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Spend a perfect fall weekend in California’s Santa Ynez Valley

Vineyard along Happy Canyon Road, Santa Ynez Valley, California From wining and dining to kid-friendly kicks, get to know the six unique towns of California’s Santa Ynez Valley. | Photo by Chuck Place

Autumn—harvest time—is the showiest season in California’s Santa Ynez Valley. Iconic gnarled oak trees glow amber, their crunchy leaves blanketing rural roads. Scarecrows beckon from farm posts. At the area’s 120-plus wineries, grapes are plucked from vines and pressed into juice. Spend a fall weekend in the Santa Ynez Valley exploring its six friendly towns—Solvang, Buellton, Los Olivos, Ballard, Santa Ynez, and Los Alamos. In just a few country-paced days you can savor crisp-chilly nights and spectacular eats where farm-to-table cuisine is a way of life.

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Day 1: Picking pumpkins, patio dining, and more

Gourds at Solvang Farmer Pumpkin Patch. | Photo by Chuck Place

Gourds for the picking at Solvang Farmer Pumpkin Patch. | Photo by Chuck Place

Get lost: Immerse yourself in harvest tradition at the popular Solvang Farmer Pumpkin Patch. Grab some gourds, snap a selfie on a hay bale, and find your way through the magnificent 10-acre corn maze (or maize, as it really should be called). There’s also a smaller, less confounding labyrinth for kids. Open through November 1.

The outdoor patio at Solvang restaurant Peasants Feast. | Photo by Linda Chaja Photography

The outdoor patio at Solvang restaurant Peasants Feast. | Photo by Linda Chaja Photography

Chow down: Take a break from strolling the flower-lined, windmill-bedecked streets of Danish Solvang to indulge in seasonal comfort foods at Peasants Feast, from house pickles to family-style mac-and-cheese to a spicy fried chicken sandwich.

High Roller Tiki Lounge’s fanciful yellow mai tai. | Photo courtesy Craft and Cluster/Visit the Santa Ynez Valley

High Roller Tiki Lounge’s fanciful yellow mai tai. | Photo courtesy Craft and Cluster/Visit the Santa Ynez Valley

Chill out: Pop into one of Solvang’s more than 20 tasting rooms. For unexpected retro style, try the High Roller Tiki Lounge, a beer-and-wine bar with kitschy-fun, vintage-tropical decor. Feeling adventurous? Order a wine-based cocktail like the Pirates Plank, Blue Hawaiian, or Pumpkin Spice Sacrifice.

Boutique guitar shop Lost Chord Guitars is also a live-music venue.  | Photo by Chris Pelonis

Boutique guitar shop Lost Chord Guitars is also a live-music venue. | Photo by Chris Pelonis

Listen up: If you hear live music wafting from Lost Chord Guitars, head inside! You may catch actor Jeff Bridges or other local celebs jamming at this intimate Solvang venue. The cool space is also a boutique for Bridges’ line of sustainable-wood guitars and showcases his personal artwork on the walls.

Sear Steakhouse’s Surfing Cow cocktail includes gin, Aperol, and basil.  | Photo by Heather Daenitz/Craft & Cluster

Sear Steakhouse’s Surfing Cow cocktail includes gin, Aperol, and basil. | Photo by Heather Daenitz/Craft & Cluster

Dig in: Bite into a filet mignon, rib eye, or bone-in tomahawk at Solvang’s brand-new Sear Steakhouse. The restaurant owners infuse the menu with the more than 100 fruits, vegetables, and herbs grown on their family farm.

Complimentary hammocks hang outside the Hotel Ynez’s guest rooms. | Photo courtesy Craft and Cluster | Visit the Santa Ynez Valley

Complimentary hammocks hang outside the Hotel Ynez’s guest rooms. | Photo courtesy Craft and Cluster | Visit the Santa Ynez Valley

Wind down: Chillax around a fire pit under the stars at the new Hotel Ynez, a rustic-chic inn by the lodging rock stars who brought you the Skyview motel in Los Alamos. Enjoy spacious rooms, Bolivian hammocks, and the use of electric bikes.

Day 2: Riding horses, shopping, and sipping cider

Doughnuts reign at God’s Country Provisions.  | Photo by Vanessa Tierney Photography

Doughnuts reign at God’s Country Provisions. | Photo by Vanessa Tierney Photography

Stock up: Start your day off sweet with a visit to God’s Country Provisions, a Buellton doughnut shop with a saintly name and sinful offerings from hefty apple and blueberry fritters to cereal-topped and candy-stuffed seasonal treats. Nosh while sitting on the church pew out front or take it to go.

Explore the Fess Parker home ranch on horseback. | Photo by Bri Burkett

Explore the Fess Parker home ranch on horseback. | Photo by Bri Burkett

Giddyap: Take a horseback tour through hundreds of acres of golden backcountry behind the Fess Parker Winery and Vineyard. No riding experience is needed for the 2-mile trot past cattle, herding dogs, rolling hills, and oaks blanketed in delicate lace lichen. Rides are $135 for 90 minutes.

Shop for olive oils, balsamic vinegars, and fine gifts at organic farm stand Global Gardens. | Photo courtesy Craft and Cluster | Visit the Santa Ynez Valley

Shop for olive oils, balsamic vinegars, and fine gifts at organic farm stand Global Gardens. | Photo courtesy Craft and Cluster | Visit the Santa Ynez Valley

Take a dip: Sample olive oils from mild to robust with a scheduled tasting at Global Gardens. Olive oil sommelier Theo Stephan points out the “artichoke midtones” and “floral pink peppercorn finish,” based on each tree and terroir, “a pretentious word for dirt,” she says. $40 per person includes a bottle.

Cider flights at Los Olivos’ Tin City Ciders. | Photo by @markvelasquezdesign

Cider flights at Los Olivos’ Tin City Ciders. | Photo by @markvelasquezdesign

Pick your poison: Sip on a flight of crisp and colorful hard ciders in charming Los Olivos at Tin City Cider, where tart heirloom apples blend with cherry, orange peel, black currant—and even rosé. Or swing by the Stolpman Vineyards’ new Fresh Garage, where an old-school winery is bottling new-school wines with higher acidity and no added sulfur, like a Crunchy Roastie Rainbow syrah and a Love You Bunches Orange, a blend of pinot gris, muscat, and mourvèdre. “If the French found out, they would behead us,” says tasting-room manager Ash Shahparnia, “but, hey—it’s California!”

Burger slider with shoestring potatoes at the Ballard Inn’s restaurant, the Gathering Table. | Photo by Tenley Fohl Photography

Burger slider with shoestring potatoes at the Ballard Inn’s restaurant, the Gathering Table. | Photo by Tenley Fohl Photography

Gather ’round: Slide into a table on the homey porch of the warm and cozy Ballard Inn for dinner at the Gathering Table, with its inventive and satisfying dishes like Hamachi sashimi, roasted kabocha soup, and sunchoke and apple salad with bacon brown butter.

Day 3: Gourmet meals and antiquing

Bob’s Well Bread bakery in Los Alamos. | Photo by Chuck Place

Bob’s Well Bread bakery in Los Alamos. | Photo by Chuck Place

Eat well: The one-horse Western town of Los Alamos is a no-joke foodie paradise. Grab breakfast at Bob’s Well Bread and lunch at Bell’s, where French meets ranch for fancy “Franch” cuisine, or on the pretty patio at Pico, inside the old General Store.

Antique shopping at Los Alamos Depot Mall. | Photo by Chuck Place

Antique shopping at Los Alamos Depot Mall. | Photo by Chuck Place

Shop local: Hunt for treasures and collectibles at the Los Alamos Depot Mall and at Sisters, a historic 1880 home filled with new and vintage housewares, garden decor, elegant clothing, art, and jewelry.

Play ball: While away the afternoon in the boho wine-and-beer garden at Bodega Los Alamos playing boccie beside a sweet greenhouse, chatting on lawn chairs in a corner, or listening to live music from the band on stage.

Guests can hand-feed the animals at Folded Hills Farmstead. | Photo by Chuck

Guests can hand-feed the animals at Folded Hills Farmstead. | Photo by Chuck

Farm out: If you’re heading south down Highway 101 on your way home, stop off at Folded Hills Farmstead to say adios to the farm animals. Nigerian dwarf goats, Sicilian mini donkeys, and kunekune pigs come right up to the fence to nuzzle visitors.

Starshine Roshell is a journalist, author, and editor in Santa Barbara. Her award-winning columns are collected in her latest book, Lather, Rage, Repeat. She also wrote How we broke our lockdown monotony in a rented Airstream trailer

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