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Santa Ynez

With it’s vast ranch estates, rolling golden hills studded with gnarled valley oaks and the dramatic backdrop of the rugged San Rafael and Santa Ynez mountains, one can feel like they have slipped into a California of the past or the location for an old Western film. And it was less than a hundred years ago that Highway 154, the main route through the valley, was an important stagecoach trail over the mountains to Santa Barbara and the coast. A number of historical buildings from that era still stand, including Mattei’s Tavern, Cold Springs Tavern and the old Spanish Santa Ynez Mission.

Much of the area remains as pristine as it was in those days, though the landscape has more recently been decorated with a profusion of vineyards and wineries, the area’s sunny dry climate being perfect for growing excellent wine grapes. Consequently, one of the premier attractions for visitors and locals alike is wine tasting and picnicking on the grounds of the many gold medal wineries. The meandering scenic back roads are perfect for bicycling between vineyards, stopping along the way in the quaint towns of Los Olivos, Ballard and Santa Ynez to explore the many galleries, gourmet restaurants and shops.

Other recreational opportunities abound, including horse-back riding, glider rides, camping and eagle-spotting boat trips on Lake Cachuma and in the spring, driving up Figueroa Mountain to photograph the fields quilted with wild purple lupen and golden California poppies. And for a taste of Disneyland there is Solvang, a Danish village complete with Scandinavian architecture, horse-drawn trolleys, an outdoor Shakespearian theater and Danish sidewalk café’s that serve genuine Danish pastries with coffee.

The slower pace of Santa Ynez Valley is perfect for those who are interested in being part of a very active and involved community and living a lifestyle of balance with nature.

The large ranch homes are, like the “cowboy chic” culture of the Valley, a blend of sophisticated and rustic. Long one-story haciendas built to blend into the hills with natural adobe or stucco and wood, most also have swimming pools and gourmet kitchens, guest houses and stables with corrals and many have been designed or remodeled by famous architects.

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