Weekender’s Guide to Los Olivos in Santa Ynez

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Courtesy of SAMsARA

Located in the Santa Ynez Valley about 40 minutes northwest of Santa Barbara is the charming town of Los Olivos. With just under 1,000 residents within its three square miles, Los Olivos is the definition of a small town, but what it lacks in size, it certainly makes up for in wine.

In fact, what was once a sleepy western town has since transformed into a wine mecca with over 30 tasting rooms clustered downtown, many of which occupy historic, pastel-colored Victorian buildings from the 1800s. Add in quality restaurants and noteworthy accommodations and Los Olivos has everything needed for a fun weekend getaway. Here’s our guide to where to sleep, eat, and play in Los Olivos, CA.

Where to Stay

outside view of Fess Parker Wine Country Inn
Fess Parker Wine Country Inn, Courtesy of Fess Parker Wine Country Inn

Los Olivos is a small, walkable community, so if you plan to partake in wine tasting (inarguably Los Olivos’ number one activity), you’ll likely want to stay in town. Though the lodging options may be limited, don’t expect to sacrifice when it comes to comfort and amenities.

Right in the heart of downtown is the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn – established by the late actor turned vintner, Fess Parker – which offers a welcoming, sophisticated place to rest your head. Each of the 19 rooms boasts in-room Keurig coffee makers, gas fireplaces, and King-sized, pillow top beds, accompanied by tasteful décor and free Wi-Fi. A stay here means you’ll get access to the outdoor, heated pool (warmed to the low 80s), as well as complimentary wine tastings at Epiphany tasting room down the street. Located right behind Epiphany are the rustic-chic Wine Country Cabins, also owned by the Parker family. The spacious, one- and two-bedroom cabins are not only centrally located, but also provide guests with access to the amenities at the Fess Parker Inn down the street.

A few blocks away is the iconic Mattei’s Tavern, a former 19th century stagecoach stop turned popular social destination in the 1900s. While the Inn at Mattei’s Tavern is undergoing a complete transformation to become an Auberge Resort, this timeless property is sure to impress once it opens its doors this summer, offering what will certainly be a new level of luxury and elegance in Los Olivos.

Where to Taste

SAMsARA tasting room
SAMsARA tasting room, Courtesy of SAMsARA

Given the number of wine tasting rooms in downtown Los Olivos, you could easily spend a whole weekend (or a week!) sampling local wines. Needless to say, there’s no shortage of options for wine lovers, whether looking for obscure varietals or old standbys like pinot noir and chardonnay. The best part? The majority of Los Olivos’ wine tasting establishments are family-owned and operated, so it’s not uncommon to find the owners and winemakers pouring the wines themselves.

Don’t miss a visit to Storm Wines, owned and operated by winemaker Ernst Storm and his wife, Brooke. At their welcoming indoor-outdoor tasting room, you can taste a range of carefully crafted Santa Barbara County wines, from rosé and sauvignon blanc to pinot noir and syrah, some with labels showcasing artwork by the Storms’ two kids. Nearby, at Story of Soil, you’ll likely find winemaker Jessica Gasca or her husband Brady Fiechter behind the bar of their casual, inviting tasting room, pouring their small-production, single vineyard and single varietal bottlings, including sought-after pinot noir, grenache, and gamay. The black and white mural displaying the Santa Barbara County wine region makes for a nice way to get better acquainted with the lay of the land.

Future Perfect tasting room
Future Perfect tasting room, Courtesy of CaliCoastWineCountry.com

Across the street, newcomer Future Perfect is a welcome addition to the neighborhood, where small-lot sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, and syrah can be sampled amidst the “magical” setting of the tasting room, which is adorned with ferns, rainbows, and a disco ball. Actor turned winemaker Sunny Doench Stricker, who is already making a name for herself in the wine world, actually mentored under the talented husband-and-wife winemaking team of Amy Christine and Peter Hunken, who own the nearby Holus Bolus & The Joy Fantastic. A visit to the duo’s tasting room in Los Olivos is a must for savory and complex syrah, as well as balanced roussanne and pinot noir.

At Dragonette Cellars, expect to find acclaimed pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, grenache, and syrah worth seeking out, produced from fruit sourced from high quality, cool climate vineyards throughout Santa Barbara County. Fans of Burgundian varietals will also want to stop into Liquid Farm, where minerally chardonnay and pinot noir wines can be tasted from the cheerful tasting room; SAMsARA, an airy space from which to sample the winery’s beloved Sta. Rita Hills pinot noirs; and Bien Nacido & Solomon Hills, renowned for cool climate Burgundian and Rhône varietal wines sourced from two of the most iconic vineyards in the region: Bien Nacido Vineyard and Solomon Hills Vineyard, both owned by the multigenerational Miller family.

For expressive red and white blends, pop into Dafoe Wines, where winemaker/owner Rob Dafoe pours intriguing wines from his brands, Dafoe and Attic Salt Wine Co. Another small producer to note is Blair Fox Cellars, where husband and wife Blair and Sarah Fox specialize in premium, small-lot wines from Rhône varieties. Blair also crafts wine for nearby Epiphany and The Bubble Shack, owned by the Fess Parker family — the latter of which serves up several different styles of sparkling wine from a tiny, renovated “shack.” The comfy lounge chairs outside make for an especially relaxing place to taste.

outside view of The Bubble Shack
The Bubble Shack, Courtesy of Fess Parker Winery

To delight your palate with something a little different, head to the minimalist tasting room of Solminer, where owners Anna and David DeLaski experiment with varietals from her native Austria, like blaufränkisch and grüner veltliner, as well as skin-fermented still wines and sparkling syrah. Much of the fruit comes from their own Certified Organic and Biodynamic vineyard they planted in 2012. And at the unpretentious Dreamcôte, low alcohol wines and ciders are the specialty, including zippy pét-nats and unique hard ciders fermented with fruit and botanicals from the small farm that owner Brit Zotovich and her husband, Ryan, own in Ballard.

outside view of Saarloos & Sons
Saarloos & Sons, Courtesy of Saarloos & Sons

For those looking for a more lively atmosphere, head to the popular Saarloos + Sons, where a casual vibe matches the family’s relaxed approach to wine. Try the wines on their own or add a flight of mini cupcakes (from Enjoy Cupcakes), but don’t expect to find any tasting notes as the Saarloos crew doesn’t believe in them. Also always bustling is Carhartt Vineyard’s Carhartt Cabin, where you’ll find the Carhartt family mingling and pouring wine in a laid-back setting — much like hanging in the backyard of a friend’s place — but with a tad more space than their previous location. Over 20 different wines are poured throughout the year, alongside a lineup of regular live music. And since the tasting room is open daily until 6pm or 6:30pm, you can count on a jovial atmosphere after many of the area’s tasting rooms have closed for the day.

Where to Eat

Meatballs dish from Nella Kitchen & Bar
Meatballs at Nella Kitchen & Bar, Courtesy of Facebook: Nella Kitchen & Bar

Located inside the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn is Nella Kitchen & Bar, an Italian-inspired restaurant from the same team behind the uber-popular S.Y. Kitchen in Santa Ynez. Noted for their light and fluffy pinsas, or Roman-style pizzas, which are topped with such ingredients as baby artichokes and pancetta, this popular spot also serves up a great selection of housemade pastas, steaks, and specialty cocktails, with a bar that’s commonly filled with happy revelers cheersing after a day of wine tasting.

Across the street at Los Olivos Wine Merchant Café, founded in 1995, you’ll find rustic Wine Country fare served in a welcoming space. The restaurant sources much of their produce from their nearby certified organic farm for the lunch and dinner menus, accompanied by an extensive wine list worth noting. There are over 500 wines offered, many of which are showcased on the “wall of wines.” If it looks familiar, it’s probably because the restaurant made a cameo in the 2004 movie, Sideways — the comedic drama that helped put Santa Ynez on the map.

Exterior of Bar Le Côte
Exterior of Bar Le Côte, Courtesy of Facebook: Bar Le Côte

Certainly the hottest reservation in town is Bar Le Côte, a new restaurant from the team behind the Michelin-starred Bell’s in Los Alamos. Occupying the space of a former hardware store built in 1901, this modern “seafood tavern” offers elevated yet approachable coastal cuisine, drawing inspiration from the Central Coast as well as from the seaside restaurants of Spain and Portugal. While you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, when you’re simply craving oysters and a bottle of sparkling, their happy hour Wednesday through Sunday can’t be beat.

For a casual bite on the go, head to Panino, which has a menu of over two dozen different sandwiches, or stop by God’s Country Provisions on a weekend for a delectable donut or fritter.

What to Do

Goods at Los Olivos General Store
Goods at Los Olivos General Store, Courtesy of Facebook: Los Olivos General Store

Even though the majority of people visit Los Olivos for the wine tasting, naturally, it’d be a shame not to take advantage of the locally-owned shops in between sips. Head to the quaint Los Olivos General Store for artisan snacks, cookbooks, handcrafted soaps, and unique items for the kitchen and home. Pick up a few gifts or something for yourself before wandering over to Global Eye Shop & Studio to peruse the selection of handcrafted pottery, pillows, and other housewares.

Shop the eclectic mix of women’s and children’s contemporary fashions at Wildflower Women’s Boutique or stop into Wendy Foster to check out the collection of designer duds from brands like Current Elliott, Sundry, and The Great. Also worth popping into is Coco Belle, a curated boutique for women located inside the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn. When you’re ready to channel your inner cowboy, head to Jedlicka’s, founded in 1932, where you’ll find an extensive selection of cowboy boots and hats, authentic western wear, and ranch-style accessories for men, women, and kids.

Weekender’s Guide to Los Olivos in Santa Ynez
Succulents and garden art at J. Woeste, Courtesy of J. Woeste

Between boutiques and tasting rooms, pop into the wondrous space that is J. Woeste, a home and garden shop filled with succulents, garden art, and unique accessories for the home, then plan to experience a change of scenery by renting electric bikes from Pedego. Cruise along country roads, stopping by Global Gardens for an olive oil tasting before exploring the wineries on the outskirts of town. Plan a visit to Beckmen Vineyards for estate-grown Rhône-style wines or admire the beautiful grounds as you sip sauvignon blanc at Buttonwood Farm Winery.

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Hana-Lee Sedgwick

Hana-Lee Sedgwick is a writer and editor based between Santa Barbara, CA and Idaho. A Certified Specialist of Wine and Sommelier, Hana-Lee specializes in all things wine, food, and travel, and her work regularly appears in publications such as Edible, Santa Barbara Magazine, and Food & Home. Follow her on Instagram at @wanderandwine.