Scouting: Santa Ynez Valley, California

I visited a winery for the first time when I was in college (the Finger Lakes are known for wine production) and it’s been love ever since, up to and including our honeymoon trip to Napa four years ago. Mike and I bought a few bottles for celebratory occasions – some of which we still have - and continue to take home ‘souvenirs’ whenever we taste something great. It’s a fun way to remember a trip months after you’re back home.

Santa Ynez Valley, California  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Santa Ynez Valley, California | Image: Laura Messersmith

So, when we received an invitation to a wedding in the Santa Ynez Valley – home of Santa Barbara’s wine country - we knew we had to tack on a few extra days for some ‘scouting.’ The valley is about 2 hours north of Los Angeles (depending on traffic, of course) and about 30 minutes east of Santa Barbara. Alternate time behind the wheel so you can take in the gorgeous vistas as you drive over the mountains from the coast - beautiful!

We found some great places during our long weekend and after the hustle of Manhattan it felt so restful to be in the country for a few days. We’d love to go back!

Here’s what we did:


Hotel Corque I personally love to see a place on foot (you can take the girl out of the city…) and this hotel is right in the heart of Solvang, so it was easy to walk the town right from the front door. Service was hospitable; our room was very comfortable and immaculately clean, so top points there. Definitely a solid choice as a base of operations.


Solvang, California  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Solvang, California | Image: Laura Messersmith


Wineries! There are a ton of options, both in the countryside and among the tasting rooms in Los Olivos and Solvang. Here are two where we particularly liked the wine and the tasting experience: Beckmen Vineyards and Stolpmann Vineyards Tasting Room. Yes, we brought home 'souvenirs.'

Los Olivos I loved the Western frontier town vibe here, even though Los Olivos has been on the map for more than 150 years. The architecture is a charming mix of Victorian gingerbread and prairie tin roof. Plan to spend a day or so wandering the streets and investigating the shops, - Los Olivos General Store was my absolute favorite, one of everything please! – visiting the tasting rooms, and browsing the art galleries.

Solvang feels like a storybook Nordic village was dropped into the California countryside and has the claim to fame of being the setting for the movie Sideways. It’s a mix of Scandinavian influences, but I think the Danish have a slight advantage…. Lots of picture taking opportunities – windmills, nesting stork statues, and whimsical architectural details.

Wildling Museum in Solvang is a small museum, but had two excellent and completely different exhibitions on during my visit. I loved both Thomas Paquette’s luminous landscape paintings of National Parks and Everett Ruess’s rustic woodblock prints of the California wilderness.

Santa Ynez Valley, California  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Santa Ynez Valley, California | Image: Laura Messersmith


Bouchon we drove over to Santa Barbara one evening for a special dinner here and really enjoyed the dining experience. The food was delicious and the service was attentive and welcoming. Definitely try the scallops three ways and the lemon blue berry upside down cake – amazing!

Fresco Valley Café is tucked away off the main street, but well worth the few extra steps. We had a lovely, relaxing lunch in their garden (quiche Lorraine for me, Italian sandwich for Mike) one afternoon. The food is definitely fresh, as the restaurant name would suggest, and skillfully prepared. I did (begrudgingly) share a bite of my quiche but it was hard to give up.

Old Mission Santa Inés, Solvang, California  I Image:  Laura Messersmith

Old Mission Santa Inés, Solvang, California I Image: Laura Messersmith

Olsens Danish Village Bakery is a family owned, casual café and bakery where I picked up a quick breakfast of pastries our first morning. Apricot Danish for me, savory ham and cheese croissant for Mike; and I dearly wished I had a purchased seconds. Really flaky, light pastry and a delicious, not overly sweet filling with whole pieces of apricot. I didn’t share…

Paula’s Pancake House seems to be a Solvang institution and I can see why it’s a favorite for both locals and visitors. I have high standards and I loved the thin, slightly lemony flavor of Paula’s Special Danish pancakes with strawberries. Mike was really happy with the California Special Omelet he had – excellent flavor, nice fresh avocado. Classic diner with a Danish twist.

Sides Hardware and Shoes Don’t let the name fool you; this is an excellent restaurant in Los Olivos that you absolutely must try. Sides is rocking that fine line between casual and polished both in their food and in the atmosphere. We can attest to the deliciousness of the Fried Brussels Sprouts, Fried Chicken Sandwich, and the Bacon Burger. An excellent spot to stop between wine tastings.

Solvang, California  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Solvang, California | Image: Laura Messersmith

Los Olivos, California  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Los Olivos, California | Image: Laura Messersmith