If you live in southern California and are looking for a quick and beautiful getaway, then Santa Ynez valley is for you.
You can easily spend 24 hours in Santa Ynez valley and feel like you’ve completely gotten away and for an entire weekend!
In my post about 24 hours in Santa Barbara, I touched on some great places in the Santa Ynez valley (there are a lot!) because Santa Barbara is so close, but this trip we only stayed in the valley.
If you are coming from southern California, something important to know and do is to take the 101 north to the 154. It is usually faster, it’s very scenic and our first stop is along this highway, so that’s why you must take it.
Cold Spring Tavern is about ten miles in, after you get onto the 154 from the 101. Our friends Steve and Michelle told us about this place…they discovered it on their way to Los Olivos from Santa Barbara. You won’t believe this place….it is Special with a very capital S.
The 154 used to be one of the main routes connecting Santa Barbara with the county’s rural area across the Santa Ynez Mountains. The Cold Spring Tavern started as a stagecoach rest stop in 1886.
It is nice to stop here for lunch, though they do serve breakfast from 8 am – 11 am. Lunch is from 11 am – 3 pm and an enormous line forms, so plan to arrive right at or just before 11. They serve a few different types of chili, burgers, sandwiches and salads. You could also plan to stop at Cold Spring Tavern on your way back to LA and if you do that, look forward to their famous tri-tip BBQ. This is a Saturday/Sunday only thing. There is outdoor music under the trees. This is the type of place where you could spend several hours eating and relaxing. It is also very cozy when it’s cold (and fantastic when it’s warm).
We had a light, quick lunch because we were going to have a hearty dinner, plus it was cold the day we were there, so we ate inside. No dogs inside = Hazel waited in the car. 😞
Next stop…Babcock Winery!
Babcock Vineyards started in 1978 when Mona and Walter Babcock bought 110 acres in Santa Ynez Valley. The Babcocks are restauranteurs (owners of Walt’s Wharf in Seal Beach California – has anyone been there?) Babcock is still family-owned and run. Babcock focuses on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Gris.
Their wines start at about $20 and go up to around $60. And they are D E L I C I O U S. The winery is pretty “hip,” but don’t let that influence you one way or the other. If you like that, know that the wine is fantastic. If you don’t like that, know that the wine is fantastic. (And you’ll see all sorts of people there of all sorts of ages and degrees of “hipness” from 1.5 up to a 9). They are very dog friendly and have really nice outdoor seating with such pretty views. And it has the Hazel Stamp of Approval.
If you don’t want to be outside, you can stay inside in their fun wine tasting room…
…which sells a LOT of great vintage stuff, by the way. I got a really special mid-century wooden clock there. I also recommend their wine club. That is nothing other than a win-win situation. Interested in more wine tasting but don’t know where to go? There are so many great places. Try this wine trail. Lots of goodies in Foxen Canyon. We really like Cambria, Core, Kenneth Volk Vineyards, Martian Ranch & Vineyard, Municipal Winemakers, Rancho Sisquoc, and Zaca Mesa.
Next we went to Clairmont Lavender Farm. We’ve passed this place so many times….and finally decided to stop in.
It’s a charming little place…very serene. They sell all sorts of lavender products, as you might imagine. I got a lavender sachet and put it on my pillow in the morning when I go to work. My pillow smells very nice when I get into bed.
They have all sorts of tempting things: essential oils and aromatherapy, spices, tea, honey, doggy shampoo and detangler, sachets, lotions and soaps. It’s a nice way to bring a bit of your 24 hour getaway home with you.
A few other things to do around here if you love animals:
Check out Seein’ Spots Farm. They sell miniature donkeys and mules, but they also have an animal rescue and you can snuggle and pet the animals. We could have stayed here all day. As it was, I think we were close to overstaying our welcome. It was hard to rip ourselves away from these cuties.
There is another place in the area that sells miniature horses. You can’t go in with them, but they do come up to the low fence and you can sometimes pet them. Quicksilver Farms is on Alamo Pintado, surrounded by a lot of wineries. Be prepared to have a hard time leaving this place, too.
Lastly, there is an ostrich and emu farm in the valley, too. It’s called Ostrich Land! These funny fellows are not cute like the miniature donkeys, mules and horses, but they are pretty interesting. You can feed them. If you’ve never done this, it is worth a stop.
My most favorite hotel in this area is The Landsby. This was recently redone, and it has undergone and incredible renovation (we stayed here before it changed ownership, so I consider myself in position to subjectify the re-do having seen it before and after – major thumbs-up).
It is right in downtown Solvang, which presents what I like to refer to as “lodging challenges“…mostly that the majority of the places in town are sort of um…well…”hokey pokey.” Very victorian, gloppy, darkish, floral wallpaper…outdated. This place is chic and sophisticated without being nauseating.
It is very comfortable and cozy, but not grandma-y. Know what I mean? It is also well-priced (avoid big weekends, though…everyplace is expensive during harvest, etc.).
It’s best described on their website:
The Landsby features a clean, contemporary design, influenced by a traditional Scandinavian aesthetic. The completely remodeled, bright and open guestrooms are finished with blonde woods, brushed brass accents, and elegant but comfortable hand-crafted furnishings…and stunning artwork commissioned from regional artists.
…a mixture of natural materials, a neutral color palette and cozy spaces that plays off some of the existing, more traditional architectural elements. Interior spaces opens up to adjacent outside areas overlooking the lovely courtyard garden. Additionally, our vibrant bar will be serving classic and craft cocktails along with acclaimed locally produced wines.
The rooms are incredibly comfortable and smart. Hazel loved them (oh, yeah! 🙌🏼 Dog friendly, yo!)
We didn’t eat in their restaurant, but we did go to the bar and I give it a full YES. Hazel loved the bar, too, and managed to somehow charm all sorts of patrons into giving her lots of snacks by just being herself. Which is so freakin’ cute…😂
All the public areas draw you in and make you want to stay…the patios and the lobby…all the spaces. They make you want to sit, watch, think, read a book, relax. You can book one night here during the weekend, as long as it’s a Friday. It’s one of the few places in this area that I know of (and like) that does not have an emphatic two-night minimum.
We headed off for dinner nearby. This time we tried a (new to us) place called S.Y. Kitchen. This place opened in 2013. Obviously, I’ve experienced some sort of brain problem that it took me until 2017 to go here. I’ve forgiven myself, but wow…what an oversight. The delicious food here is obviously very fresh. It’s “modern” Italian food. The chefs are brothers from Verona, Italy. S.Y. Kitchen is in an old house…an “Italian-inspired California” farmhouse. And there is indoor and outdoor seating. It’s very rustic, sexy, cozy and super fun. And anyway, regardless of the setting, the food is fantastic. (The couple that owns this owns Toscana in Brentwood. This place is nothing like that, though.) And then we were so tired. Time for bed.
Next day, we headed to Los Alamos. Run, don’t walk. If you haven’t been there, you’re missing out. In a major way. It is a teeny tiny little town…just over five blocks long, not a traffic light to be seen and a whole lot of awesome.
It’s surrounded by rolling hills, ranches, farms and vineyards. It is referred to as, “A Small Town With An Old West Heritage” and indeed it is. It was founded in 1876 and still feels very “olden days”…except is has, packed into just a few blocks, some incredible restaurants, shops, antiques and wine tasting.
There are a few places to stay here, but I think the most appealing is the Alamo Motel. EVERY ROOM IS DOG FRIENDLY. This place is part of the Shelter Social Club. They have a few properties, including Ojai, Solvang, and Santa Barbara. This is the quintessential 1950’s motel and has been completely and recently renovated.
Municipal Winemakers has a tasting room right there – on site.
Ever seen Georgia O’Keeffe’s Abiquiui residence in New Mexico? Alamo Motel’s re-do was profoundly inspired by that gorgeous and serene place. Think: plywood furniture, minimal décor and sculptural skulls. The Alamo Motel feels cozy and modern at the same time, with a nice dose of “ranch,” to suit the area. At night, you can grab a glass of wine and settle on in by the communal fire pit. Or…
…in the daytime, get some food from one of the nearby restaurants and have a little picnic on one of the grassy areas (complete with swings hanging from shady big oak trees surround the property). How delightful does that sound? In a way, Los Alamos kind of reminds me on Yountville, Ca. in that you can check in to your hotel for a weekend and never use your car. What a treat!
There are so many great places to eat in tiny Los Alamos. Bell Street Farm is one of my absolute favorites. I like every single solitary thing about this place. In a real big way. Thanks to my cousin Barbara for turning us onto this place.
They have an incredible menu and work closely with local purveyors. Things like Meatloaf Sandwich, Grilled Cheese and Ham, Farm Salad with beets and arugula and fantastic cheese and charcuterie boards.
They pickle their own peppers and make their own tomato-harissa jam, porchetta and paté. They use high quality ingredients like Red Bird Farms chicken, Bravo Farms Cheddar and Point Reyes Blue Cheese.
And their house vinaigrette is delicious. To me, salad dressing is as important as good shoes…a very telling detail!
And it’s not only the menu, the fresh and local ingredients and the carefully curated wine and beer list. It’s also the atomosphere.
You can sit inside with your dog or outside on the super-cute patio…also with your dog. You read right. INSIDE WITH YOUR DOG. I’m sure you’ve already guessed…Hazel Stamp of Approval.
And then after that, the owner Jamie brings so much to this place.
Look at that face. Isn’t he just about the cutest thing you’ve ever seen? (I feel like that’s such a southern thing to say…who am I all of a sudden? 😂) And guess what? How nice he LOOKS is how nice he IS. My cousin told me that…and she was right. He is one of the friendliest, nicest people I think I have ever met. The other thing is that he is INTO IT. He loves this place. His happiness is all over everything. And that makes this place a very nice place to walk into.
Another favorite, and also very special, is Full of Life Flatbread. My friend Donna recommend this place and was a little at a loss when describing it. “It’s just…very, very special,” she said. Which I found intriguing. And she was right. They have kind of weird hours (for a great reason!) so be sure to check before you go. The restaurant is actually their production bakery and on weekends, they convert it to a restaurant. Ingredients are “hyper” locally farmed, organic, and handmade right there, literally, on their stone hearth that is right there in middle of the restaurant. The food is so fresh it tastes like they went right outside, gathered all the ingredients from their farm and garden and then cooked it.
They are known for their flatbread pizza because it is outrageously delicious.
Other places to try would be Bob’s Well Bread.
They have a great selection of eggy breakfast items and wonderful baked goods, like bagels, croissants and pastries. They have special daily breads, such as 5-Seed Mulitgrain, Rosemary Olive Oil, Challah, and Brioche. To top it off, get a cup of Stumptown coffee.
Eat inside or out. They have a really cute, big patio.
They also serve lunch…things like Croque-Monsieur and corned beef sandwiches. DEEEEElish!
A newer place in town, Pico, looks very promising. It is a combination restaurant and shop. Pico is in what used to be the general store and was built in 1880. Pico serves Californian cuisine with seasonal ingredients from local farms – sweet potato soup with glazed chestnuts, ribeye with brussel sprout and parsnip, and green garlic risotto with mushroom emulsion. The head chef is Drew Terp, who was the executive chef at barMASA in Las Vegas and then ran Mattei’s Tavern in Los Olivos. Terp makes almost everything that he uses in the kitchen himself. He makes his own charcuterie, infuses his own oils and vinegars, and his own mustard and ketchup. Will Henry, one of the owners, is also co-owner Lumen Winery. The shop has unique gifts, home decor, and food items from Pico’s kitchen…all of which tie in the food, farm, and kitchen. I cannot wait to try this place!
Plenty On Bell is another newer place that I’d like to try.
Jesper Johansson, a culinary pioneer in this area for a long time, is the chef here. The two awesome women who started Edible Communties, the largest local-food magazine publisher in the US, own the restaurant. Plenty on Bell serves simple bacon and eggs, breakfast sandwiches, home-made granola, salads, soups..all farm-to-table. Recently, they’ve expanded hours to include dinner, too! They have six raised beds out back in which they grow a variety of produce and herbs.
There you have it. Santa Ynez Valley has so much to offer and has a warm and open vibe to it. Lots to discover. Hard to cover it all but easy to start with an overnight trip.
- Cold Spring Tavern
- S.Y. Kitchen
- Bell Street Farm
- Full of Life Flatbread
- Bob’s Well Bread
- Plenty on Bell