Despite its acclaimed grapevines and the undeniable beauty of its sun-soaked hills, Santa Ynez Valley has somehow never achieved the same worldwide fame as its distant northern cousins Napa and Sonoma. Now, half a century since commercial wine cultivation began, this central California community of vineyards and farmland is getting a cosmopolitan upgrade thanks to homegrown businesses and an influx of restauranteurs, entrepreneurs, and other dreamers moving up from Los Angeles two hours away. Just 35 miles inland from Santa Barbara’s dramatic coastline, Santa Ynez is a charming, uncrowded region where you can stay in a stylishly refurbished motel, pick up vintage curiosities, or simply sip pinot noir.
Once dubbed “Lost Almost,” the former stagecoach outpost Los Alamos (no relation to New Mexico's nuclear version) is now the Valley’s fastest-changing town. New eateries are elevating the food scene to that of a much bigger city. Newcomer Pico, for example, playfully pairs fried quail with quinoa waffles, and grilled pork belly with fermented peaches. The hotel scene is also seeing upgrades. A mid-century motor court was reborn as the hip Alamo Motel, complete with an Adirondack chair-encircled fire pit and a wine tasting room. Or, stop by the unpretentious tasting room of Casa Dumetz Wines, and winemaker Sonja Magdevski can point you in the right direction for your next winery stop, like the 2014-opened Frequency Wine Company.
Solvang, not content to rest on its quaint laurels, has seen cool newcomers such as the Landsby, a 41-room boutique hotel inspired by contemporary Scandinavian design; hyperlocal Bacon & Brine; and the al fresco Copenhagen Sausage Garden.
And in Buellton, hometown of award-winning Ascendant and Brothers Distillery and Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co., you’ll find the new-ish Industrial Eats, which despite its name serves handmade dishes sourced from local produce—such as fennel sausage pizza and smoked pheasant—as well as offering butchery workshops.