There’s something magical about exploring a new-to-you small town, and California is full of cute country enclaves within easy driving distance from our major cities.
Our latest "discovery" promises casual, cowboy vibes but with plenty of polish.
Home to the Chumash Indians before the Spanish arrived and, eventually, to Danish-American settlers, it became a buzzing stagecoach town. Today, Santa Ynez—a 40-minute drive from Santa Barbara in a tranquil valley known for its wine and food—is an easygoing place where western-style storefronts line the main drag, horseshoes are embedded in crosswalks, and there’s even an old-fashioned saloon. In fact, you might even see a horse mosey across the way.
Whether you’re visiting in the spring for wildflower season, in the fall for the signature Vaquero Show , or relaxing before the Solvang Julefest festivities in December, it’s easy to find an occasion to spend a long weekend in Santa Ynez.
Where to Stay in Santa Ynez
An architectural gem, the Shunem Bread House is a two-bedroom retreat just a short walk from downtown Santa Ynez.
(Courtesy of Airbnb)
This four-star boutique stay in a Victorian mansion downtown promises a truly dapper trip, with luxurious touches including chandeliers in the guest rooms, marble bathrooms, and private patios or balconies overlooking the lush garden. There is a day spa with a sauna for relaxation, a cozy whiskey library, and even a Champagne bell you can ring for bubbly service. Guests also receive a wine passport for special offers at more than 15 nearby wineries; local wines and cheese are also served at the Genevieve's daily happy hour. Take your refreshments out by the fire pits or to the courtyard for a round of corn hole. Before you check out, sit down for a made-to-order breakfast; it's included with your stay. // 3627 Sagunto St. (Santa Ynez), thegenevieve.com
Shunem Bread House
We won't be surprised to see the Shunem Bread House turn up on the pages of AD one day: This quirky hexagonal stay seems made for photo shoots. Shared with the owners, the lower level houses a library, lounge, and the kitchen which is anchored by a chandelier made from an antique sled. Up top, your private honeycomb-shaped space has two bedrooms and a sundeck, ideal for an afternoon happy hour served from your in-room wet bar. It's just a 10-minute walk from town. // 1452 Edison St. (Santa Ynez), airbnb.com
The Best Restaurants, Bars + Coffee in Santa Ynez
The Victor Restaurant & Bar is one of Santa Ynez's most exciting spots to dine.
The Victor Restaurant & Bar
For a refined meal in town, The Victor is the spot. The menu is new American with steakhouse favorites and Californian flavors fresh from local farms—and it's all designed for sharing. We recommend the signature deviled eggs topped with smoky trout roe; the bright ceviche tostada; cedar plank salmon with chardonnay cream sauce; and the wagyu filet mignon. With temperatures in the 70s or above most of the year, you’ll want to take advantage of the restaurant's patios where black-and-white umbrellas, bistro chairs, rich green foliage, and an outdoor fireplace lend a sophisticated charm. // 3631 Sagunto St. (Santa Ynez), thevictor.us
A converted an old farmhouse, S.Y. Kitchen has all the rustic ambiance we want from a country eatery, complete with a wraparound patio under a shaded awning with vines creeping around the rafters. Fresh pastas are made in house here; you might find a wild mushroom pappardelle or curled flutes of gigli noodles that easily scoop up tomato, sausage, and pancetta sauce. The salads and soups have next-level flavor, and the fresh cocktails (pineapple basil margarita, mmm) utilize bountiful herbs, citrus, and fruits. S.Y. is open daily for both lunch and dinner. // 1110 Faraday St. (Santa Ynez), sykitchen.com
Farm-to-table restaurants are ubiquitous in California, but farm-to-table wineries? A five-minute drive from Santa Ynez, Roblar Winery is a 40-acre vineyard with an estate tasting room shaded by oak trees. Come for lunch, because Roblar Farms next door provides the extra-locally grown produce for excellent dishes like an heirloom tomato salad, spiced lamb with roasted summer squash, shrimp and pistachio pesto pasta, and wood-fired pizzas. If you can time it right, head over on a Thursday for the fried chicken special or consider stopping in for Sunday brunch. // 3010 Roblar Ave. (Santa Ynez), roblarwinery.com
Queen Cup Coffee and The Lucky Hen Larder
Start your day at Queen Cup Coffee , an off-the-beaten-path coffee shop serving ethically sourced products and a mean dirty horchata. In the same space, you'll find The Lucky Hen Larder , an excellent artisan sandwich shop with a thorough selection of provisions, salads, and gourmet snacks. If you’re getting outdoors for the day, grabbing to-go lunch here is a must. // 1095 Meadowvale Rd (Santa Ynez)
Santa Ynez Billards & Cafe
Don't be fooled, this pool hall slash sports bar also has incredible Mediterranean food. Grab some locally made wine or beer from the fridges or see what’s on draft at the bar before ordering a killer falafel plate with hummus and baba ganoush, or a juicy chicken shawarma wrap. // 1000 Edison St. (Santa Ynez), santaynezbilliardsandcafe.com
Drinks + Wine Tasting
Everyone knows that Maverick Saloon (3687 Sagunto St.) is the spot for a drink. You can expect live music at least three days a week, day and night, and don’t be surprised when the line-dancing pros take over the floor on Saturday nights. // If wine is more your speed, Crosshatch Winery (1090 Edison St., #104) and Cass Winery (3563 Numancia St.) are both solid options for daytime wine tasting in town. Of course, this being California, wine country isn't far away. You'll countless excellent options for tasting around Los Alamos and the Santa Ynez Valley .
Fun Things to Do in in Santa Ynez
Spend the afternoon horseback riding through the vineyards and canyons of Santa Ynez Valley.
(Courtesy of Fess Parker)
KS Murphy’s Custom Cowboy Hatter
If you're ready to channel your inner cowboy/girl, get the look at this hat shop specializing in Western wear including off-the-shelf options as well as a custom-made hat service (advance appointments recommended) for your precise fit and style. // 3569 Sagunto St. (Santa Ynez), kjmurphys.com
Mosey over to this artisanal food store for vinegars and unique cold-pressed olive oils like lemon, basil, blood orange and, our personal favorite, roasted walnut. If you’re visiting town with a group of friends, consider booking one of their cooking classes or their olive oil sommelier tasting. // 3570 Madera St. (Santa Ynez), globalgardensonline.com
Santa Ynez General
You won't feel far from the city after a bit of luxury shopping at Santa Ynez General, which stocks upscale men's and women's clothing from designers like Silvia Tcherassi, Etro, and Rosie Assoulin, plus stylish home goods, jewelry, and self-care items. The building's Western-style facades makes for a perfect photo op. // 3630 Sagunto St. and 3558 Sagunto St. (Santa Ynez), santaynezgeneral.com
Riding horses is one of the most popular ways to see the valley. Fess Parker (6200 Foxen Canyon Rd., Los Olivos) is part winery and part ranch, offering 75-minute rides through the property and up to the mountains for incredible views. Cap your experience with a little wine tasting. // Vino Vaqueros (2178 Mora Ave., Estelle Vineyards, Santa Ynez) also explores trails with equally scenic surroundings and ends with complimentary wine in the rustic barn. Late fall and winter are perfect times to book the 3pm ride (offered by both) so you can catch a bit of sunset.
There are several parks and preserves nearby including Grass Mountain Trail (5100 Figueroa Mountain Rd, Santa Ynez), a five-ish mile roundtrip hike to the summit (it's extra-special during the spring super bloom). // For something a little less intense, head over to Cachuma Lake Recreation Area (1 Lakeview Dr., Santa Barbara) for lakeside jaunts ranging from one to five miles and with minimal elevation gain. Or, you can always rent kayaks if a lake adventure is calling your name.