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The Santa Ynez Mountains are mostly famous for the stunning Santa Barbara coastline, where they meet the sea. But the real hidden gem of this region is tucked away on the other side – the Santa Ynez Valley.
The Santa Ynez Valley is a part of California wine country. Its many rolling hills and mild climate are ideal for vineyards, earning the region an American Viticultural Association (AVA) designation. Visiting some of the beautiful wineries is a top thing to do here, but that’s not all.
There are all kinds of unique things travelers can do and see here: a whole town that looks like it was transported from old Denmark, an ostrich farm, and a Native American-run casino are a few of the best. That’s not to mention the host of historical sites to visit, the endless hiking and recreation in the mountains, and the Pacific Ocean beaches just a few miles away.
The valley isn’t huge, and you should be able to visit all the attractions easily from any accommodation within it. But there are some really interesting places to stay around here, so you’ll want to be sure to pick the best one for you! Below, we’ll take a look at some of the local towns, as well as some of the great Santa Ynez Valley hotels in each of them.
- TL;DR – Our Favorite Accommodation in The Santa Ynez Valley
- Areas to Choose within The Santa Ynez Valley
- Where to Stay in The Santa Ynez Valley
- 1. Solvang: Best Area for First-Timers/Tourists
- 2. Buellton: Best Area for Families
- 3. Santa Ynez: Best for Adults or Solo Travelers
- 4. Los Olivos: Best for Luxury Travelers
- Is Santa Ynez worth visiting?
- How far is Santa Ynez from the beach?
- How many days should you stay in Solvang?
TL;DR – Our Favorite Accommodation in The Santa Ynez Valley
|Luxury Hotel||The Inn at Mattei’s Tavern||Los Olivos||Historic; Great Restaurant; Beautiful Pool; High-End Amenities|
|Mid-Range Hotel||Chumash Casino Resort||Santa Ynez||Casino; Great Pool; Spa|
|Budget Hotel||King Frederik Inn||Solvang||Danish Theme; Free Breakfast; Swimming Pool; Central Location|
|Vacation Rental||Charming 3-bedroom House||Santa Ynez||Very Large; Washer/Dryer; Quiet but Convenient Location|
Areas to Choose within The Santa Ynez Valley
- Best area for first-timers/tourists – Solvang
- Best area for families – Buellton
- Best area for adults/solo travelers – Santa Ynez
- Best area for luxury travelers – Los Olivos
Where to Stay in The Santa Ynez Valley
1. Solvang: Best Area for First-Timers/Tourists
First up is perhaps the best-known town of the Santa Ynez Valley: Solvang, also known as the “Danish village of California.” While the origins of Solvang come from a Spanish settlement, a group of Danish Americans from the Midwest purchased thousands of acres of land here in the early 1900s in an effort to create a little community for themselves.
That’s where the quaint Danish architecture that the town is famous for comes from. You’ll find cobblestone streets, timbered houses, and windmills among the Danish bakeries and Scandinavian-named businesses. There aren’t a ton of Danish people still living here today, but the uniqueness of Solvang makes it a top destination in America among Scandinavian travelers who want to see the place.
Besides wandering the picturesque streets, curious travelers can visit the Elverhøj Museum of History & Art to learn more about the Danish heritage of Solvang. There’s also a museum dedicated to Danish author Hans Christian Andersen and his work, as well as a beautiful park named after him. The Spanish origins of Solvang can be explored at the Old Mission Santa Ines, which dates to 1804.
Of course, the many wineries and vineyards of the Santa Ynez Valley are at Solvang’s doorstep and are easily visited from here. These are the activities and attractions that should be on your radar in this town:
- Explore the Danish scenery; an audio tour can be downloaded to guide you around
- Learn more at the Elverhøj Museum of History & Art
- Appreciate the work of a famous Danish author at the Hans Christian Andersen Museum, or take a stroll through the park named after him down the road
- Visit the Old Mission Santa Ines from 1804 to understand the Spanish origins of the town
- Explore some of the wineries and vineyards of the valley; there are plenty of guided wine-tasting tours with transportation available from Solvang
- Check out the Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum
- Don’t miss the artisanal and traditional Danish eateries in town, like Olsen’s Danish Village Bakery; there is also a food and photo tour to make sure you hit the best spots
Needless to say, Solvang is a place to visit in the Santa Ynez Valley whether you plan to stay here or not. But some of the most special and romantic hotels in the valley are here. These are some of the best Solvang hotels:
- Best Budget Hotels:
- Best Mid-Range Hotels:
- Best Luxury Hotels:
See Related: Things to Do in California & Places to Visit
2. Buellton: Best Area for Families
Buellton is literally a five-minute drive west of Solvang and is another small town. Therefore, it’s easy to visit one from the other, so don’t take our categorization too strictly.
But we’re naming Buellton best for families because of some of the super-fun adventures you can have here, in case Danish stuff gets boring for the younger ones. Plus, there are more “standard” hotels here that make sense for families rather than the quirky boutique hotels of Solvang, in case you need connecting doors or larger suites.
One of the awesome activities found in Buellton is Ostrichland USA, which is exactly what it sounds like! Visitors to this exotic farm can see the giant birds up close, feed them, hold giant eggs, and learn all about the very special ostrich species. And in the mountains just outside Buellton, there are adventure courses, ziplines, humvee trails, and other outdoor fun.
Don’t hesitate to make the quick hop to Solvang to see all the great things there we discussed, plus go out to the vineyards just minutes away. If you aren’t road-tripping and need a car, RentalCars.com can make sure you get the best deal at your arrival airport or city. But while in Buellton, whether you’re with kids or not, consider these fun things:
- See giant birds and learn something new at Ostrichland USA
- Go on a zipline adventure through the treetops of the Santa Ynez Mountains
- Take on ropes, ladders, and obstacles on an exciting adventure park course
- Dine at the famous Pea Soup Andersen’s Inn (you can tell what the famous dish is)
- See something unique at Mendenhall’s Museum of Gasoline Pumps & Petroliana
- Wander around the Santa Ynez Valley Botanic Garden
Buellton might be small, but don’t count it out as a place to visit or a place to stay. If you do decide to make this your spot in the Santa Ynez Valley, here are some of the best hotels in Buellton:
- Best Budget Hotels:
- Best Mid-Range Hotels:
- Best Luxury Hotel: Santa Ynez Valley Marriott
See Related: Best Resorts & Hotels With Animals On-Site
3. Santa Ynez: Best for Adults or Solo Travelers
On the other hand, the town of Santa Ynez is just 5 minutes down the road from Solvang in the other direction, and it happens to have some of the best hotels for adults in the area. That’s thanks to some high-end, traditional, and entertaining accommodations.
One of Santa Ynez town’s most notable landmarks is the Chumash Casino Resort, which is operated by Chumash Mission Indians thanks to the area’s status as a reservation. Obviously, a casino isn’t a kid-friendly environment, but adults who want to pull slots, play cards, and down drinks have the perfect place at this resort. There’s also a beautiful swimming pool and a tranquil spa.
The Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum & Parks-Janeway Carriage House is a place in downtown for more history, including a collection of old carriages and displays on old western life in the US. It’s just steps from some of the best dining in Santa Ynez – Brothers Restaurant at the Red Barn and Dos Carlitos Restaurant & Tequila Bar are two popular places.
Santa Ynez is also very close to a lot of wineries, making this a great place to stay for easy access to the vineyards, whether you’re self-driving or taking a tour. Here are some of the best things to do in this town:
- Play (and hopefully win!) at Chumash Casino
- Explore frontier history at the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum & Parks-Janeway Carriage House
- Visit some of the wineries at the doorstep of downtown: Gainey Vineyard, Brave & Maiden Estate, and Kalyra Winery are a few
- Go just a bit further for even more wineries with stunning scenery and tasty sips: Two Wolves Wine, Happy Canyon Vineyard, Grassini Family Vineyards & Winery, Crown Point Vineyards…
Santa Ynez is a valid (and easy) stop if these sound interesting to you. There isn’t a huge range of accommodations in town (especially when it comes to cheap hotels), but the ones there are great; there are a few more very nice vacation rentals as well if those suit your needs better. The best in town include:
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Chumash Casino Resort
- Best Luxury Hotel: The Genevieve (formerly the Santa Ynez Inn)
- Best Vacation Rental: This Charming 3-bedroom House
See Related: Most Exotic Places in California to Visit
4. Los Olivos: Best for Luxury Travelers
Our final area is, once again, not too distant from anything – Los Olivos is about 10 minutes north of Solvang and even closer to Santa Ynez. We’re designating it as best for luxury travelers thanks to two particular great high-end hotels, lots of places for wine tasting, and artisanal shopping.
The main historical landmark of the town is Mattei’s Tavern. The old railroad to San Luis Obispo that helped build the town terminated right out front of here, and it was the main stagecoach stop for travelers on the road.
During Prohibition, it was the town’s secret gathering place. Today, it’s one of the finest hotels and restaurants in the Santa Ynez Valley.
There are a number of wine-tasting rooms right there in downtown, eliminating the need to drive. Carhartt Family Wines, Saarloos and Sons, and Stolpman Vineyards are just a few options.
However, a trip through the country roads nearby reveals many, many more, plus farms selling locally grown and made products directly from the source. To summarize, enjoy these in Los Olivos:
- Visit, dine in, or stay at Mattei’s Tavern, one of the most historic spots in Los Olivos
- Go tasting room-hopping through town: Carhartt Family Wines, Saarloos and Sons, and Stolpman Vineyards are just a few
- Get out in the more distant vineyards; make this a unique experience by doing a motorcycle sidecar wine tour
- Visit the farm stands and direct-sale vendors for local, organic, and artisanal products
- Kick back at the pool at some of the best hotels and rentals in the valley
Therefore, Los Olivos is a great place to pass through if you want convenient wineries, great food, and some interesting history. But if you prefer to stay in one of the top luxury resorts in the Santa Ynez Valley, go for one of these:
- Best Mid-Range Vacation Rental: Sweet Queen Retreat in Downtown Los Olivos
- Best Luxury Vacation Rental: Modern Wine Country Home with Pool, Spa, & Sauna
- Best Luxury Hotels:
Is Santa Ynez worth visiting?
The Santa Ynez Valley is unquestionably worth visiting if you like wine, are interested in seeing America’s Danish village, want to try fun mountain activities, and like unique experiences. Santa Ynez town is specifically worth visiting if you like casino games.
How far is Santa Ynez from the beach?
From Santa Ynez town, it’s about a 30-minute drive to the nearest beach in Gaviota. Buellton is the closest town in the Santa Ynez Valley to the beach, just 15 minutes away.
How many days should you stay in Solvang?
Solvang is a small town that you can easily walk around and explore in a day. However, add more time if you want to do activities like wine tasting, vineyard tours, Ostrichland USA, and mountain activities.
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- About the Author
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Woodrow is a travel writer who wants to do and see just about everything. He’s been to 40+ countries, all 50 US states plus Puerto Rico and the USVI, and is currently living in France and exploring Europe. Woodrow is an expert in travel hacking, finding bargain flights, and coined the term “upgrade engineering” referring to his talent to upgrade simple hotel room bookings into suite stays. Woodrow loves SCUBA diving, fishing, and all things aviation.