Darby's Destinations Luxury Travel - Italy

The American Riviera: California's Santa Ynez Valley

Wine, gastronomy, and dolce vita in the American Riviera

February 17, 2023

Located between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the San Rafael Mountains, California's Santa Ynez Valley is one of the world's great wine regions. With its Mediterranean climate, chic towns, and proximity to the golden beaches of central California, it’s little wonder that the Santa Ynez Valley is regarded as the American Riviera.

Santa Ynez Valley wines

The Santa Ynez Valley contains the highest concentration of vineyards in California's Santa Barbara County. Furthermore, it constitutes the largest American Viticultural Area (AVA).

The sweltering summer heat juxtaposed with brisk winters and a coastal environment means that a diverse assortment of cool and hot-climate grapes may be cultivated. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Sauvignon Blanc are the signature varieties in the region. However, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, and Merlot are also represented.

Across the region, there are around 120 wineries, vineyards, and tasting rooms most of which are family-owned boutique wineries.

A number of these welcome walk-ins while others, such as Rusack Vineyards require advance reservations. Meanwhile, others – such as Grassini Family Vineyards – are restricted to those with Wine Club membership.

Towns of Santa Ynez Valley

Beyond the wineries, the towns of Ballard, Buellton, Los Alamos, Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, and Solvang are full of unique charm.

The namesake town has a sophisticated cowboy feel with period-style facades and upscale saloon bars. Gainey Vineyard, Brave & Maiden Estate, Kalyra Winery, CrossHatch Winery, and Sunstone Winery are sited on the periphery of town. The Santa Ynez Inn is a luxurious property with a garden, in-room fireplaces, and a spa.

Established in 1911, Solvang is modeled on a traditional Danish village complete with windmills, bakeries, and Scandinavian-inspired restaurants. The Hans Christian Andersen Museum is dedicated to the writer who brought us some of the greatest fairy tales. Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards and Casa Cassara Winery & Vineyard are conveniently located in town while the boutique Landby Hotel is styled with European decor and soaking tubs.

For natural wines, head to the westernmost town of Los Alamos and order a flight at Lo-Fi Wines.

Santa Ynez Valley gastronomy

Where there is exquisite wine, exceptional food always follows. The Santa Ynez Valley is no different. The six towns each make their own contribution to the wine region’s culinary scene.

Dishes range from homemade ravioli at Trattoria Grappolo to Michelin-starred French fare at Bell's. Danish æbleskivera (pancake balls stuffed with jelly) at the Solvang Restaurant is a must-try. Channeling the spirit of California, ocean-fresh oysters and Santa Barbara sea urchin are on the menu at Bar Le Côte while The Willows specializes in premium steak and red meat.

Best time to visit Santa Ynez Valley

There is no bad time to visit the Santa Ynez Valley. Spring and summer see the warmest temperatures (surpassing 92°F in July and August) as well as a slew of cultural events. During winter, the area experiences lows of 38°F and highs of 66°F while sporadic rainfall in fall is responsible for the lush greenery of later seasons.

There’s no need to travel as far as Europe, South America, or New Zealand to taste the finest wines. Contact me today to plan your bespoke Santa Ynez Valley winery getaway.

Ready to embark on your own journey to the extraordinary?