The Santa Ynez Valley Wine Country is one of the new wine regions of California. In addition to vineyards and wine tasting the valley offers pretty small towns like Solvang, Los Olivos and Los Alamos.
The Santa Ynez Valley is in the Central Coast of California between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
We toured this new wine region on our road trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles. This post tells you where we went and what we saw in the Santa Ynez Wine Country.
Santa Ynez Valley Wine Country Tour Map
The Santa Ynez Valley is in the middle of the Central Coast of California, two hours north of Los Angeles and four hours south of San Francisco. Santa Barbara is the closest city, 35 miles south.
If you come from north Los Alamos is the first community of the wine country.
Los Alamos is a wild west town that only consists of one single street. It’s only a few houses but everything looks so well preserved. And it looks like nothing in Los Alamos has changed in the past one hundred years.
There is a general store and an old-style gas station with a supermarket. The flag outside is a bit worn.
The Union Hotel
And there is the original Union Hotel that opened in 1880 for stagecoach travelers that stopped here for a night or two.
The Union Hotel still has a saloon and a wine bar and it still offers accommodation for travelers like it used to do.
Los Alamos not only was a stagecoach station. In addition it was a railway depot for the Pacific Coast Railway. Still today some of the old railway buildings are in use and one of them now accommodates a large antique shop.
Some views of Los Alamos buildings:
Somebody told me that Los Alamos residents still pick their daily mail from the post office. However something has changed: more wine-tasting rooms and restaurants are being established so this sleepy town is slowly waking up.
Los Alamos got its name from the Spanish word for cottonwoods, trees that grow on river banks in the valley.
But as we know wine is more important than cotton in this region so let’s go and have a look at the wine country.
Santa Ynez Valley Wine Country
The Santa Ynez Valley wine country begins after Los Alamos.
Take the US 101 south, but only for two or three miles. Then take a sharp turn to Alisos Canyon Road and you can spot pretty vineyards on both sides of the road.
The scenery is beautiful. This is one of the 80 vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley.
A New Wine Growing Area
Santa Ynez Valley is one of the new wine growing areas that have appeared in California. So the region has changed a lot within the past twenty years when wine has become the leading agricultural product in the valley.
In general wine growing is increasing in California and spreading further south where the wine growing season is longer than in the traditional wine areas Napa and Sonoma in the north.
Santa Ynez Valley has a warm micro climate. The valley is framed by the San Rafael Mountains in the north and the Santa Ynez Mountains in the south.
Although wine production has increased in the region there still remain traditional farms that grow crops and fruit. Some Santa Ynez Valley farm views:
Pumpkin fields with yellow pumpkin flowers and a farm gate:
Even if it was Sunday we were almost alone traveling around in the wine country. It surprised us that there was hardly any traffic on the small country roads.
Just a lonely windmill was standing on the roadside and waiting for a fresh summer breeze to wake it up. The windmill was in the crossroads of Alisos Canyon Road and Foxen Canyon Road.
Though it was still spring the landscape was already dry. In this part of California spring and summer days are hot. Yet there are low temperatures and coastal fogs at night. The fogs help the grapes grow despite the heat.
Santa Ynez Valley is a cattle raising area and we saw cows with their calves grazing. It was mainly black cows like these:
Foxen Canyon Wine Trail
We partly followed the signposted Foxen Canyon Wine Trail.
Below some photos of the vineyards on Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, the Fess Parker’s Winery. Its setting in the valley is beautiful and you can taste their wines in a tasting building in the canyon.
Fess Parker produces Pinot Noirs, Syrahs and Rieslings.
South of the Fess Parker follows other vineyards: the Koehler Winery and Andrew Murray and Curtis Estate Wineries on the other side of the road.
Curtis Estate Winery is followed by the well-known Firestone Vineyard that is the region’s largest wine producer.
The little town of Los Olivos is the natural center of the wine region.
Los Olivos has some excellent restaurants and over thirty tasting-rooms where you can taste local wines and other local products.
There’s just one main street and a couple of short side streets. Most of the old Victorian houses and ranch-like buildings are well preserved and still in use.
It all began when an Italian immigrant built a hotel and a restaurant to serve travelers needs. Since those days the number visitors and restaurants needed to cater for them has increased a lot.
Los Olivos got its name from a nearby ranch where five thousand olive trees were planted.
In Los Olivos the history comes alive. The village looks like what America used to be.
People from nearby cities come here for Sunday lunch and wine tasting and also to shop antiques and art.
Like Los Alamos Los Olivos once was a stage coach and railroad stop. The town is still surrounded by horse ranches which you can tell from the shops that exist in Los Olivos.
You don’t only get gourmet dinners in Los Olivos. If you prefer hot dogs you can find them as well.
After Los Olivos you can take the straight way to Solvang, California’s Danish town – or continue with wineries east of Los Olivos.
In Brander Winery you can taste wines in a French-style buidling while Gainey Vineyard has its tasting room in a Spanish-style ranch building.
If you still feel like tasting there are more wineries around the town of Santa Ynez. Santa Ynez has a beautiful old church, Mission Santa Ines that is part of the long chain of missions that the Spanish built in California.
French and Spanish style in the US – and then, before you notice you’re in Denmark.
Solvang is like a piece of Denmark moved over to California.
The town was founded in 1911 by Danish educators who bought land to build a Danish school and community.
Danish settlers started to move to Solvang and build their houses in a Danish farm-style architecture. These houses and all the windmills of different sizes make to town look just like towns used to be (and still are) in Denmark.
You can even find a Little Mermaid statue in Solvang, just like in Copenhagen.
The Danish have kept their culture and traditions and the Danish language is still spoken. You can see Danish words and expressions written all over Solvang.
Since Solvang is so gingerbread-like and well-preserved it has become a popular tourist attraction. And why not? Solvang has been honored with both tourism awards and awards for historic preservation.
The original Danish school house where it all started now serves as a restaurant.
Solvang has more than 30 restaurants many of which serve Danish specialties. In addition there is a good choice of tasting rooms. The Danes that decided to leave for California are lucky guys. They live in Danish surroundings but in a beautiful wine country.
If you want to read more about this Danish town, read more on the official Solvang website.
More information on the wine country:
This Solvang destination guide contains a lot of information and maps of Santa Inez wine country. The region’s vineyards are marked on the maps.