Best Hotels In Santa Barbara Wine Country – Take the Next Wine Tour of the Santa Barbara Wine Region: Here’s What’s New in the Santa Ynez Valley
This is the problem of happiness for wine lovers. Now, finally, after a year of turmoil amid the pandemic, where wine tours are unlikely to be like the trip to Mars, weekend wine tastings seem possible once again. People are vaccinated. Blue counties become red, red counties become orange. By the way, it’s worth considering spending the entire weekend tasting Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc, followed by one or two unforgettable meals.
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But where do I go? This is the hard part. With so many Northern California wine regions—hi Napa, oh Sonoma, oh Santa Cruz Mountains—it seems crazy to suggest you keep going.
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However you must. Just over four hours south of the Bay Area is one of California’s top wine regions, Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County. If you’ve ever driven south on Highway 101, you’ll see it from your car window. You admire the rolling hills, you may have stopped for a curd biscuit in Solvang, and you may remember that famous beer-lover movie was filmed on the Sideways.
But if you haven’t set foot in Santa Ynez recently, you’re missing out. It’s a relaxed, uncrowded and welcoming place with the best beers and the best Californian food.
To see what makes Santa Ynez special, take Highway 246 west from Buellton. This is the best way to express the charm of the valley: oak mountains, towering eagles, vineyards and the feeling of being close to the sea. After a few miles, turn right and follow Aspen Road to Melville Winery.
Melville was a pioneer in Santa Ynez: In the 1990s, vineyard Ron Melville sold his Sonoma farms and bought land here. Otherwise, the valley is unknown. “It’s scary,” his son Chad Melville said. “But my father was very ambitious.”
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The risk pays off. Melvilles found a suitable area to produce good grape varieties. Chad explained that Santa Ynez is one of the few valleys in North America that faces east and west rather than (for example, Napa) between north and south. Its western end is the cold Pacific Ocean. Since there are no hills to block it, the sea breeze flows inland. The west valley is much colder than the east. This means that Melville shines, producing a fine climate for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, while winemakers in the hot East produce Rhône varieties and taxi drivers. Today, the area is home to more than 100 wineries divided into five categories: Santa Ynez, Santa Rita Hills (where Melville is located), Los Olivos, Ballard Canyon and Happy Canyon.
One of the pioneers, Mark Crawford Horvath of the Crawford Family Wine Company, said geography isn’t the only thing that sets the valley apart. Horvath doesn’t detract from Napa or Sonoma, arguing that Santa Ynez is more open to younger wine drinkers. “There is a lot of room here for young independents,” he said.
Spend a day here and you will see what Horvath means. Santa Ynez is a vibrant and uncrowded wine region. In the tasting room, the person pouring you a Pinot Noir might be a wine drinker. The exterior of the winery ranges from luxurious (Tuscan Melville model) to almost unassuming – for example, the winery is in an industrial building in the “wine cellar” in Lombok. It’s not good, but the wine is good.
If Santa Ynez Valley wine has been good for a while — well — even valley fans say it’ll take time to eat and settle. Now he has.
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One thing you will soon notice about the valley is that its small town is different. The Danish-themed Solvang has a bakery straight out of Copenhagen and Andersen’s Little Mermaid statue. There is Old West Santa Ines. With its main thoroughfare, Grand Avenue, surrounded by warehouses and tasting rooms, Los Olivos is the closest in the valley to Healdsburg, or St. Helena. Belton is a typical California town, though there is a traditional steakhouse – Hitching Post II – that makes some of the best beer in the valley. At the northwest end of the valley, young Los Alamos is undergoing the transition from dormancy to adulthood.
All have been developed into an essential dining and lodging facility. In Solvang, First & Oak is housed in a charming hotel, the Mirabelle Inn, with an emphasis on small, seasonal dishes. A few blocks away, a beautiful Danish hotel has been converted into an elegant Lansby hotel. Just east of downtown, the newly opened Inez is an interesting play on the Auto Country Wine Yard.
In Santa Ynez, the renovated Santa Ynez Inn looks like the home of your favorite rich man. Two other restaurants – SY Kitchen for Italy and Brothers in Carnivore Paradise in the Red Barn – have made this city the culinary capital. Los Olivos has interesting and fun gear and shoes. Perhaps inspired by Lompoc, Buellton’s Industrial Eats serves wood-fired pizza in a renovated building that used to be a storefront. If you are looking for old world luxury, head to the Tavern at Zaca Creek.
Finally, Los Alamos has a Bell Restaurant, a chic French bistro, and a resort converted from a mid-century modern hotel, Skyview Los Alamos.
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But to experience the magic of the Santa Ynez Valley at its best, head to the Ballard Inn. Ballard is a small “town” in Solvang with a history as the station of the Wells Fargo Theater and home to the best red school in the world. Here, Java-born, Santa Barbara-born Buddy Cazale does two things very well. First, he created a beautiful and comfortable country hotel. Second, the hotel’s new restaurant, The Gathering Table, is amazing. It features French-inspired Asian cuisine and a selection of Santa Ynez Valley wines. You can enjoy dinner at a long communal table that Casale insists on. Because, he said, “we want people to come here and make friends.”
Chances are you will. Chances are, once you get to Ballard and Santa Ynez Valley, you’ll find the perfect vehicle.
Note: Changes to COVID-19 restrictions may affect the availability of winery, restaurants, and lodging; Call, text, or email before your visit.
Howl won the Lowell Thomas Gold Award for Environmental Journalism in 2013 for his story about reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone National Park. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and son. People flock to Santa Barbara wine country. As our guest, it’s easy: walk out the door and start tasting. The Santa Barbara Wine Trail includes several stops around the Kimpton Canary, as well as the nearby Funk and Midtown areas, showcasing more than 60 varieties of grapes grown here.
Santa Barbara Wine Country Shuttle Tour
Plus, Santa Barbara’s vineyards are just a 45-minute drive away, including postcard-perfect country roads and rolling oak-lined coastal hills. No specific driver? Experience wine country with a personalized wine tour from Coastal Concierge (for more information, call our office at 1-805-884-0300).
Santa Barbara Wine Country Tours offers a variety of wine tours, including wine tours, bikes, and wine tastings for every type of wine lover (or beginner).
These private day-to-day wine tours are perfect for couples or small groups. The Sustainable Tour allows you to enjoy a selection of independent wineries in the Santa Ynez Valley.
EOS Santa Barbara offers unique wine tours of Santa Barbara and the gorgeous Santa Ynez Valley with optional visits to other attractions including lavender plantations, oil tastings, and more.
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A must-see restaurant on the Mediterranean, Sunstone transports visitors to a Provençal French village with stone barrel vaults and pretty courtyards.
Moments from our hotel and one block from the Pacific Ocean, the Santa Barbara Wine Tasting Room at the Funk Zone Resort offers award-winning wines to please wine lovers.
Known for Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, the beloved Happy Canyon winery emphasizes sustainability (both the grapes and vineyards are solar powered).
Funk Zone Winery Just minutes from the Kimpton Canary hotel, Paradise Springs is the first Twin Coast winery in the United States with operations in Santa Barbara and Virginia. Visit the tasting room to try it out before you buy.
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The cruelty-free winery isn’t finished. Enjoy tastings in the cozy tasting room at Jamie Slone Wines or outside at Terraza (they have a wide variety of wines).
Au Bon Climat became world famous for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The tasting room of this famous winery is open daily. Despite its beautiful scenery, ocean views, and year-round sunshine, Santa Barbara isn’t just another beach town. This Southern California gem has historical charm, interesting attractions, and a great food and wine scene, all of which make for an unforgettable trip.
While every luxury hotel and resort in Santa Barbara offers a different luxury experience, don’t expect it