This is the first year that both my daughters are in college, which makes the holiday time even more special. I’ve been looking forward to having our house full again since move-in day in September, so when we realized midweek that all four of us were free for the weekend, we knew we wanted to go somewhere fun together. We didn’t want to drive too far and we wanted somewhere cozy with holiday lights and good food.
We found the perfect spot — the Santa Ynez Valley. With less than a two-hour drive from L.A., we reached our family weekend escape nestled amid the majestic Santa Ynez and San Rafael Mountains. As we drove along roads dotted with chaparral and oak trees and past acres of vineyards, we felt like we were transported to another world.
There is something so charming about being in the Santa Ynez Valley during this time of year. The vast landscape of vineyards is speckled with rich red, orange and gold, the weather is sunny but brisk and the quaint antique shops, boutiques and restaurants are aglow with holiday lights and decorations.
Our first stop was the enchanting town of Los Olivos, which centers around an iconic flagpole. You’ll find Victorian homes, adorable shops and restaurants, horse trails, lavender farms, orchards and vineyards.
We drove through the countryside and visited a few vineyards including Firestone Vineyard (www.firestonewine.com) and Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard (www.fessparker.com ). What’s great about these vineyards is that they are all family-friendly. In addition to wine tasting, the grounds are spectacular and perfect for a family picnic. Some wineries also offer books and toys for kids, as well as juice boxes and lawn games.
We then headed to Solvang. It had been many years since I visited this Santa Barbara County town founded by Danish Americans. I was pleasantly surprised to find hip new restaurants, wine tasting rooms and inns among the traditional and still-sweet windmills, turrets, cupolas, bakeries and souvenir shops. We stayed at a cute little inn right at the heart of Solvang. The Hamlet Inn (www.thehamletinn.com) is walking distance to all the restaurants and shops in town. We also took one of their free bikes for a spin around town.
Just down the street is the Landsby (www.thelandsby.com) a new boutique hotel with lots of contemporary charm. We ducked into its white-walled lobby decorated with twinkling lights after dinner to warm up with a cup of hot chocolate. As we heard one of our favorite holiday songs, “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” we felt like we had walked into a magical storybook for the weekend.
As we headed home on Sunday afternoon after having our traditional Danish pancakes, gourmet chocolates and buying a bottle of wine from a local vineyard, I was reminded again why I love living in L.A. There is so much to see and do within a short drive. The Santa Ynez Valley with it’s six communities of Ballard, Buellton, Los Alamos, Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, and Solvang gave us that perfect change of pace we all needed—rustic charm, gorgeous scenery, good food, quaint shops and most importantly a chance for us to connect and make family memories.
For more information on the Santa Ynez valley, visit www.visitsyv.com.