When you don’t know an area, it can be tricky to decide on the best town to stay in. Where’s best for cycling? Where are the bike shops? What is there to do off the bike?
Below you’ll find our views on the best places to stay in Santa Ynez Valley. The good news is that if you choose Solvang, Santa Ynez, Los Olivos or Ballard, they are only a few miles from each other, so you should be able to do most, if not all, of our rides regardless of which of these towns you stay in.
Our favourite two towns re Santa Ynez and Los Olivos. They’re both small, ooze authentic charm and are well stocked with restaurants, grocers, wine tasting and interiors shops.
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Solvang is the tourist centre of the Santa Ynez valley. Founded in 1911 by three Danish men, it’s known as the Danish Capital of America. It receives over a million tourists each year, all keen to experience a slice of Denmark. It is a pretty place, with windmills, Danish styled half-timber buildings and tasty bakeries. But stay too long and the faux ancient frontages, kitschy knick knack stores and novelty attractions may start to grate (did we mention the giant red clog?...) .
From a cyclist’s perspective, Solvang’s saving grace is that it’s home to Dr J’s bike shop. Corey and his friendly team have a fleet of decent road bikes for hire (more on that, here). They also have a bike workshop and sell accessories, including bars, gels and Mount Figueroa jerseys.
The three block downtown is full of frontier buildings, many original and dating from when the town was founded in 1882. It’s a small town which feels authentic, well cared for and well-heeled. You can shop for antiques, get a coffee or head for a meal - you’ll find some of the Santa Ynez Valley’s best restaurants here.
Los Olivos is smaller than Santa Ynez, but just as charming. The shops and restaurants are predominantly found on Grand Avenue. There are tasting rooms, art galleries, antique shops, fashionable restaurants and cafes and a country goods store. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see the flagpole at the intersection of the two main roads through the village.
With a population of only 467, Ballard is the smallest of the region’s towns. There’s not much there, but it is home to the wonderful Ballard Canyon which is, of course, best explored by bike.
Buellton is significantly less charming than the others. It sits at the crossroads between Lompoc and the Santa Rita Hills to the west and the Santa Ynez valley to the east. It’s a sleepy gas and coffee stop that also has its fair share of wine tasting rooms, beer gardens and restaurants.
Lompoc is much larger than the other towns listed here and about 20 miles to the west of Solvang. As such, it’s not as well placed for easy access to the Santa Ynez rides we list. One point worth noting though - it’s known as the flower-seed capital of the world and is blanketed with vast fields of flowers between May and August.
Los Alamos is a tiny village, sprawled out along one road just of Highway 101. It’s about 11 miles northwest of Los Olivos and feels slightly stuck in a time warp. A new wave of restaurants and cafes may be changing that, including the rather wonderful Bob’s Well Bread Bakery. Ride our Wine country cycling route 2 and route 4 loops and you’ll be able to justify stopping off for a coffee and some form of sugary goodness.
Over to you!
Have you been to the Santa Ynez valley? Where did you stay? We'd love to hear from you - comment below or drop us a line.
Want more? Don’t miss our guides to the best Santa Barbara county cycling routes and other articles on the region, below.
Want to check out some other destinations? Search by the month you want to travel or cycling destination you want to visit, here.
Banner photo credit: Sarah Camille/Shutterstock.com