Mention the quaint town of Solvang to a Southern California local, and they’re likely to picture the loveable Danish village known for Scandinavian-inspired architecture, tiny boutiques, museums, and restaurants dishing out everything from sausage to pancake-like, sphere-shaped aebleskivers. A part of the Santa Ynez Valley and located in Santa Barbara County — just 128 miles from Los Angeles — Solvang draws more than 1.5 million visitors each year, many there to try on clogs, sample pickled herring, and take photos in front of the windmill. Only by taking a closer look at Solvang, and the surrounding communities that make up the Santa Ynez Valley, will you find that when it comes to food and wine in the region, there’s much more than meets the eye.
Where to Stay
An epicurean journey through Santa Ynez starts with the right accommodations. The only resort of its kind in the area, the Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort in Solvang elevates the ranching experience by boasting more than 70 intimate suites and cottages complete with personal fireplaces, and offering a wide range of activities like archery, golfing, swimming, and horseback riding through the picturesque hillsides surrounding the property. Dinner at Alisal’s guests-only restaurant Ranch Room is a must, where chef Pascal Godé, a native of France, has been putting a French and Mediterranean touch on refined American fare and Western-style barbecue since 1994. With Godé set to retire this August, you’ll want to hurry in to try dishes like seared California lamb loin served with freshly puréed local parsnip and a mild lamb and shallot sauce or Maine lobster pot pie topped with a buttery, crisp crust while he’s still in charge.
Where to Eat
There’s more barbecue goodness away from the ranch at the Hitching Post II, a celebrated eatery in Buellton made famous by the wine flick Sideways. Frank Ostini serves as owner and chef of the upscale barbecue restaurant, roasting everything from mushrooms and artichoke to quail, duck, fish, steaks, and chops over an oak grill. Ostini is also co-owner of Hitching Post Winery, barreling superb pinot noir, syrah, and blends that pair perfectly with dishes like the mild New Zealand rack of lamb, marinated in a blend of Cajun spices and garlic.
Of the more than 120 wineries in Santa Ynez Valley, Ballard Canyon’s Stolpman Vineyards is producing some of the region’s more innovative wines, including the summer-friendly Love You Bunches, a carbonically fermented 2016 sangiovese. If you can’t secure time at the Stolpman family’s stunning hilltop private residence to sample their impressive syrah, viognier, and rosé, you can stop by their tasting room in Los Olivos or visit the winery on Lompoc.
Bottlest at the Terravant Wine Company in Buellton has one of the most impressive wine lists you’re likely to find, offering more than 50 wines by the glass and an elaborate tasting station. The facility at Terravant produces more than 300,000 cases of wine for more than 20 vineyards and wine brands, many of which can be sampled over dinner at Bottlest. This is where you come if you want to taste some of the finest wine in the region, all under one roof.
Carhartt Vineyard and Winery, a family-owned business known for having the “World’s Smallest Tasting Room,” is located in downtown Los Olivos and produces around 5,000 cases of wine each year, a tiny amount when compared to winemakers in world-renowned Napa and Sonoma to the north. The selection of sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, and syrah at Carharrt, and many of the wineries in the region, is small but mighty. When it comes to Santa Barbara’s top boutique wine producers, they wouldn’t have it any other way.