Just preparing you now – there are A LOT of photos in this post and I honestly would post more, but I’m trying to hold back. But Santa Ynez Valley, which is about 30 miles outside of Santa Barbara, is one of the most adorable places I’ve ever been to and I could not stop taking pictures. When I think about California, I think about traffic, a TON of people, tourists, smog – it honestly just reminds me a lot of Colorado at this point. But Santa Ynez Valley is totally different. You feel like you’re in the country, in a tiny town, while still near upscale restaurants, shops, and hotels. After getting to know Santa Ynez Valley and the people behind it, I swore that I would visit again…maybe in just a few short months.
Santa Ynez Valley is made up of 6 little towns including Solvang, Buellton, Ballard, Santa Ynez, Los Olivos and Los Alamos. Out of all those towns, the only one I didn’t visit in the 5 days I was there was Los Alamos. All the towns are just a hop and skip away from each and you’re in the next one before you know it. And each little town has it’s own personality and appeal. I started my trip off in one of the most adorable towns I’ve ever been to – Solvang. This Danish town that was founded in 1911 is so unique because of it’s architecture and community. The Danish-style buildings are filled with every business you would normally have in a town, but also has a ton of Danish bakeries and gift shops.
When I stayed in Solvang, I stayed at Hotel Corque which is a luxury boutique hotel that is in walking distance to everything. Every morning I would wake up early, finish my blog in bed, then wander to a bakery nearby for coffee and some sort of breakfast. And then the evenings were spent poolside, working on my computer and enjoying the cooled-down summer heat. Their pool is beautiful and they have super comfy couches so it was easy cuddle up on one and work! And since it was walking distance to Birkholm’s Bakery, which has gluten-free options available, I would sit there each morning to finish up emails and have a little treat. I tried their GF “Sarah” dessert and it was mind-blowing. I seriously want to go back simply for that dessert alone. And they also had gluten-free muffins in the morning that were so big, I had half and was able to have it for a snack later on. The staff was super friendly and accommodating, which I noticed almost everywhere I went.
After the first day of snacking on Danish-style treats, I checked out SY Kitchen in Santa Ynez. If you’re a cocktail person, you HAVE to go here. I tried an amazing gin, basil and jalapeño cocktail that was out of this world and tried someone else’s which was so good, I ordered hers, as well. I rarely ever order a second cocktail but they were so flavorful and refreshing, I couldn’t resist! And the food was just as good! If you ever go there, you HAVE to tried the beet salad and the artichoke. This was one of those meals that I had a hard time putting down my fork, even after extremely full. So many delicious flavors on one plate!
For my first full day in Santa Ynez Valley, I did what I normally do while traveling – I worked out! Whenever I go on trips like this, I try to stay as active as possible and do things I normally wouldn’t do for exercise. And I did exactly that by trying out Studio Joie De V with owner Allison as my instructor. I had never tried pilates before so I was excited to see what it was all about. Allison is extremely conscious of every movement and guides you through the entire workout, making sure you are in the perfect position throughout the class. I woke up the next morning super sore in my butt, hips and shoulders and loved that feeling! It definitely wasn’t what I was used to – leaving soaked in sweat – but it was a great workout and would be amazing physical therapy for people dealing with injuries!
After my morning workout and hanging by the pool, I dropped in at Industrial Eats in Buellton! This restaurant is also a butcher shop that serves creative, seasonal dishes and incredibly beautiful pizzas coming straight from one of their two wood-fire pizza ovens. I ended up ordering 3 different items from the menu and the chef was quite confused to see me by myself when he served the food. But I wanted the full experience! I tried their peaches with burrata, shrimp in an amazing butter sauce, and their porchetta which rocked my world. Safe to say I definitely brought food back to the hotel…then forgot it in the fridge. Rookie move, Juli. If you’re checking out this restaurant in the summertime, just know that they don’t have air conditioning so it can get realllll hot in the there.
After lunch, I went to my first wine tasting. Here’s the thing, if you’re a wine person, get to Santa Ynez Valley NOW! All of these little towns grow grapes and there are wineries and wine tastings every where you turn. I walked all over each town I stopped in and the streets were littered with wine tasting rooms. Total mecca for wine lovers! For me, I don’t really care about wine all that much. So I wasn’t sure what I would think about the wine tastings. And well, it was SO much fun. The first winery I stopped in at was the beautiful Sunstone Vineyards & Winery. Sunstone has beautiful grounds, organic viticulture, and the property includes stunning courtyards, stone barrel-aging caves, and picnic ground. Plus, it has a stunning villa that you can rent out! It’s hella pricey, but people will rent it out when having their wedding at the winery!
And luckily for me, I thought the wine was delicious! They had a rosé that tastes like watermelon jolly rancher, so I was all about that, and even took a bottle home! I spent two hours exploring this winery and it’s amazing views. If I lived in that town, I would totally take my frenchie Jackson to their courtyard to hang out. It’s seriously beautiful there!
That same night, I walked myself to Mad & Vin at the Landsby Hotel to have a lovely solo dinner. What I loved most about Santa Ynez Valley is I felt incredibly safe everywhere I went. I would walk in the evening by myself and wouldn’t have to constantly look over my shoulder. Denver is a great safe place, but we’ve still had our cars stolen and houses broken into in our neighborhood, so I’m always on alert. In Santa Ynez Valley, everyone knows everyone and they all keep their doors unlocked and keys in their car. It’s such a different way of life that I totally adored. Anywho, this restaurant in Solvang has really cool modern style and vibe, different to the Danish-style shops around it. I tried the seafood stew (which was silly since it was 90 degrees out) and it was AMAZING! The only thing I didn’t like there was the cocktail I ordered. Luckily the food filled me up instead!
After staying at Hotel Corque for two nights, I moved to the town of Los Olivos and into a stunning suite at the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn. If you want to stay in the cutest town of all time, in the best hotel ever, stay here. Whenever I travel, I keep a note of my favorite hotels and places I want to visit again, and this place is high on the list. Los Olivos has a population of around 1100 and about 30 wine tasting rooms within a 5 block area. And these 5 blocks are some of the cutest blocks you will ever walk, paired along with the friendliest people you will ever meet. While traveling alone, I seriously never felt alone because I always had people talking to me along the way. Whether that was at a gym, hotel, coffee shop, restaurant – I was always greeted by a friendly face. So different than a bustling downtown district that I’m used to back at home.
Fess Parker Wine Country Inn was definitely one of the most amazing places I’ve stayed and I 100% plan to go back and stay at this Inn. The staff is incredibly kind and helpful, the rooms are stunning, it has a beautiful pool, gym and it even has it’s own restaurant called The Bear and Star. Whenever I would want to explore the town of Los Olivos more, I also just wanted to go back to my hotel room because it was so comfortable. My room had one of the softest bed I’ve ever slept in and the bathroom was ginormous. The shower even looked out at a TV so you can watch while you wash. Unneeded but totally wonderful.
After settling into the Fess Parker, I dropped in at another hotel for a spa day! The Chumash Casino Resort is a newly renovated hotel that has a beautiful spa, a brand-new pool that overlooks the valley, and even has a casino, which I obviously didn’t stop in at because I’m all about the spa and food versus losing my money. But that’s just me! Before having lunch at the pool, I enjoyed a crushed grape and essential oil body buff, a warm mineral mud body paint, a soak in the couples tub (by myself haha!!), a body butter massage, and a wild rose mask for my hands. I asked my masseuse to go easy on the body scrub since I just got a spray tan, but I still left with extremely soft skin and nice glow! If you have time, getting one of their treatments at the hotel is totally worth it!
After the treatment, I was able to try some of the items from the menu while poolside! The chef knows what he’s doing here because everything was fresh and flavorful. The shrimp ceviche was out of this world and then I had a plate of filet mignon, chicken AND fish, so you’re able to try everything on one plate. It was so damn good! And the chef staff made me a paleo brownie for dessert! So cool how accommodating they were!
After my spa treatment, I stopped in at my second wine tasting! And this one was completely different than the first. Story of Soil is a small wine company and tasting room in the heart of Los Olivos. The owner Jessica ran me through all of her wines, where the grapes come throughout California and how they are made compared to mass production facilities. It was so cool chatting with Jessica, who is now pregnant with her first little babe, and hearing how she has ran with her passion and created a business around that passion. I truly loved sitting with Jessica and getting to know her in her adorable tasting room. Plus she had some amazing cheese that I was obsessed with! Anyone who feeds me cheese is instantly my best friend.
For dinner that night, I was lucky enough to try the amazing food at The Gathering Table in the Ballard Inn. This Asian and French inspired restaurant features seasonal, locally sourced produce, seafood, and meats. And you can truly taste the difference there. What’s so cool in the Valley is that there is fresh produce everywhere around them, so they are able to source such high-quality meat, fruits and veggies to use in their restaurant. And this meal was stunning! The hamachi and the ceviche were close to impossible to put down, and the wings and duck with seasonal peaches were outstanding. I wanted to drink the liquid from the plate, but I was dining with someone else that night and we weren’t quite close enough for that, yet.
The next morning, I stopped in at CrossFit Santa Ynez Valley for a much needed workout! Funny thing is I met the chef of The Gathering Table, Budi Kazali, the night before then worked out with his wife at CrossFit the next morning. That’s how small and adorable this community is! It felt so good to get in a CrossFit workout while on my trip! If you’re a person who does CrossFit and travels, you know that every gym has an incredibly different vibe and way of doing things. Luckily, this gym was amazing. My class was filled with extremely friendly women (and one dude!) who made me feel welcomed and comfortable the minute I stepped foot out of my car. I literally had a woman waving to me from her car as she pulled up. You don’t always get that at a CrossFit gym. I left this gym sweaty, smiling and feeling extremely lucky to have met such cool people. I know that sounds silly, but it was such an enjoyable hour out of my trip!
Once I got my pump on, I had lunch at Sides where I had one of the best burgers topped with a bacon jam and I finished it off with this amazing ginger lemonade. Highly recommend that restaurant if you’re in town! Get the burger. Don’t question me! After lunch, I headed the 15 minutes out of the Fess Parker Home Ranch for a horseback tour followed by a wine tasting! Katie Parker, granddaughter of the famous Fess Parker (aka Davey Crockett) led the tour with her cowboy bull-riding husband Rocky, throughout the stunning ranch. This 90 minute tour around their ~700 acre ranch takes you through the countryside where you stop at a point that’s a 360 degree view of the Valley, through the winery, and to their newly-started farm with veggies, fruits, chickens, ducks, roosters, goats, and other cute creatures. I hadn’t been on a horse in probably 18+ years, but my horse made it quite easy to feel comfortable throughout the ride. I loved him!
During the tour, I was able to meet a bull named Bubba. And Bubba was seriously the cutest, sweetest bull I’ve ever come in contact with! When you scratch his back, he moves back and fourth just like a little doggy at home! And he had the most stunning eyes. I wanted to hug him. And what’s cool about Bubba is he is used for breeding and creates some of the highest quality wagyu beef available! So he’s helping produce some of the best quality beef for the hotel restaurant!
Speaking of wagyu beef, after the tour I was suppose to grab dinner solo, but Katie and Rocky joined in to grab drinks and dinner at The Bear and Star with me! The chef John Cox came with us on the horseback tour, where I was able to get to know him a little more and see how passionate he is about farm-to-table restaurants. And his proves that farm-to-table can be an extraordinary experience. We tried a ton of different items from their menu including the wagyu beef carpaccio, a tender filet, oysters that were out of this world (seriously, I don’t care about oysters that much and I couldn’t stop eating these ones), deviled eggs, perfectly cooked salmon, creative cocktails and a crazy tasty bourbon pecan pie. It was seriously one of the best days I spent in Santa Ynez Valley!
While I was on this trip, all I could think about was when I would take my husband back to experience it himself. Santa Ynez Valley is not only a place you’ll want to visit time and time again, but it’s a place that you’ll consider moving to, and raising a family in. Their community is safe, beautiful, friendly and has some of the best food you’ll ever taste. And it’s just a short drive to Santa Barbara! If I could recommend traveling to any place in the US that I’ve checked out so far, I would recommend Santa Ynez Valley, especially Los Olivos. I may be going to Santa Barbara in the fall and I think I will be extending my trip just so I can stop in Los Olivos to visit the adorable town once again and stay at the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn once more! I always want to travel outside the US and see the world, but I’m continually surprised by the towns and cities that you can often visit with a direct flight! I truly cannot wait hop on a quick 2 hour flight and go back to this amazing community! I’m getting soft in my old age, aren’t I?!
Quick Summary of Santa Ynez Valley Favorites:
- Birkholm’s Bakery – GF treats available
- SY Kitchen – Best cocktails ever!
- Industrial Eats – Everything from the menu is great and I hear they also have GF pizza!
- Mad & Vin – Get the seafood stew
- The Bear and Star – Get the wagyu beef carpaccio and the salmon…and the filet!
- The Gathering Table – Get the ceviche and hamachi!
- Sides – Get the burger with bacon jam!
- Drink & Stay Active
This trip was hosted by Visit Santa Ynez Valley, but all opinions are my own!