Nick & I live only 90 miles away from the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley, a premier destination for wine lovers in California. While not as famous as Napa, Santa Ynez is a home to over 120 wineries, holding its own when it comes to natural beauty of the region and world class wine-making.
I've heard more than once that Santa Ynez is what Napa used to be 20-30 years ago: down to earth and budget-friendly. Tastings run anywhere from $5 to $20, average being $10 or $15 (opposed to Napa's average of $45). Not to totally bad-mouth Napa (I love LOVE Napa!!) but these days Nick & I prefer Santa Ynez (and Paso Robles, too) for our wine-tasting adventures.
Santa Ynez Valley is beautiful, tranquil and very welcoming. It's an easy (and scenic!) drive from LA and from Santa Barbara. In the last few decades the region has become world-renowned for producing high quality wine. Santa Ynez has been attracting even more wine lovers ever since the 2004 movie "Sideways" (starring Paul Giamatti) immortalized this valley, resulting in a dramatic increase of Pinot Noir production (and sadly, a decline of Merlot, also thanks to Paul Giamatti's Merlot-hating character).
On a very personal note, Santa Ynez is where Nick & I went to our first-ever wine tasting and fell in love with the whole wine culture. Over the last few years we have come here multiple times, as often as twice a month. We usually come on day trips, leaving home around 9am and returning in the evening. It's an easy 12 hour getaway which usually feels like a much longer vacation! What's not to love?
Santa Ynez Valley has a population of about 20,000, and has several small towns: Solvang, Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, Buellton, and Ballard, each with its own character, look and charm. I love each town, but on this trip we made the village of Santa Ynez our home for two nights.
OVERVIEW AND LINKS
The village of SANTA YNEZ was established in 1881 and has a population of 5,000. It's located in the heart of Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County, California. Read about its history at santaynezchamber.org/history-of-santa-ynez/
We stayed at FOR FRIENDS INN, a beautiful boutique B&B in Santa Ynez www.forfriendsinn.com/
We had dinner at a farm-to-table Italian restaurant SY Kitchen, run by 2 brothers from Verona www.sykitchen.com
We went wine-tasting. Favorites: Gainey Vineyard & Buttonwood Winery
(we love other wineries too, but the other ones are in Los Olivos. More about Los Olivos in another blog)
Here are a couple of pictures from the drive. This is on 154 (San Marcos pass) going from Santa Barbara to Santa Ynez:
Pacific Ocean near Goleta:
OUR HOTEL (B&B): FOR FRIENDS INN
For Friends Inn is a beautiful boutique B&B. When arranging our stay I spoke to Dave, the owner. Dave's very passionate about this B&B and cares about every little detail, which shows in everything around here: from the decor to landscape to the fresh flowers to the custom-made mostly organic breakfast to the awesome staff (extra shout out to Noli!!).
So here are a few photos:
My artsy shot:
Mandatory bathroom selfie :)
My "Pretty Woman" moment :) :) :)
I LOVE this fireplace!!
Our room was called Buttonwood and had a tiny balcony.
Amazing homemade breakfast:
We missed the happy hour (which is free and has hors d’oeuvres too), but at night they had some sweets for us: dessert wine and baked goodies, too!
Love the colors of the flowers/tree/sky:
I was working on my Hawaii blog and Nick was working on his PhD in the room downstairs at night:
THE RESTAURANT: SY KITCHEN
I'm a snob when it comes to Italian food, but this was outstanding. Run by two brothers from Verona, this restaurant feels rustic and comfortable and modern all at the same time. The food is exquisite, everything is made with great care and from quality ingredients. I love the whole farm-to-table approach (wish every restaurant shared this philosophy). Our waiter Andrew (kudos to Andrew!) said that the flour used in SY’s homemade pasta & pizza is minimally-processed and is brought from Italy. We had burrata & sausage pizza and a wild mushroom pappardelle (made with local mushrooms) as well as chocolate gelato made with mascarpone for dessert. Wow! I loved everything and can't wait to be back next time we're in Santa Ynez. Thanks to Dave at For Friends Inn (which is only a few blocks away) for recommending this gem of a place!
Date night!! :)
THE TOWN: SANTA YNEZ
It's easy to see the whole town just walking for a few minutes, or seeing it several times if you want to walk longer (which we did - why not? It's beautiful!).
There is plenty of quaint shops and old-timey buildings. I love walking around this town, day or night!
I always wish they'd be no cars parked on the main street, it would be so much nicer! I wouldn't mind to walk a couple of blocks to a parking space.
Make sure to check out this Museum. It's $5 donation and has a huge collection of amazing carriages!
Crosswalk with horseshoes!!!
Our dear friends Don & Joelle introduced us to Gainey a few years ago, and we've been Wine Club members there ever since. The wines are fabulous and elegant (especially their Merlot!). The grounds are stunning! As members we get to do wine-tasting here free of charge and can bring friends (who also get free tastings). We have brought many friends here.
Aside from wine, I love Gainey's Spanish-style tasting room with oversized barrells but especially I love the grounds!
The big oak always takes my breath away.
And here is one of my favorite images I took of this oak tree (we printed it on 3 canvases which now hang above our bed at home) a couple of years ago:
Here are a few more photos from my past visits to Gainey:
And now you've seen a lot of this oak :)
We discovered Buttonwood because our room at For Friends Inn bears its name. Dave (the B&B owner) has free tasting arrangement for everyone who stays here. Having been to many wineries in the region we somehow never even heard of Buttonwood, yet it's been around for a couple of decades. We loved the straightforward wines, very reasonable prices and their amazing grounds! Aside from being a winery, Buttonwood is a working farm with fruit trees and animals. You can see the goats if you walk in the back!
My mandatory "through the wine glass" shot:
Goats!! I love love love goats.
Only one goat came up to us when we called them, and was very very friendly! Here's Nick's hand with some yummy grass:
He wanted to lick my phone :) I LOVE this photo!!
This is all for now! Before too long I'll do posts on each town in the Santa Ynez valley, I promise!
What do you think? Have you been to Santa Ynez? Do you know these wineries?
To file in: best place to stay in Santa Ynez, beautiful B&B, best places to eat in Santa Ynez, best wineries in Santa Ynez.