Angelenos may have to contend with traffic on a daily basis, but in one car-related respect we’re lucky; there are so many cool destinations within a just few hours drive. My husband, kids and I recently took advantage of this and visited the Santa Ynez Valley. Known for farms and wineries, the relaxed, picturesque region is a popular kid-friendly destination (and parents can still enjoy the wine). Our dreamy three-day getaway was the perfect escape from the city and just a two-hour drive from L.A.
The Santa Ynez Valley is made up of six small communities, each with its own charms. There’s Buellton, Solvang, Los Alamos, Ballard, Santa Ynez and Los Olivos, and you can bounce around between them like a pinball, they’re so close. Our first stop as we entered the valley was Los Olivos Lemons, where we sipped gourmet lemonade and wandered through the rustic little community of the same name. Next, we made a quick stop at Solvang’s Quicksilver Miniature Horse Ranch, which the kids loved. There’s no fee to watch tiny horses frolic from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.-Sat. If your kids are into livestock, there is plenty of animal-related sightseeing in the area. Ostrichland USA is another favorite, because who doesn’t want to feed those giant birds? Admission is $5 per adult and $2 for ages 11 and younger, and it’s just $1 to feed the ostrich and emu.
After spending time with the animals, we headed into Scandinavian-themed downtown Solvang for some refreshments. While the kids sampled Danish pastries from Mortensen’s Danish Bakery, one of many in town, my husband and I enjoyed a tasting flight at chic D. Volk Wines. If you’re into wine, you’re in luck, because there are more than 100 wineries in the Santa Ynez Valley. And this is the region to wine taste with kids, because many of these establishments are family friendly.
We stayed at Buellton’s newly renovated Flying Flags RV Resort & Campground. There’s a lot of buzz around this place, for good reason. Accommodations range from RV hook-ups to safari tents, luxe cottages and vintage Airstreams. There’s a restaurant, bar, wine lounge, pools, a park, a fitness center and even a dog run on site. The cottages in the Santa Ynez Guest Ranch area, where we stayed, include a loft bedroom with two twin beds, a master bedroom with a queen-size bed, a bathroom, patio with grill, modern kitchen and flat-screen TVs. Our favorite amenity was the Guest Ranch area’s private pool. If a plush RV resort is not your thing, luxury Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort is nearby. Solvang’s quaint King Frederik Inn is a great option if you’d like to be right in the center of town.
After a restful night at Flying Flags, we visited Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard in Los Olivos, a beautiful 714-acre estate founded by the late actor Fess Parker, who portrayed Davy Crocket in a popular TV series from the 1950s. One of his granddaughters showed us around the working family ranch, and we tasted some of their wines while the kids ran wild on the lawn. If you can’t get enough of farm life, there’s also Buttonwood Winery & Vineyard in Solvang, which offers tours.
But it’s not all farms and ranches in the Santa Ynez Valley, There’s also no shortage of delicious dining options. We enjoyed fish tacos and soft pretzels in Buellton at the Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.. We also hit popular burger joint CHOMP in Solvang for a decadent dinner, where we indulged in pulled-pork nachos and milkshakes among other kid-friendly diner fare.
On our way out of town, we had a classic Solvang breakfast (crepes and waffles!) at the Belgian Cafe and strolled around charming Solvang. Don’t forget to pop into the little Hans Christian Andersen Museum above The Book Loft. Other cool sights include the Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum and the picturesque Old Mission Santa Inés. Children who love fairy tales will be delighted by nearby Sunny Fields Park (900 Alamo Pintado Rd.). Our kids didn’t want to leave the huge, castle-themed playground. If your family is outdoorsy and you’re not too tired yet, consider capping off your visit with a hike at the Nojoqui Falls Trail, off the 101 Freeway south of Buellton (find the trailhead at 3200 South Alisal Road, Nojoqui Falls Park, Gaviota).
The falls will be prettiest in late winter and early spring, but the Santa Ynez Valley is a year-round destination. Many of the wineries and farms have fall festivals and the winters are mild. Visit visitsyv.com to plan your own trip.