The Santa Ynez Valley, located about 30 miles north of Santa Barbara, seems like the perfect place to rent a cozy house and spend a week getting as lazy (or active) as desired.
Delightful towns such as Solvang, Santa Ynez, and Los Olivos offer unique architecture, gourmet food, tasting rooms and much more. For active types, hiking, horseback riding, biking, golfing and other activities are available in the area. There are also lavender fields, miniature horse ranches and ostrich farms to visit.
The heart surely gets a jolt of vitality when setting foot on this beautiful area. The towns, the offerings are great. However, let’s not forget we are referring to a valley.
The chain of mountains encircling the region creates a landscape worthy to be admired. The undulating hills are always changing because of the movement of the sun and the seasons.
All this splendor cannot be observed in detail from a freeway. We must take the backroads to discover the soul of the region.
I have visited the valley several times. Lately, I have decided to take things slow and enjoy the scenery. My best ally in this undertaking is a detailed map of the area (get one at a visitor’s center in Santa Barbara or Solvang). Locals are also very open to share suggestions too.
Santa Ynez Valley Backroads
Here is an idea of how to fill several days with stretch roads surrounded by imposing mountains.
From Santa Barbara, you can arrive at the valley using Highway 101 and exiting in the town of Buellton. I have to say this is a nice road with the Pacific Ocean at one side ant the Santa Ynez Mountains at the other.
However, the prettier, and even shorter, way to arrive in the valley is using Route 154. The route will take you thru amazing ocean vistas, the San Marcos Pass, designated areas to take a look at Los Padres National Forest, ranches and Cachuma Lake Recreation Area.
I cannot recommend this route more. I am sure you are going to love it.
Route 154 connects with Route 246 which is the main road to move throughout the major towns in the valley. I am not sure if this road can be considered a backroad (and in some way you are obligated to transit it during your visit).
All I know is even the “big” connecting road in the area can be taken in a chilling mood. Other than connecting Santa Ynez, Solvang, Buellton and Lompoc, the road is great to observe the mountains, lavender farms, flower fields, and vineyards. Oh, keep your eyes open, at the most undeveloped parts of the road, for wildlife.
California-1 to Lompoc
One day, instead of connecting to the valley using the Highway 101, I took California-1 (which some call Pacific Coast Highway even though only part of the road is technically called like that) to Lompoc.
This sinuous road afforded me vistas of the Santa Rita Hills, cattle grazing on green pastures and fast moving creeks. Plus, you can check some of the few attractions Lompoc offers (murals, tastings and a Mission). It is easy to connect back to Route 246 and continue exploring the valley.
Alamo Pintado Road
This is a slim, two-lane road connecting Solvang to Los Olivos. This street presents a clear idea of how the people in the valley live. It is possible to take a look at residential areas and parks.
Even though this is a short road, it may be difficult to decide how to tackle the numerous farm stands, vineyards, and ranches (stop for a look at the miniature horses). Also, it is interesting to take a short deviation to see Ballard’s Red School House, in daily use since 1883.
This is another slender, lovely road. The main attraction here is Bridlewood, a winery with a hint of an amusement park. The architecture of the buildings follows a California Mission style.
Climbing to the top of the bell tower is allowed. Views of the vineyards, plantations, oaks, and mountains can be admired from this high point. There are also tables and chairs next to a lake that can be used for picnics.
Foxen Canyon Road or Trail
It is easy to connect to the Foxen Canyon Road from the town of Los Olivos. Alternatively, take the Zaca Station Road from the 101 Freeway and then, connect to the Foxen Canyon Road.
This artery is the dream of true wine lovers because of the many vineyards and tasting rooms you will encounter along the way.
If you decide to explore, stop by places such as Andrey Murray, Fess Parker, Demetria, Zaca Mesa, and Riverbench. Take short detours to visit Rancho Sisquoc and Kenneth Volk. The road ends in the city of Santa Maria.
Most properties allow visitors to picnic on the grounds. Come prepared!
Santa Rosa Road
The Santa Rosa Road runs along the Santa Ynez River and allows you to drive through part of the famous Santa Rita Hills (a unique American Viticultural Area).
Connect to the road from the town of Buellton (Avenue of Flags turns into Santa Rosa Road) or from the 101 Freeway.
In this area, you will find places like Mosby, Lafond, Sanford, and D’Alfonso-Curran.
Take a break at the Santa Rosa Park.
Drum Canyon Road
Drum Canyon Road is a scenic way to reach the town of Los Alamos (instead of taking the freeway).
Los Alamos has gained fame for its culinary delights. If you visit, make room on your stomach for pizza, tacos, bread, and pastries.
There are still more backroads that I need to explore. Next time, I have planned to explore the following:
- Ballard Canyon Road
- Refugio Road
- Harris Grade Road
I don’t think I will be done discovering the small roads of the Santa Ynez Valley. I am happy with that. I need excuses to keep visiting.
Santa Ynez Valley Location
The Santa Ynez Valley is located 34 to 40 miles from Santa Barbara. It can be visited in combination with Santa Barbara or on its own (it has enough attractions to keep visitors busy).
The closest international airport is located in Los Angeles. There is an airport in Santa Barbara but flights are limited due to its small size.
It is best to tour the region with a car. Buses and trains offer limited coverage. Another option is to book a tour from Santa Barbara. However, this last option does not afford a lot of flexibility.
More of the Santa Ynez Valley
I have written extensively about the Santa Ynez Valley and its town. My articles are a great resource for trip planning.
Solvang Bakeries and Sweet Treats
Solvang Wineries and Tasting Rooms
If you are interested in exploring more of Santa Barbara County, check out my article with 200+ ideas.
Places to Visit in Santa Barbara
More of Southern California
Get inspiration by reading my Los Angeles Ultimate Bucket List
Ultimate San Diego Bucket List
150+ Places to Go in Orange County
What are your favorite backroads? Do you have one on the Santa Ynez Valley?
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