Solvang and the Santa Ynez Valley

Solvang and the Santa Ynez Valley
For a taste of Europe without the pricey plane ticket, visit the Central Coast city of Solvang. Located thirty miles north of Santa Barbara, this genial town makes a nice base for exploring the wineries of the vineyards of the Santa Ynez valley. There’s a great deal to see within the city limits as well.

Solvang was established in 1911 by a group of immigrants from Denmark eager to re-create a bit of their homeland in California. Much of the architecture is based on a Danish style, with half-timbered houses, windmills, a giant clog monument, and statues of Danish icons such as Hans Christian Anderson. Pastry shops offer linzer cookies, butter rings, and of course the ubiquitous Danish pastries; many cafes and restaurants also offer the jam-filled donuts called aebleskiver as well as mixes and accessories for those who want to try making them at home. In addition to sweets, visitors can sample wine and beer at the 20 tasting rooms within the city limits. It’s also fun to simply stroll the streets, wandering in and out of the various businesses.

Right outside the downtown area lies the Old Mission Santa Inez, founded in 1804. The 19th of the 21 missions connecting San Diego with Sonoma, it served one of the communities built by Spanish missionaries in California. Although the mission was secularized in 1835, it became the home of the first Catholic seminary in the state nine years later. As is true with many of the California missions, Santa Inez fell into disrepair after California seceded from Mexico; restoration was begun in the early years of the 20th century. Today, visitors can tour the museum and view the various artifacts from early California history.

A short drive from Solvang brings the visitor to the Santa Ynez Valley, AVA, or American Viticultural Area. This is the largest wine-growing region in Santa Barbara County, made famous by the movie Sideways. The area is famous for Chardonnay and Merlot grapes, but there are many other wine grapes that are also successfully grown in the area. Firestone Winery, established in 1972, is the oldest in the area; their tasting room is located in the hamlet of Los Olivos, 11 miles north of Solvang. Other well-known wineries in the area include Gainey, Fess Parker, and Zaca Mesa. Day tours from Solvang are available for those who would prefer not to drive after tasting.

Clairmont Farms, located just outside of Los Olivos, is a wonderful yet little-known stop for those who love lavender flowers. Visitors can wander the lavender fields dotted with native oaks, discover how the herb is grown, and visit the gift shop for sachets, lotions, and other lavender gifts.

There are many places to stay at a variety of price points, from small motels and inns to major chain resorts. Expedia and Trip Advisor are good places to start when parsing the choices; Solvang and Los Olivos are the largest communities in the area. Those interested in camping may want to drive into the backcountry and pitch a tent at nearby Cachuma Lake. As this is a popular tourist area, it’s advisable to make reservations in advance.

The Central Coast is known for moderate weather, but Solvang and the Santa Ynez Valley are thirteen miles inland. Summers are hot, and winters can be chilly by California standards. Dress appropriately, and be sure to balance the pastries and wine tasting with lots of relaxed strolling!

Old Mission Santa Inez, 1760 Mission Drive, Solvang. (805) 688-4815
Firestone Vineyards Tasting Room, 5017 Zaca Station Road, Los Olivos. (805)688-3940
Gainey Vineyard, 3950 East Highway 246, Santa Ynez. (805)688-0558
Fess Parker Winery, 6200 Foxen Canyon Road, Los Olivos. (805) 688-1545
Zaca Mesa Winery, 6905 Foxen Canyon Road, Los Olivos. (805)688-8796
Clairmont Farms, 2480 Roblar Avenue, Los Olivos. (805)688-7505

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