Santa Ynez is for relaxing wine getaways & meeting new wine friends.
From Los Angeles, Santa Barbara County is about a two hour (depending on traffic) drive. From the busy, bumper to bumper city, just 90 miles away you’ll find yourself in Santa Ynez—just one of several small, quaint little areas nestled in this wine region. Think wide open spaces, rolling hills, trees, and a town so tiny you can easily walk to everything.
There are over 120 wineries in the Santa Ynez Valley, so it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure where to even start. Numerous hotels and restaurants have local guides and maps, so for this trip we decided to go with our lovely B&B’s recommendations.
Where we stayed in Santa Ynez:
For Friends Inn was a wonderful, comfortable stay. It’s situated in the heart of Santa Ynez, with an easy walking distance to several tasting rooms (Carr Winery is great!) and restaurants (Brothers Restaurant at the Red Barn is literally right next door). Depending on what time of year you stay, prices can seem a little steep. However, the value is excellent and worth every penny! They even give you a “Friendship Pass” which not only gives you recommendations, some of the participating wineries and restaurants offer great discounts and complimentary wine tastings.
Breakfast is included each morning and coffee is available 24/7. The main lobby, which you enter from the quaint front porch, looks as if you walked into your great-aunt’s living/dining room (without any unpleasant mothball aroma;). Comfortable furniture, little cozy fireplace, a wooden dining table where you’ll chat with other guests at breakfast and the fun happy hour they have daily—all make this lovely B&B such a wonderful place to stay.
The daily happy hour included a complimentary white or red wine, dessert wine, and either fresh baked cookies, oat bars, or brownies (or whatever the awesome gals who run the kitchen decide to make each morning) was just another perk and opportunity to chat with other guests. There are only 8 guest rooms, so the entire weekend had a quiet, almost secluded feel. Everyone, from the friendly staff, to the few other couples we met, made you feel as if you were catching up with old friends.
I encourage you to skip the larger chain hotels and try this place! One of the couples we chatted with stated it was their fifth time visiting, and we hope to become regulars as well. We didn’t get a chance to meet Dave, the owner, but he was super helpful and friendly via phone and sounded just like an old friend who is happy to have you staying with him.
Note: This B&B is perfect for adult couples who want a peaceful, quiet stay in wine country. If you must travel with children under 21, or like a party/late night atmosphere, For Friends Inn won’t be the right fit for you. I’d be sure to read their Kids at FFI policy.
Only have time for one or two tastings? Start at Carr Winery:
From our Friendship Pass recommendation, and within close walking distance, we headed to Carr Winery — where we were warmly greeted by Nicole, the tasting room manager (who I could’ve chatted with all day!).
Carr’s Philosophy: All of the wines made by Carr are sourced from Santa Barbara County Vineyards and are made in a traditional winemaking style to capture the essence of the grape varietal and region.
We believe the best wines start in the vineyard and pride ourselves on precision farming. Each vineyard is meticulously farmed to produce low yields, hand harvested and farmed using only organic practices.
Our tasting was excellent. Not only was the atmosphere comfortable and relaxed, the warehouse was open and airy. Nicole was super knowledgeable, and made you feel instantly welcome — all while emphasizing owner and winemaker Ryan Carr’s passion as a hands-on grower as well. Carr’s other wine tasting room is located in downtown Santa Barbara, about a 40 minute drive from the Santa Ynez location — which also serves as their storage facility, where all of the wine gets waxed and bottle aged. We ended up purchasing the 2016 Sauvignon Blanc and the Paredon 2011 Grenache.
The Sauvignon Blanc ($22) was light and bright — full of floral, and subtle lemon notes. The acidity was present but not overpowering, enticing sip after sip. Excellent and humbly priced.
The Paredon Grenache ($40) was medium-full bodied, with smooth dark fruit, and a bit of earthiness. Such a nice mouthfeel without being too big. You won’t find this bottle on their website, as it was a limited release. So, hurry! Go visit the tasting room and ask Nicole if they have any left!
Where to eat in Santa Ynez:
Sy Kitchen! It’s a foodie happy place. Make reservations, they get busy early. Just go. Trust me. So. Good.
Santa Barbara County Fun Facts
Santa Barbara county is known for their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which happen to be the most planted grape varieties in the region— followed by Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah.
Over 77,000 acres and 60 different wine grape varieties are planted in the Santa Ynez Valley.
In the 2004 movie Sideways, Miles & Jack take a road trip through Santa Ynez wine country. Because Miles hated Merlot and raved about Pinot Noir, it made a true impact on the U.S. wine market: Merlot sales dropped 2% while Pinot Noir sales increased 16%.
Exotic Wine Travel’s Sipping Santa Barbara e-book is an excellent resource. It’s available via Amazon for only $7.99 and is full of information from specific AVA’s, recommended producers, to where to eat, etc. Due to my time being limited, I focused on everything walking distance from For Friends Inn. Next time I visit, with hopefully much more time, I’ll dive deeper into this book.
If you like full bodied reds, Beckman Vineyards’s 2015 Cuvee Le Bec 43% Grenache, 35% Syrah, 14% Mourvedre, 8% Counoise, was wonderful.
Cheers, wine friends…