway 101, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway. This took us up to Santa Barbara, which by itself is such an upscale place to relax and experience a beautiful sunset over the Pacific Ocean. From here we drove a short 40 minute drive through the winding countryside up to the Santa Ynez Valley, where we were able to bounce from town to town with ease and hardly any traffic. Some of the hillsides were dotted with vineyards, while others were open pastures with grazing horses and cattle, which isn’t exactly the type of landscape that most people probably think of when they envision California.
For starters, the town of Solvang looks like it was transplanted here right out of Denmark. This quirky cultural hub draws in its fair share of tourists, and the food here is pretty good too. We stopped at the Danish Bakery that was right across the street from The Landsby (the hotel we stayed at on our trip to Santa Ynez Valley). The whole town was a delight because we actually had no idea that this entire town was going to look so dutch. As we rolled down the main street to get to the hotel, it just hit us by surprise, and we knew that we were somewhere different than what we had expected.
The feel up here felt reminiscent of Texas, but with a heavier pocketbook. Amidst all of the large estates, there are still people riding horseback and hardworking ranchers all about town. Santa Ynez Valley is a place where everything felt slowed down to a relaxing pace, and everywhere had a small town charm (these are literally all small towns after all). We can’t even recall seeing any major name brand restaurants or big box stores in all the days we spent driving around, everything seemed to be locally owned and operated. If you plan a trip up here, definitely expect to make it for at least a few days so that you can truly enjoy the laid-back atmosphere.
Santa Ynez pitches itself as a place for outdoor recreation, and there is certainly an abundance of trails and ponds to have an adventure in. The biggest draw from our observation is probably the most obvious, the food and beverage. Wine is a part of daily life here, whether it be because of your job or because you enjoy partaking in it.
Once you get onto those back-country roads, it seems that everyone with a plot of land is growing grapes of one type or another. These vineyards draw sophisticated tourists year-round because of their wine tours and their tasting rooms. We spent some time soaking up the grapes at the Fess Parker Winery over in Los Olivos, which has got to be surrounded by some of the best landscapes in the entire area.
We couldn’t get to all of the great vineyards in town, because there are just simply so many here. We can recommend that you check out Presqu’ile Winery in Santa Maria, which is probably one of the newer wineries in the area. In addition to their lush tasting room, they offer tours of their impressive property, to showcase their winemaking facility as well as their sprawling vineyards. If you head here in the late Summer or early Fall, you can probably catch most of the grapes still on the vines before harvest.
All of this great wine would mean nothing without some great food to go with it. That is where so many of the specialty restaurants deliver on a highly refined culture of cuisine in these parts. While you may not have ever heard of most of these chefs by name, some of their menus will leave you wanting to plan another trip back here to get some more. One night, in particular, we dined at the Bear and Star, which is a culinary bucket list for anyone who loves a good steak.
Chef JohnCox pulls out all the stops with his exceptional crew to deliver one of the tastiest pieces of beef you may ever have in your lifetime. Everything from the Wagyu tartare to the Dry-aged Cowboy Cut Ribeye was exceptional. Pair all of that with their selection of local wines, and it’s a natural winner.