Three Days In the Santa Ynez Valley


Consider this beautiful area, just a little over two hours drive north of Los Angeles, for a wonderful weekend — or midweek — getaway

Inside The Winston’s Clocktower Suite

Considering a short getaway for your practice re-entry trip into traveling post-COVID? With a little wine to lubricate any anxiety you might have? Then The Winston in Solvang should definitely be your destination. The “invisible help” hotel minimizes human contact without any loss in service. In fact, their amenities — from the plush robe and slippers to the beautifully designed suites to their comfortable beds — were a sparkling, restful addition to what would prove to be a wine and food packed stay full of beautiful design!

The Clocktower Suite at The Winston’s main sitting room with its unique windows with their deep ledges.

Vistas of chapparal-covered mountains on either side of the 154, were a breathtaking welcome to The Santa Ynez Valley. We looked for the clock tower that heralds The Winston, carved out of a former antique mall. With parking just downstairs, a special access code let us into the hotel and our room. The high vaulted ceilings and clock tower windows, with their deep window seats, were perfect for watching Solvang street life go by.

We’d picked up lunch in Santa Ynez — thick and tasty Lucky Hen Larder sandwiches and a coffee from Queen Cup — which set us up for our first wine-tasting. For most wine tastings in the Santa Ynez Valley, reservations are a must, especially on the weekend. Luckily, when we stopped at nearby Lincourt Winery, they had space available. We sampled a delicious bottle of Gruner Vertliner and enjoyed the sun and the view over Alamo Pintado Vineyard before it was time to head up the 101 to Los Alamos. Could this bucolic road really be the same freeway that plows through Los Angeles? 

The exterior of Pico Restaurant in Los Alamos, the one hundred year old town’s former general store
The food at Pico Restaurant is both beautiful and delicious and well paired with Lumen Wines.

The town of Los Alamos may have been shutting down by the time we arrived but Pico Los Alamos, carved out of a former general store and welcoming a new chef just before closures shut it down last spring, was hopping. And no wonder! Chef John Wayne Formica’s food is both beautiful and delicious. It was accompanied by a selection of wines from Lumen Winery, owned by Will Henry, the restaurant’s proprietor. We sat in long, bucolic garden, shaded by a Pepper tree, enjoying a meal that started on a high note, with a gorgeous and delicious avocado stuffed with ahi tuna, and just kept getting better.

We awoke the next morning to a knock on our door. We’d ordered breakfast which had arrived promptly at 8 am. Just-baked crisp croissants under a glass cloche, fresh squeezed orange juice and cream for our coffee? This is a Continental breakfast done right.

The day promised to be a hot one. Luckily we’d brought our bathing suits. The Winston’s sister hotel, The Vinland, also owned by Highway West Vacations, was just on the side of Solvang and they had a pool we were allowed to use. We sauntered through town, peeking into the Copenhagen House, The Book Loft and Hans Christian Anderson Museum and Cailloux Cheese Shop along the way.

It was just after 12 when we headed back into the center of town. Peasants FEAST, helmed by Chef Michael Cherney and his wife Sarah, is another restaurant that opened during the pandemic. We feasted on a cappuccino mushroom soup, tongue sandwiches, mushroom tacos and a Ceasar salad flecked with their house-made bacon. Don’t forget to order a side of their cheesy polenta! We dawdled on our walk back to the hotel, stopping in at Solvang Spice Merchant.

Solvang Spice Merchant smells as good as it looks
Liquid Farm’s tasting room in Los Olivos was designed by Kim Samela, Photo by Jeremy Ball

After lunch we picked up the car to head to Los Olivos. Our first stop was Liquid Farm, owned by Jeff Nelson. Nelson worked for Veuve Cliquot for over two decades so his palate promised that we’d love their biodynamic and organic wines. And we did! The name and the stylized root vegetable that decorates the label refers to the wine’s reliance on the beauty and health of the land and sky. The interiors of the tasting room were designed by Kim Samela (she was Prince’s Creative Director!); there’s also a small seating area out back.

The piquant margarita at Sear Steakhouse.

That night we were eating in Solvang at the newly opened Sear Steakhouse. Given the plethora of great food we’d already had, our expectations were high. The farm-to-table restaurant lived up to them, starting with their spicy margarita. The lobster mac and cheese is a must order. So too’s their Sear Salad, with all the ingredients freshly picked from the owner’s farm.

Although we were well rested in the quiet , our final day came way too soon. Instead of eating in our room, we headed out to Good Seed Coffee Boutique just down the street. If only we were staying longer! Owner Leyla Williams offers eight different types of sourdough bread but the loaves have to be ordered in advance. To go with our cup of joe, we headed off to Mortenson’s Danish Bakery, one of Solvang’s longtime pastry emporiums, to sample their sweet treats. Pick up a Kringle to take back with you. It’s a classic Danish breakfast pastry perfect for sharing as you regale friends with stories about your trip.

Fortified, we headed up to Solminer, another biodynamic and organic winery with a tasting room in Los Olivos. In their garden we sampled a flight and left with a few bottles, including Blaufranckish, made from an Austrian grape that loves the Southern California climate. We certainly understand that!

The Bread House, designed by architect Zach Ulrich, where Leyla Williams bakes her tasty 3 day sourdough loaves

On our way back to Sant Ynez, we stopped at The Bread House. Designed architect Zach Ulrich, it’s where Leyla Williams bakes Good Seed’s tasty bread. Filled with gorgeous furniture, including a chair by Ben Riddering, the aerie at the top of the building will soon be opening as a AirBnB!

Santa Ynez General Store is full of wonderful things

In Santa Ynez, we stopped into the stores we hadn’t seen on the way up including Favor, Lindsay Branquinho’s shop, Forage Florals and Santa Ynez General where interior designer Joe Lucas had picked up a lot of things for a house he did up here (It graces our next issue). Pearson McPhee stocks the best examples of the accessories you might need for a house (is it possible for a flyswatter to be beautiful? The one here is.)

Soon enough we were back in LA. We can’t wait to return!