With rolling hills, vineyards, farms, ranches, and golf courses, California’s Santa Ynez Valley—located about 25 miles from Santa Barbara and 120 miles from Los Angeles—has all the makings of an ideal weekend excursion. So this year, in need of a long weekend refresh, my husband and I decided to explore it for ourselves.
Our starting point was Santa Ynez, one of six communities in the valley. With a population of under 5,000, this tiny town wears its Old West cowboy era heritage proudly, with horseshoes embedded in its crosswalks along with period-style wood building facades and walkways with hitching posts. But there are also upscale restaurants, modern shops, and the charming Santa Ynez Inn, our home for the weekend.
Located at the end of a quiet street just a short walk from the center of town, the Victorian-style inn underwent extensive renovations in 2017. Guestrooms and shared spaces were updated with new furniture, beds, paint, carpet, and accessories while the exterior, designed after a historic turn-of-the-century inn, retained the building’s original style.
In the downstairs common areas, pale sage grasscloth provides a soft backdrop for dozens of framed prints, and crisp white wainscoting and crown moldings contrast perfectly with natural wood floors and banisters. Sparkling crystal chandeliers hanging from ornate ceiling medallions evoke old-world style. On the second floor, the hallways are lined with vintage prints of American presidents.
We especially loved the library, a cozy room with a fireplace flanked by two leather wing chairs. Gilt-edged volumes, bronze bookends, and sculptures of hunting dogs, dark colors, and framed equestrian prints create the right mood for sipping a glass of whiskey or wine.
The Inn’s 20 accommodations, all with high ceilings and each room with its own style, include cozy classic rooms as well as deluxe rooms with fireplaces, private balconies, large bathrooms, L’Occitane bath products, and Jacuzzi tubs.
Opposite the Inn’s entrance is a large grassy lawn with a fireplace and several fire pits surrounded by comfortable chairs. Further along is the Inn’s Coach House, also recently renovated, for parties, dinners, and special events for up to 50 guests. The building features warm and rustic custom lighting, a plank floor, antique-style bar, and an outdoor dance floor with fairy lights and a lawn area.
Though amenities abound—including an outdoor hot tub and sunbathing area, a gym, spa, complimentary gourmet breakfasts, daily wine hour with hors d’oeuvres, and evening cookies with coffee or tea—a standout is a wine tasting passport. This pass entitles guests to free tastings at many of the area’s wineries including Sanford Winery and Foley Estates, known for their Pinot Noirs, as well as Rusack and Sunstone with outdoor areas for picnic lunches.
And, if you do plan to make wine tasting a part of your excursion, several local companies aim to make it safer and more seamless. For example, Destination Drivers allows visitors to hire a designated driver to take them, in their own vehicle, to and from any spot in the valley. For larger group tours, Stagecoach Wine Tours provides another relaxing way to learn about the area’s viticulture.
In addition to wine tasting, there’s much to do in and around Santa Ynez. The Maverick Saloon, located one block from the Inn, is quiet during the day but promises lively evenings with live honky-tonk music, cocktails, and complimentary barbecue tacos. In the other direction, there is Naughty Oak Brewing Company, which boasts craft beers, live music, and trivia nights. At Back at the Ranch, we browsed through Western gear like leather belts, cowboy boots, and hats.
There are also several high-quality restaurants within a short walking distance of the Inn. Dos Carlitos, an upscale Mexican restaurant, features handmade tortillas and over 60 brands of tequila. SY Kitchen offers creative Italian cuisine and attentive service. Brothers Restaurant at The Red Barn serves fresh New American dishes. (The latter two restaurants also have extensive wine lists featuring local varieties.)
Outside the town of Santa Ynez, a trip to the larger valley wouldn’t be complete without visiting the Danish-style town of Solvang, just a 15-minute drive away. Though filled with quaint shops, bakeries, restaurants, and old-world architecture, The Landsby, a newly-renovated boutique hotel in the town’s center, is the local highlight. Its Mad & Vin Restaurant serves innovative dishes in a contemporary Scandinavian space and is also a popular cocktail spot.
Before leaving the Santa Ynez Inn, we read through the comments in the guestbook. Travelers from all over the country, plus a few international visitors, told of a memorable anniversary and birthday celebrations. One deemed the Inn “a magical place.” Another praised the “luscious baked goods.” Most wrote that they would definitely return for another visit. We agreed and added our own promise to come back too.