There’s something about a cowboy town in the summer heat. Less hardy haunts wilt as the temperature rises, but horse-country havens like Santa Ynez in Santa Barbara County come alive, their dusty lanes and slow pace ideally suited for blazing days. Amble the authentic old-west village—with its horseshoe-embedded crosswalks—for a taste of history, adventure, and farm-to-table delights. Where to start? Check out our nine cool picks.
1. Launch your day
At The Baker’s Table, organic, local, and fair-trade ingredients go into delicate pastries and house-made bread, baked on a stone hearth. Try the daily quiche, house-made granola, or breakfast sandwiches on a fresh croissant or ciabatta roll.
2. Stroll and shop
Make like a tumbleweed and roll east down Sagunto Street, where you’ll find nary a chain store but rather a string of thoughtfully appointed boutiques: Outpost Trading Company for chic boho-meets-romantic cowgirl duds, Valerie’s Vintage and Supply Company for farmhouse treasures, and, just around the corner, Forage Florals for fresh-wrapped bouquets and apothecary-style household gifts.
3. Soar in the air
Book a sunrise or sunset ride in a magnificent hot air balloon and soar over wine country with Sky’s the Limit Ballooning Adventures. Starting at $225 per person, it’s a splurge—but you can’t beat the views of the San Rafael mountains … and the property that was once Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch.
4. Sip and savor
Sample wine-country hospitality at Gainey Vineyard, known for its friendly and attentive staff. Tastings on the rustic vineyard patio beneath the overhang of the red-tile roof include sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and Riesling, all grown on the three local ranches by this third-generation Santa Ynez Valley family. (Be sure to designate a driver if you plan to drink alcohol.)
5. Dine at a farmhouse
Foodies flock from miles around for the delectable dishes at S.Y. Kitchen, a rustic farmhouse serving simple, Italian-style cuisine sourced from local ranchers, farmers, and vintners. Dig into down-home comfort food like T-bone truffle sliders, house-made pasta, and inventive daily specials.
6. Get farm-fresh fruit
Pick your own raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, and stone fruit at charming Summerset Farm. Meander through the sunflower fields, and pick up fresh preserves, honeys, olive oil, and pickled veggies at the produce stand.
7. Pep up
Get some giddyap back in your step with an artfully crafted brew at the new Queen Cup Coffee. Husband-and-wife team Skyler and Alyce Barrick brew ethically sourced beans with an almost scientific approach. Try the Killer Queen Cold Brew or the Dirty Horchata over ice.
8. Dine under the stars
Feast under the wide-open sky on the inviting patio at Dos Carlitos, where the party’s always hopping. Favorites include house-made sopes, sizzling fajitas, and guacamole in a molcajete. Tortillas are made fresh on the restaurant’s comal.
9. Mosey on to the saloon
Catch the Hollywood Cowboys or another country-flavored band at the Maverick Saloon. The bar, porch, and dance floor at this massive old barn are a beloved evening gathering spot for locals and visitors alike.
Starshine Roshell is a journalist, author, and editor in Santa Barbara. Her award-winning columns are collected in her latest book, Lather, Rage, Repeat.
Free Santa Barbara County Cities maps are available at your Auto Club branch.
AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.