The thing about California is that it's big. Like really big. And Los Angeles is a beast of a city, which I feel like I've barely scratched the surface of two years into living in it. That's why I pretty much backflip-jumped at the chance to head out to the Santa Ynez Valley with Lily and Molly for a few days. Situated a few hours away, tucked about a 10 minute or so drive inland, the Santa Ynez Valley is home to six little towns that all offer their own bit of magic.
We spent our first night at an adorable little hotel, The Landsby, in the tiny town of Solvang. If you accidentally drove into Solvang, it's possible that you might think you took a wrong turn into a fantastic tiny Danish Disneyland. Which would totally make sense, as I've been told that it was actually modeled after Disneyland and funny enough I've heard that Disneyland was modeled after Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. So basically if you're a fan of anything Danish, including but not limited to: almond kringles, marzipan everythings, æbelskivers, soft pretzels, architecture, interior design, and clogs, this might be the town for you. It definitely made me want to get in touch with my 1/8 Danish roots!
A quick 20-minute drive from Solvang is the itty, bitty town of Ballard. Ballard is home to Global Gardens aka olive oil heaven and The Ballard Inn and Restaurant. Trust me when I tell you that Chef Budi Kazali has created a menu that's worth a trip up or down to Ballard. While the restaurant only serves dinner, Molly, Lily, and I were treated to a lunchtime tasting menu with wine pairings that was one for the books. After lunch at the inn, we drove another 20 minutes or so over to Los Olivos, where grapevines grow in abundance, and tons of great wines are produced. Here we tasted our way through Beckmen Vineyards and Sunstone Winery & Villa. Beckmen Vineyards is rad because it's biodynamic and they make a killer Chardonnay that's reminiscent of Chablis, aka one of my fave white wines of all time. And Sunstone Winery, well, if Solvang transported us to Denmark, Sunstone took us to Tuscany. It's insanely picturesque and they offer a wine + brownie tasting and that should be all I need to tell you right there. ;)
Our third day was spent back in Solvang, but not near the main streets. Instead, we were whisked away to Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort's gorgeous 10,000 acres of land. If you've ever had dreams of summer camp, this is the place to come to make all your fancy adult summer camp dreams come true. The minute we arrived, I felt like we were all starring in our own version of Dirty Dancing, minus the dirty dancing and sans Johnny Castle. But, there was something about being on a gorgeous ranch-style resort, with limited cell service, tons of activities like breakfast horseback riding (our horses were named Goose, Blackjack, and Jesse, I die!!), archery lessons (we didn't do this but it was a very tempting option), massages (did and loved this), and dinner dress codes, that triggered the image of Baby at Kellermans. The folks at Alisal helped us create such wonderful memories, from the morning biscuits cooked over hot coals by a cowboy, to the lux lunch boxes complete with lox and bagels and chocolate chip cookies at lunch, my summer camp dreams came true tenfold.
Before we left, we squeezed in a dinner at Pico in Los Alamos, as we were told it was not to be missed. Again, it was about 20 minutes away from Solvang, and again, adorably tiny and in this case, the main street was about a city block long. The food at Pico was fun, fresh, and exciting: think giant ricotta gnudi, tomatoes and hushpuppies, and tarragon ice cream. It was the perfect way to end a long day and a quick girls trip!
A huge thanks to Visit Santa Ynez Valley for such a great adventure! While all accommodations were provided by Visit Santa Ynez Valley, Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort, and The Landsby, all opinions are my own. I cannot wait to come back and explore more of the towns we already saw and the ones we missed the first time around!