From outdoor pleasures to fine wine and cuisine, from world-class shopping to festive holiday celebrations, the Santa Ynez Valley in winter offers something for just about everyone. Accommodations are just as diverse, ranging from family-friendly resorts to romantic bed and breakfast inns and city-style hotels ideal for shopping sprees.
Golfers can enjoy the scenic challenge of the Rancho San Marcos Golf Course, a Robert Trent Jones Jr. gem built on the site of a historic mountain ranch, dotted with traces of 19th-century adobes and the San Marcos Stagecoach Trail. Horseback riding is at its best along country paths such as the Live Oak Trail, which meanders by a 19th-century cowboy campsite.
Naturalist-led-winter bird-watching cruises on Lake Cachuma provide eco-friendly fun in the oak-forested wilderness of the Cachuma Lake Recreation Area. Or hike through leafy glens and mountain overlooks with dramatic views of the Pacific Ocean. The new Trails Map, available Dec. 14 from the Santa Barbara County Outdoor Foundation (www.sbcof.org), features dozens of inspiring and insider-favorite treks throughout the Santa Ynez Mountains.
Antiquing and café-hopping
Picturesque communities like Los Alamos, Buellton, Santa Ynez and Los Olivos are prime picks for retail adventures and charming cafés to celebrate shopping success.
"Los Alamos has more antiques per square foot than anywhere else in the valley," said Mary Harris, executive director of the Santa Ynez Valley Assn. (www.syvha.com). It's home to the Depot Antique Mall and Pub, which brims with antique and art dealers, and a wine pub. In Santa Ynez, enjoy lunch on the veranda of a Victorian home-turned Vineyard House Restaurant and look for new items at Forever Posh.
Solvang, nicknamed California's "Little Denmark," promises to glitter with Old World-style excitement during this year's "Lighting Up 100 Years" Julefest Celebration (www.solvangusa.com), Dec. 1 to Jan. 6, 2012, in honor of Solvang's centennial year.
The new "100 Trees for 100 Years" display, Dec. 1-31, will add 100 decorated living fir trees, ranging from five to nine feet tall, to the traditional holiday décor throughout downtown.
Julefest's new "Solvang Holiday Wine About" (www.solvangusa.com) Dec. 17 and 18, offers a great opportunity to toast the holidays with some of the valley's finest vintages.
Twelve of Solvang's finest wine bars and tasting rooms will be pouring prime wines for holiday tasting. Tickets are $40 per person for the two-day passport including a commemorative etched wine glass.
On Dec. 21, look for shopping and dining specials at more than 150 one-of-a-kind boutiques and specialty shops during Solvang's Third Wednesday Holiday Celebration.
Wining and Dining
Mark your calendars for the second-annual Santa Ynez Valley Restaurant Week (www.visitthesantaynezvalley.com), Jan. 22 to 28, when eateries throughout the valley will delight taste buds and wallets with special three-course tasting menus priced at $20.12 (excluding tax, tip and beverages).
Participating restaurants. include inspired Mexican at Dos Carlitos Restaurant & Tequila Bar in Santa Ynez; James Beard Foundation award-winning dishes at Root 246: A Restaurant by Bradley Ogden in Solvang; tasty bites at Avant Tapas & Wine at Terravant in Buellton; fresh seasonal fare at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café in Los Olivos; epicurean cuisine at The Willows at Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez; organic and natural fare at the Fresco Valley Café in Solvang; and tasty American at the Hadsten House Inn Restaurant in Solvang.
Wine-lovers can sip to their hearts' content at more than 100 vineyards throughout the Santa Ynez Valley. Choices range from micro properties such as the Alma Rosa Vineyard, whose owner-winemaker Richard Sanford was recently inducted into the Wine Hall of Fame of the Culinary Institute of America, and famous brands including the Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard.
For more information, go to www.visitthesantaynezvalley.com, and for hotels visit www.syvha.com.