As a weekend trip from San Francisco or L.A., Solvang and nearby towns offer unique things to do on a Santa Ynez Valley wine country weekend. Our First Timers Guide to Solvang will help you choose activities and places to dine, stay and shop, throughout the valley and outside of the typical tourist track.
Our six month stay in The Valley gave us an opportunity to experience so much of what this wonderful area has to offer. We got to know local folks and have incorporated some of their suggestions into this First Timers Guide to Solvang along with our own.
Solvang, with its Danish immigrant legacy, has provided visitors with a unique and charming European ambience for decades. More recently, the Santa Ynez Valley has emerged as a popular destination for lovers of good wine and fine food, sophisticated shopping, and upscale accommodations. As a discerning traveler, great options for you are definitely available, even if it takes a bit of sleuthing aside from the ice cream shops and t-shirt stores which cater to busloads of tourists who will have a more kitschy experience.
On your way from Los Angeles, you’ll exit the 101 Freeway at Buellton, just north of Santa Barbara. From there you’ll take Highway 246 to Solvang. From San Francisco, you’ll arrive in the Santa Ynez Valley via Highway 154. In between Buellton and along parallel roads to Route 246 and Highway 154, you’ll encounter several charming small towns in the Santa Ynez Valley: Ballard, Santa Ynez, Los Olivos and Los Alamos.
Each of these towns has a unique atmosphere, yet all were founded in the mid to late 1800s from former stagecoach stops serving land grant ranching operations and the small communities which developed around them. This strong Old West legacy permeates the Santa Ynez Valley lifestyle, flavoring it with relaxed enjoyment. This region has the most impressive sort of sophistication in our book: confident but not imperious, innovative and influential, tempered by a delightful willingness to share with folks who appreciate great food and wine, quality craftsmanship and impeccable hospitality.
Even if you’ve never visited the Santa Ynez Valley, the fact that you’re looking for unique things to do in Solvang most likely means you want to avoid touristy activities and accommodations in favor of experiences that are better tailored to your personal interests. With that in mind, we’ve organized our First Timers Guide to Solvang under four broad categories: accommodations, shopping, food and drink, and touring.
Places to Stay in Solvang and Nearby in the Santa Ynez Valley
Because this area has long been a popular weekend getaway from Los Angeles and San Francisco, there are many options for places to stay in Solvang. Not all of these are created equal, however, particularly on weekends due to the influx of tourist groups. You may be tempted to book with a “name brand” to get a known quantity, but rest assured there are charming options which will deliver a unique, atmospheric and more memorable experience. Here are our recommendations for Santa Ynez Valley hotels which deliver a highly personalized product, perfect for family stays, group retreats, or romantic getaways in Santa Barbara wine country.
Located in the quiet neighborhood where we were housesitting, the Ballard Inn & The Gathering Table restaurant has fifteen individually decorated guest rooms, some with fireplaces and private entrances, rates include cooked to order breakfast. Award-winning Asian French fusion restaurant offers communal and intimate dining with small, sharable plates. 2436 Baseline Avenue, Ballard.
Meadowlark Inn has eighteen rooms and suites, some with hot tubs or kitchens. Arrange for spa services and massages on site, light breakfast in the dining room or al fresco in the garden. 2644 Mission Drive, Solvang.
The Alamo Motel was inspired by the home of Georgia O’Keefe in New Mexico. This renovated motel offers guests an outdoor fire and wine bar among the property’s majestic oaks. Rooms are double queens, single queen or king, some with clawfoot tubs, kitchenettes or suite configurations suitable for families. 425 Bell Street, Los Alamos.
Famed television actor Fess Parker and his family created the 19 room Fess Parker Wine Country Inn and Spa out of the former Grand Hotel in Los Olivos to complement the family wine operation. Renovated in 2012, this Preferred Boutique Property offers daily breakfasts, wine tastings for two, cozy fireplaces in a variety of room and suite configurations On site: gym, heated pool, tranquil spa, and fine dining with ranch-inspired, sustainable menus. 2860 Grand Ave, Los Olivos
Victorian Mansion at Los Alamos features six luxury theme suites in a circa 1864 mansion moved to Los Alamos from Nipomo, CA in 1980. Restored in 2007, the current owner recreated his own childhood experience from family stays decades earlier. Choose 50s, Gypsy, Roman, Egyptian, Pirate or French themes, each with games, music and DVDs to complement. Rated in the Top Ten “Quirky Places to Stay” by TripAdvisor, National Geographic Traveler, and Peter Guttman. 326 Bell Street, Los Alamos.
Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort is a 10,000-acre dude ranch with a storied history, including over 50 miles of riding trails, two 18-hole golf courses and a 100-acre spring-fed lake. Guests can enjoy riding and horsemanship programs, fishing, court sports, spa treatments, and fine dining. Western style accommodations include full breakfast and full dinner, in 73 suites and studios. A very low profile, top-ranked retreat for celebrities such as Clark Gable and Doris Day, the ranch welcomes returning visitors from around the world. No televisions or telephones in the room for an old-fashioned getaway experience tempered with elegant traditions such as dressing for dinner. 1054 Alisal Road, Solvang
Hotel Corque is a boutique hotel in the heart of Solvang designed with luxurious comfort in a classically sophisticated ambience. Over 100 guest rooms including 17 suites and a Presidential Suite, meeting and event space, dining and wine getaway packages. 400 Alisal Road, Solvang
Santa Ynez Inn was designed to meld the elements of a vintage inn with modern luxury boutique conveniences. The inn’s twenty queen, king or suite accommodations are decorated with antiques, some with fireplaces, balconies or patios. Sophisticated and warm hospitality with full gourmet breakfast and local wine parlour service. Spa, sauna and outdoor whirlpool.3627 Sagunto Street, Santa Ynez
Sideways Inn was recently renovated in a fresh, contemporary style, rooms and public spaces feature vintage photography. The vibe is simultaneously rustic and urban. Choose from a variety of configurations – pool, quiet courtyard, balcony, patio – suitable for solo travelers, couples or groups of friends and family. Complimentary continental breakfast and pet friendly options. 114 E. Hwy 246, Buellton
Unique Places to Shop in Solvang and the Santa Ynez Valley
A Piece of the Past Antique and Vintage Mall has more than 25 dealers offer vintage collectibles and furniture in a 4000 sq foot space. Styles ranging from shabby chic to Western and native Americana. Open daily 10:30am-5:30pm. 1430 Mission Drive, Solvang
Romp Shoes features one-of-a-kind jewelry, handbags, and exclusive European footwear collections in a rustic California chic atmosphere. This store intimately connects with its select roster of designers who craft artisan quality footwear, bags, and accessories. Open daily 10am-5pm. 2928 San Marcos Ave, Los Olivos
KJ Murphys Custom Hatter & Mercantile has custom and semi-custom hats handcrafted in pure beaver or blends, fitted with legacy techniques from pioneer days. Choose from Brick Top, Open Slope, Flat Top, Open Road, Pinch, Catalina, Derby, Pinch, Vaquero and Fedora styles for men and women. 3569 Sagunto Street, Santa Ynez
Dennee’s of Santa Ynez is where Mia Dennee-Murphy’s furniture store and concierge design services meld a Western esthetic with California contemporary classics. 3569 Sagunto Street, Santa Ynez
You will find Picket Fences‘ home, gift, and garden goods in a quaint, old-fashioned Parisian-influenced style. Knick-knacks and one-of-a-kind treasures. Open 10:30am-5:30pm. 1588 Mission Drive #3, Solvang.
Olive Hill Farm Tasting Room provides a full spectrum of olive oils, textured and flavored with fruits, herbs, mushrooms, and peppers. Balsamic vinegars, wine vinegars, gourmet specialty foods. Open daily 11-5.. 2901 Grand Avenue, Los Olivos.
Plenty Boutique is laid back with a layer of bohemian edge, clothing, jewelry and home decor collections curated by two friends with the Santa Ynez lifestyle in mind. Open Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun noon-4pm. 1110 Faraday Street, Santa Ynez.
Style Junction offers vintage and new one of a kind women’s designer clothing, accessories, and beauty products, with a U.K. rocker’s edge. Open Wed-Sat 11am-5pm. 2948 Nojoqui Ave Suite Four, Los Olivos
Great Places to Eat and Drink in Solvang and the Santa Ynez Valley
Baker’s Table‘s French recipes are passionately interpreted by Amy Dixon to feed body and soul with fair-trade, local and organic ingredients. Daily breads and pastries include pain au leviain – a long-process rustic sourdough, hand-rolled croissants, house-made scones, cookies and french macarons. Open daily except Mondays 7:30am-2:30pm. 3563 Numancia Street, Santa Ynez
Longhorn Coffee Shop and Bakery is one of the few true cowboy hangouts left in the Santa Ynez Valley. If you like diner counter style food and a bit of familiar old school sass from your server, head here. More pictures of John Wayne than you can shake a stick at, and a well-rounded breakfast and lunch menu. Open daily 6am-1:30pm. 3687 Sagunto Street, Santa Ynez
Bob’s Well Bread was named by Travel and Leisure as one of 15 top small town bakeries. All their wares are hand made from locally sourced ingredients and natural starters. Savory hot breakfasts with French-inspired choices such as pan au chocolat, or a layered egg dish with potato puree, gruyere, creme fraiche, served in a mason jar. Bakery hours: Thu-Mon 7am-6pm. Kitchen closes at 3pm. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 550 Bell Street, Los Alamos.
Ellen’s Danish Pancake House is a family restaurant in business since 1947 with American and Danish specialties. This is your good old-fashioned red checkered tablecloth kind of place with hearty homestyle portions. Danish style pancakes are light and delicate, served European style with fresh fruit and homemade jam. Open daily 6am-8pm except Mondays 6am-2pm. 272 Avenue of the Flags, Buellton
A production bakery during the work week is converted to a restaurant over the weekend serving up starters such as Morro Bay Pacific Gold Oysters on the Half-Shell with Garlic Sausages or Smoked Leek and Miatake Mushroom Polenta along with flatbread specials and Sunday supper entrees. Full of Life Flatbread’s daily flatbreads come in sizes for one or two and include combinations of cheeses, herbs, and vegetables purchased from local family farms. Open Thu-Sat 4:30-9pm. Sun: 11am-2pm, 4-8pm. Closed Mon-Wed. 225 Bell Street, Los Alamos.
The eatery and deli market at the Bell Street Farm features assemble yourself picnic baskets, fresh cuisine featuring local ingredients including rotisserie meats and house-pickled vegetables. Rated #6 in Yelp’s Top 100 Restaurants in the U.S. for 2017. Open Mondays and Thursdays from 11-4, Fri-Sat-Sun 11-5, closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 406 Bell Street, Los Alamos.
Don’t be misled by the strip mall location, A-RU Japanese Restaurant offers classic sushi and tempura offerings are joined with innovative every day entrees which can be ordered individually or in an omakase “chef choice” meal worthy of a special occasion. Open Tues-Fri 11:30am-2pm, 5-9pm. Sat 4-9pm. 225 McMurray Rd, Buellton.
Bottlest is an add-on to the Terravant Winery, a bistro offering live music, artisan cocktails, over 50 wines by the glass and contemporary California seasonal cuisine using locally sourced ingredients and natural meats. Craft your own wine online from start to finish, enjoy and share with friends, or sell in the Bottlest marketplace. Lunch and dinner, small and main plates, cheese and charcuterie boards. 35 Industrial Way, Buellton.
Petros Kafe combines the best aspects of Greek and California cuisine. Petros uses fresh organic farmed vegetables at this location from Los Olivos and imported Greek ingredients. Open Sat-Sun 8am-9:30pm. Mon-Thurs 11am-9:30pm, Friday 11am-10:30pm Sat 8am-10:30pm 487 Atterdag Rd, Solvang
Located in a former warehouse in an industrial park, Industrial Eats is a restaurant and craft butchery serves up what the owners dub “respectfully honest great food” from two wood-fired ovens at communal tables to inspire camaraderie and comfort. Open daily 10am-9pm. 181 Industrial Way, Buellton.
The philosophy at Root 246 is craft-based American cuisine with sustainable ingredients served in an at-home, rustic contemporary atmosphere with an unpretentious informality. Open daily except Monday 4-10pm, Sundays 10am-2pm and 4-10pm. 420 Alisal Rd, Solvang.
Solvang might seem unlikely for a restaurant serving “island Caribbean” cuisine, but locals will tell you Hummingbird Cafe is one of their favorite hidden treasures. Flavors of plantain, coconut, lime, curry and jerk, melded into dine-in, catered, and take-out options, all organic and locally sourced when possible. Open daily except for Wednesdays 11am-5pm 453 Atterdag Rd, Solvang.
We can highly recommend the The Hitching Post II. Everyone at our table agreed (both times) the beef was some of the best they had ever had. Presenting a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence wine list to accompany its hearty menu of oak-grilled steaks and traditional Santa Maria barbecue, this family-owned operation honors its sixty-plus years of tradition with contemporary elements. The result is a packed house with national acclaim. Only open for dinner. Reservations strongly recommended. 406 East Highway 246, Buellton.
It isn’t just all about the beer here, although that’s reason enough to visit the main brewing facility. We wandered in to the Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company to find a carefully curated appetizer and sandwich menu which works perfectly with everything on tap. The small dining space overlooks the spotless brewing area. An impressive number of crafted beers. Open Mon, Thu 4-9pm, Fri-Sat 11am-9pm, Sun 10am-9pm., closed Tues-Wed, 45 Industrial Way, Buellton
Locals will tell you a lot of important Solvang decisions get made at the Alisal River Grill, where the Alisal Guest Ranch’s reputed cuisine is available to the public in a rustic fireside dining room or scenic patio. Authentic barbecue and Western flair distinguish classic California cuisine. Expansive local wine list. Grill: Mon-Thu 8am-3pm, Fri-Sun 7am-3pm. Lounge is open until 5pm. 150 Alisal Road, Solvang
Best Wine Tours in Solvang and the Santa Ynez Valley
A weekend getaway in the Santa Barbara wine country wouldn’t be complete without a tasting tour of Santa Ynez Valley wineries. Choose from a variety of experiences designed to transport you swiftly and safely to the world-class wineries most likely to suit your style.
We thoroughly enjoyed our day with Savoir Faire Wine Tours. Donn and Bill offer a customized experience encompassing tastings, dining experiences and other recommendations. You are transported in air-conditioned vehicles and vans with knowledgeable driver guides who are passionate about this region and its offerings. Event transportation and taxi service also on offer. See our full account of a day with Savoir Faire.
Out of Santa Barbara, Cloud Climbers Jeep Tours provides semi-private tours in casual jeep vehicles transporting you through the Santa Ynez mountain back country to three wineries. Duration: 4-6 hours, includes deli lunch.
How about touring Santa Ynez wine country in the Big Kahuna? Surf’s Up Limo transports you in style in a classic woody stretched to limousine size with a cooler full of drinks on ice and a rockin’ sound system. Per person charges in groups up to 14 cover wine tasting fees and a picnic lunch.
We loved our extended stay in the Solvang area and making new friends during our time there, all of which has helped produce this comprehensive first timers guide of insider tips to the Santa Ynez Valley. You will have a wonderful visit. Cheers to a wonderful time in this charming destination!