How to Spend a Day in the Santa Ynez Valley of California

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Perched along the rolling hills of the central coast of California, the Santa Ynez Valley makes for a convenient weekend getaway if you’re looking for good food, unique wines and a laid-back country casual vibe.

The Santa Ynez Valley is two hours north of Los Angeles and four hours south of San Francisco, and is made of up six distinct towns located around a 10-15 min drive away from each other: Solvang, Santa Ynez, Los Olivos, Los Alamos, Buellton and Ballard. If you’re traveling from out of state (or if you’d just prefer to fly), you can fly into the Santa Barbara Airport (SBA) and rent a car to make the ~45 min drive to Santa Ynez Valley.

There’s so much to explore in this region of California – from barbecue, to countless wineries, and even ostriches you can feed. But if you only have a short amount of time, here’s how to make the most of it in the Santa Ynez Valley.

If you’re planning to stay for a weekend, we’ve added more recommendations for things to do, eat, and drink at the end of this post.

Morning

Start your day with a leisurely stroll through Solvang, a town that’ll transport you to Copenhagen with its Danish-inspired architecture and bakeries. Getting to Solvang before a bulk of the tourists arrive around lunch time is ideal to quietly explore the charming town. While on your walk, grab coffee from Good Seed Coffee Boutique.

A street in Solvang, CA with Danish-inspired buildings.
A latte at Good Seed Coffee Boutique in Solvang, CA.

Afterwards, head over to Santa Ynez (~8 min drive) and stop by the Finley Farms Honor Stand for some fresh, seasonal produce if you drove to Santa Ynez Valley, rather than flying, so you can take your produce home. This little stand sits on the side of the road and is open daily. As an honor stand, you can total up your purchase and drop your cash in their barrel or pay via Venmo. 

Lunch

If you’re ready for an early-ish lunch on a Saturday and/or Sunday, head over to Los Alamos and get in line for Priedite Barbecue because they open at 10:30am and there will definitely be a line.

Priedite Barbecue is a pop-up that’s only open on Saturdays and Sundays. And as of March 2023, they’re located at Bodega Los Alamos serving up some of the best barbecue on the coast. 

On Saturdays, you’ll find them serving barbecue by the pound and barbecue tacos with fresh homemade tortillas, along with a selection of sides. As you order at the counter, you’ll see the smoked meats coming out right in front of you and the smell is heavenly. They will slice the meats, put together your tacos if you opted for those, and then you can make your way over to a table with your tray of barbecue to enjoy. 

An overhead shot of barbecue tacos and ribs from Priedite Barbecue in Los Alamos, CA.

Their meats are incredibly tender and smoked to perfection. Their tacos are topped with their picante pickles which provide the perfect acidic crunch contrast to the meats. 

On Sundays, the menu focuses on their smash burgers, or Bandito Burgerz, as they call them. These are made with ground brisket and look absolutely amazing. We haven’t been able to try them yet but have no doubt they’re as good as their barbecue.

Check their website and Instagram for the latest on their schedule (as things might change due to weather or other circumstances).

Some pro tips:

  • Get there early! They open at 12pm (as of March 2023) and they do sell out. There will probably already be a line forming before noon, so we recommend getting there at least 15-30min early. (Back when they opened around 10:30am, we’ve shown up at 10am to a short line, but have also gotten there around 11am and have had no problem ordering what we liked).
  • While waiting in line, you can grab complimentary coffee at a table near the entrance, as well as complimentary beers in a bucket of ice near the entrance. 

Another great lunch option is Bell’s in Los Alamos: a family-run, Michelin-starred restaurant that’s serving up French-inspired dishes. The vibes are casual and friendly, and we love eating here for both lunch and dinner. The lunch menu features a la carte dishes, while dinner is a prix fixe menu with items changing out seasonally on both menus.

Some classics on the lunch menu that we love are the egg salad sandwich with tomato jam (maybe the most perfect egg salad sandwich we’ve had) and the Bell’s salad which is always so fresh and delicious, and features Finley Farms lettuces!

Outside of Bell's Restaurant in Los Alamos, CA
Egg Salad Sandwich at Bell's Los Alamos.

What To Do In Between Meals in Santa Ynez Valley

The Santa Ynez Valley also has you covered if you need a break from eating since there are over 200 wineries and tasting rooms in area, so you’ll have no problem finding a great variety of wines.

In Los Alamos, visit Bodega for natural wines, beers and a gorgeous garden to lounge in. You can get wine by the glass, or purchase a bottle to enjoy there or for later. 

Wine bottles at Bodega Los Alamos.
A glass of wine in Bodega's outdoor garden space.

A few other great places for wine are:

And if beers are more your speed, here are some spots:

For something unique to do, visit Ostrich Land in between Buellton and Solvang. (Yes there is literally an Ostrich Land!) You can watch ostriches and emus roam around and even feed them! Extremely random, but it’s a fun thing to do if you’ve never seen ostriches and emus up close before. The general admission entrance fee is $7, $5 for military, and $3 for children 12 and under. It’s an additional $1 to purchase feed for the ostriches and emus.

A sign at OstrichLand USA in Buellton, CA that says "Feed this bad boy!"
Ostriches roaming the grounds at OstrichLand USA in Buellton, CA.

Dinner

To wrap up the day, head to Bar Le Côte in Los Olivos for a delicious seafood-focused dinner. Bar Le Côte is the sister restaurant of Bell’s, so you know it’s going to be good. They focus on central coast seafood and Spanish-inspired flavors and we’ve loved every thing we’ve gotten there. They’re open all day from 12-8:30pm so it’s a great place for lunch too if you opt for dinner elsewhere. (If you’d rather go for a tasting menu dinner, I’d opt to have lunch at Bar Le Côte, then head to Bell’s for dinner).

Uni at Bar Le Cote in Los Olivos, CA
A clam dish at Bar Le Cote in Los Olivos, CA

For Longer Weekend Stays in the Santa Ynez Valley

If you’re staying in the Santa Ynez Valley for a full weekend, take things at a leisurely pace and walk through the towns to find more hidden gems. Los Olivos has lots of tasting rooms scattered throughout downtown, as well as galleries and stores with fun finds (like Los Olivos General Store).

There’s also no shortage of good things to eat. Try S.Y. Kitchen for Italian food, Hitching Post 2 for the delicious Santa Maria style barbecue, and Full of Life Flatbread for wood-fired pizza.

You can also find amazing mini cupcakes from Enjoy Cupcakes which has two locations: one within Sarloos and Sons in Los Olivos so you can do a wine tasting with a 6-piece cupcake flight, and their own shop in Buellton which also has bagels, cakes and more.

About 20 minutes north of Los Olivos is Presqu’ile Winery which is also worth a visit. They have a wine and food tasting experience that we highly recommend – it’s one of our absolute favorites. Their wines are great, and the food paired with the wine showcases the best of the central coast and of their on-site garden.

The Santa Ynez Valley is truly a gem in California and makes for the perfect weekend getaway.

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