Photos and story by Ken Amorosano

The oak studded hills and bucolic valleys just northeast of Santa Barbara, California are dotted with quaint towns and charming villages with names like Solvang, Los Olivos, Ballard and Santa Ynez. In between, meandering country roads wind through breathtaking vistas, horse properties, and sun-drenched vineyards, attracting wine lovers and foodies with a flair for the west.

The Vineyard House

In the vintage township of Santa Ynez, it’s sometimes hard to tell if it’s 2016 or 1884. Its period-style, false-front building facades house shops, saloons, feed stores—and random horses hitched to posts. This rather sophisticated cowboy town also boasts plenty of conveniences for modern-day trail riders and day-trippers.  A variety of restaurants serve up delicious fare, from casual burgers, pancakes, and waffles (beloved by locals), to steaks, seafood, regional Italian fare, Latin fusion and locavore cuisine. Modern boutiques and galleries line quaint streets with horseshoe-embedded crosswalks.

Patio Dining

Shopping is a passionately pursued pastime for both locals and visitors. One of our favorite stores, Back At The Ranch, stocks a vast collection of clothing, boots, hats and jewelry to satisfy the wants and needs of every cowgirl. Brothers Restaurant at the Red Barn, SY Kitchen, Trattoria Grappolo, and The Vineyard House serve locally sourced wines and farm-to-table cuisine sure  to satisfy even the most finicky of palates.

Santa Ynez Valley is one of five distinct American Viticultural Areas in Santa Barbara County’s vast wine country; more than 50 varietals thrive in the area’s diverse micro-climates. The unusual east-west orientation of the coastal mountains creates transverse valleys that funnel cool Pacific Ocean air and fog inland during the late afternoon and evening. The resulting hot sunny days and cool nights are a winning combination for both wine grapes and wine tasters.

shops and boutiques

Most of the 120+ wineries located here are small boutique operations and many are family-owned and operated, luring visitors who appreciate the area’s strong rural flavor, world-class wines, and  unpretentious, friendly atmosphere. It’s not unusual to end up chatting with the winemaker or owner—either at the winery or in one of the in-town tasting rooms.

Start your exploration of Santa Ynez with a Google search and a visit to