Fall Escape to Santa Ynez Valley


Fall Foray

It’s harvest time in wine and ranch country, and the hills of the Santa Ynez Valley are shining golden. Make Los Olivos your basecamp for the perfect autumn getaway. Farm-stand edibles, back road biking, picnics with views, and (of course) alfresco wine tasting are all on the itinerary.

Los Olivos Pumpkins

Tour de Crops

It’s the season for apples, grapes, and pumpkins. Get ’em all on a drive or a bike ride from Los Olivos to Solvang on Alamo Pintado Road. The first stop is a stand on the side of the country road. Dittmar’s Apples, dating back to the 1970s, has about 10 different types, including heirloom varieties such as Jonagold and Summerfeld. Right now the crisp and sweet Pink Lady and the slightly tarter Granny Smith are on the menu. Next, head south a bit on Alamo Pintado, to taste the current vintages at laid-back Buttonwood Farm Winery and Vineyard. This small producer of dry and dessert wines also has delicious farm products harvested from its herb and flower gardens and orchards, including peach, Asian pear, and olive. Still farther south, Solvang Farmer Pumpkin Patch (pictured) rounds out the tour. Each pumpkin here has its own character and color—from wrinkled green and white gourds to short and squat pumpkins with jack-o’-lantern potential. Crop cornucopia!

WHERE TO STAY OR CAMP: In the center of Los Olivos, Fess Parker Inn is splurge-worthy luxury. Fireplaces and warm colors make the high-ceilinged, elegant rooms cozy and inviting. A stay includes breakfast at the airy on-site restaurant, Petros, and complimentary tastings at all four Fess Parker Family tasting rooms. Also on-site is BiN 2860, the inn’s wine and beer shop. The only beer tasting in the area, BiN boasts a first-rate selection of close to 200 rare beers. For a less expensive overnight option, Cachuma Lake Recreation Area has tent camping, yurts, and cabins, and is dog friendly. Camp on the east side (sites 204 to 208 and 230 to 234) to watch the moonrise, or camp on the west side for gorgeous sunsets (site 480 at El Dorado Point is relatively secluded and has prime lakeside views). Informal hiking trails starting from the Mohawk area meander through fields by the water’s edge.

From the flag pole in the center of Los Olivos, head south on Alamo Pintado Rd. to Dittmar’s Apples (also known as Green Haven Orchard). Buttonwood Farm Winery and Vineyard (dog-friendly!) is located at 1500 Alamo Pintado Rd. Solvang Farmer Pumpkin Patch is a mile south on Alamo Pintado Rd. 

Santa Ynez Harvest Bike Ride

Country Ramble

See Santa Ynez, Los Olivos, and Solvang on an 18-mile bike loop through wine country in northern Santa Barbara County. (Pit stops for tasting rooms are required!) Santa Ynez Valley at harvest is pure Central Coast fall: leafy vineyards and golden hills are dotted with oak trees turning color. Start this ramble at Santa Barbara Wine Country Cycling Tours and ask about the Ballard Canyon Loop—the cycling shop will set you up with a bike and directions. Leaving Santa Ynez, the Ballard Canyon Loop follows 5.5 miles of mostly flat, quiet country roads, passing along ranches with horses and sheep, to the small town of Los Olivos. Here, taste the fruit of the valley’s labor at one of the town’s tasting rooms. We suggest Andrew Murray and Coquelicot, both in the center of town near the flag pole. If you buy a bottle or pick up some lunch (Panino makes good sandwiches and salads), head to the Crooked Path, the garden and front lawn of a local resident and Danish composer. The shaded garden is often open to the public for free music performances. Back on the saddle and leaving town, the ride’s first climb is steep but only a quarter of a mile, and the payoff is big: views alternate between terraced vineyards and golden undulating hills. From here, it’s a lot of fun downhill, plus a few small climbs to keep things interesting. With light traffic (rush hour is unheard of on these back roads), the scenery feels like untapped gold. Pass by horses and green vineyards on your way to the village of Solvang, where hungry bikers would do well to stop by one of the bakeries built in the typical Danish half-timbered style. To return to your starting point in Santa Ynez, finish out the loop’s remaining 5 miles on a bike path that briefly follows a main road, and along residential streets lined with red peppercorn trees.

Santa Barbara Wine Country Cycling Tours is at 3630 Sagunto Street in Santa Ynez. Bike rental (road, hybrid, or mountain) and basic map: $35/half-day; $45/full day. Half-day and full-day guided tours (including wine tasting and picnic lunch) are also available. Andrew Murray’s tasting room is at 2901-A Grand Ave. in Los Olivos, and Coquelicot’s tasting room (diagonal) is at 2884 Grand Ave.; both are open from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Panino is located at 2900 Grand Ave. and is open from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Crooked Path, at 2885 Grand Ave., is the home of a local musician and is often open to visitors from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Andrew Murray, Coquelicot, Panino’s patio, and Crooked Path are all dog friendly.

Santa Ynez Valley Picnic

Lunch, En Plein Air

Viticulture isn’t the only thing the Santa Ynez Valley does well. Los Olivos Grocery, an artisan country grocery store on Highway 154, celebrates its nearby farms’ fruits and vegetables (the apples are superb right now). Along with a wide selection of cheeses and local wines, a deli counter at the back serves fresh sandwiches and salads—and some good oak-grilled tri-tip, too. When your sack’s full of picnic provisions, hit the road. Figueroa Mountain Road can’t be beat for its bucolic scenery, so quiet that it feels almost uncharted. Winding and narrow, with very little traffic, the road is sometimes used by hardcore cyclists. After about 8 miles, a knoll with green-colored rock serves up sweeping views of the golden Santa Ynez Valley—and makes a great spot to pull out a blanket and dish out your alfresco meal. Behind you stands Grass Mountain (its triangular face is covered in wildflowers in spring). Afterwards, continue exploring up Figueroa Mountain Road, or return the way you came to the vineyards of Los Olivos.

TIP: The nearby wineries along Foxen Canyon Road are a must-see (and a must-taste), but the road’s lack of restaurants or groceries can make for a woozy head. Stock up on picnic materials from Los Olivos Grocery (2621 Highway 154) before touring the tasting rooms. Fess Parker Winery’s (6200 Foxen Canyon Road) sprawling green lawns are a favorite, and Zaca Mesa Winery (6905 Foxen Canyon Road) has a short walk leading from its parking lot to a covered picnic table (pictured) overlooking row upon row of grape vines. Both wineries are dog friendly.

The turn-out for Figueroa Mountain Rd. is a mile northwest from Los Olivos Grocery off Highway 154. The undesignated picnic spot is about 8 miles up Figueroa Mountain Rd., just after a left curve in the road. An Adventure Pass is required to park.

World's Best Hiking

You know those books that talk about the hikes you’ve just gotta do in your lifetime? They may as well just put the entire country of New Zealand on the bucket list. This compact island-country is one of the very best hiking destinations in the world. It’s got everything: rainforests, lakes, glaciers, mountains, vineyards, volcanoes, valleys, beaches, fiords—you name it, the scenery is spectacular! (Oh yeah, and no bears, mountain lions, snakes, or any man-eating wildlife.) Hike for an hour, a week, or a month!

Thanks to a superb series of interconnecting trails, practically the entire country can be explored on foot. Try one of the nine Great Walks; these range from two to four days and take you through New Zealand’s most iconic landscapes (don’t miss the Milford Track and Tongariro Northern Circuit.) If you like hiking, spectacular scenery, and friendly locals, then get to New Zealand. You’ll discover another world without leaving earth.

BONUS: As California heads for winter, New Zealand is entering its summer months—prime for hiking! Set out independently or with a tour provider. It’s some of the best hiking you’ll ever do.

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