Looking for a road trip that fits the bill for both the kids and the grown-ups? Set your sights on the Santa Ynez Valley! Just a two hour drive from Los Angeles and four hours south of San Francisco, the Santa Ynez Valley offers over 100 wineries, a super-cool spot where you can feed ostriches and loads of options for family exploration. We’ve planned your next California vacay for you—what are you waiting for?
Santa Ynez Valley
The Santa Ynez Valley is made up of six communities—rural Ballard, bustling Buellton, western-inspired Los Alamos, arts and wine hub Los Olivos, Danish-charmer Solvang and the quaint town of Santa Ynez. Each has such a different feel that you’ll want to plan some time to explore them all. The close proximity of these six communities makes them easy to access wherever you make your home base.
What to Do
There’s no shortage of activities to keep you busy in the Santa Ynez Valley. Right off 101 on your way to Solvang is the kid-favorite, OstrichLand. Here you can pay a buck (plus admission fee of $5/adult and $2/kid 12 and under) to get the opportunity to feed the ostrich and emu. It will definitely be a trip highlight to get up close to these massive creatures!
Another fun spot to stop for some animal time is Quicksilver Miniature Horse Ranch. Located between Ballard and Solvang, the ranch offers free visits with these adorable animals (although no feeding or petting allowed). After your visit, swing by the Claremont Lavender Farm, which is just a few minutes away. You can walk through the fragrant fields, spread out a picnic at their outdoor tables and purchase lavender-scented wares from the gift shop.
If ziplining over vineyards is your jam, head to Santa Margarita and book your spot at Margarita Adventures. You’ll get to hook up and zip down six ziplines on their course that shows you some of the gorgeous hillsides of Central California. Kids weighing 30-100 pounds can fly tandem which is a great way to get the little ones interested. Soon they’ll be adding on a wildlife hummer tour that will show you native animal habitats up close.
See the valley from the back of a horse when you book a horseback ride with KAP Land & Cattle. These private tours take groups of all experience levels out on the historic Fess Parker Ranch and Vineyard property, over the hills and through the vineyards. You can even combine your ride with a picnic from The Bear and Star under the trees or a wine tasting for a truly Santa Ynez Valley experience.
To explore more of the beauty of this area, pack a picnic and head to Nojoqui Falls Park. Here you can hike the shaded and easy trail to the falls and then enjoy lunch at the tables when you return. (Note: you won’t be able to get all the way to the falls due to recent mudslides but the area is still very beautiful).
You’ll feel like you’ve traveled to Europe when you enter the town of Solvang and see the streets lined with windmills. Scandinavian culture permeates the restaurants and shops here. Stop at the Hans Christian Andersen Museum and learn about the famous fairy tale writer. Another fun museum to add to your itinerary is the Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum where you can tour the collection that dates back to 1910. When you are done exploring the town, satisfy your sweet tooth with pastries from Olsen’s Danish Village Pastries and fudge from Old Danish Fudge Kitchen.
There is no shortage of wineries and tasting rooms in the Santa Ynez Valley and many are surprisingly family-friendly. Fess Parker Ranch and Vineyard has an expansive grassy areas for the kids to explore while parents enjoy their tastings. Another spot where kids are welcome is Dierberg and Star Lane Tasting Room. Kids will love looking for lizards in the garden area and playing bocce ball on the lawn.
Where to Eat
The relaxed vibe in Santa Ynez Valley means that the vast majority of eateries are totally kid-friendly. CHOMP in Solvang is a local favorite where you can get traditional diner fare like burgers and shakes with a modern interpretation. Almost the whole menu is locally-sourced and the sliders, sweet potato fries and pulled pork sandwiches are kid faves. The fish tacos with chipotle sauce are a fresh, non-burger option and the Oreo milkshake is a must to finish off your meal. The outdoor dining area is a great option for rowdy toddlers.
Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. is another dining spot where families with kids congregate. Their Buellton taproom and brewing facility has a huge outdoor dining area (that is actually being expanded to be even bigger!) where kids can play cornhole, bocce ball and a giant game of Jenga. Dogs are even welcome to join you outside. The menu is full of kid favorites like BBQ chicken wings, giant soft pretzels and loaded nachos. Come for Sunday brunch and you can try the bananas foster French toast or huevos rancheros. Figueroa has four other locations, including one in nearby Los Olivos.
Where to Stay
If up-scale glamping sounds right up your alley then reserve a cottage, safari tent or Airstream at Flying Flags RV Resort and Campground. Centrally located right off the 101 in Buellton, Flying Flags is the perfect spot for your next family road trip. If you choose a cottage with loft, you’ll be able to sleep up to six people in the loft, master bedroom and pull-out couch. Cottages include a full kitchen with oven and fridge, plus a gas BBQ on your deck for grilling. If you don’t feel like cooking, head over to the Campfire Cafe—the resort’s on-site restaurant or grab some snacks and a bottle of wine from the General Store.
In addition to the various glamping options, the resort has two pools, hot tubs, a splash park and a playground. Enjoy some time by the community campfire or play a game of pool or foosball to get out of the sun. Those looking for more camping and less “glamping” can opt for a camping spot or bring their RV and set up there.
With its location right off the 101, the Santa Ynez Valley is an ideal option for families travelling from either Los Angeles or Northern California. Check out Visit Santa Ynez Valley for more information on what to do and see in the area. It’s your one-stop shop to find out about all the special seasonal activities that bring visitors to the area.
—story and photos by Kate Loweth
Note: This trip was paid for by Visit Santa Ynez Valley but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer.