The Finer Things

A young couple explores Santa Ynez Valley’s luxury offerings

I’ve never really been pampered. Vacations for me were always to seek out something more thrilling than my everyday life. But as my everyday life became more and more filled with stress, my husband suggested we take a luxurious trip to wipe all that clean.

When looking for destinations, my husband had heard of Santa Ynez Valley, California from a co-worker. At first, his suggestion puzzled me; isn’t California just for theme parks and beaches? But after looking at the area, it certainly seemed like Santa Ynez Valley was exactly what we needed.

Stay in Style

Even while booking the trip, I kept seeking out the simplest options; like a cheap chain hotel without any charm. Rightfully so, my husband had to keep reminding me we were looking to go with a more lush and opulent vacation.

That’s when Wine Valley Inn & Cottages popped up in our search—a wonderfully quaint and charming half-timbered Danish-style resort right in the heart of the wonderfully quaint and charming town of Solvang. We managed to secure a cottage suite for the two of us — complete with a fireplace and a private patio with an outdoor Jacuzzi — tucked into the garden and trees around the resort’s main buildings.

On our way to the hotel, we stopped for a quick lunch at The Baker’s Table in Santa Ynez. As a huge fan of artisan breads, I did some thorough research on where to find the best loaves in the area and the breads in this adorable colonial-style building off Mission Drive was high on my list. Ever the lover of Reubens, my husband dove face-first into their Almost World Famous Reuben and declared it worthy of such a title. I tucked into the gooey goodness of the turkey and brie panini on Baker’s Table’s own fresh pain au levain. I, of course, had to take a loaf of the decadent pain au levain, knowing full well I would probably finish it off well before we headed back home.

Driving into Solvang was an experience I won’t soon forget. If it wasn’t for the signs being in English, I could swear we just pulled into a town in Denmark.

Driving into Solvang was an experience I won’t soon forget. If it wasn’t for the signs being in English, I could swear we just pulled into a town in Denmark. Thatched roofs, timber-framed buildings, a towering windmill, red and white Scandinavia crosses — all signs point to Denmark.

We settled into our suite and unwound on the patio, shaded by the lush canopy of trees. Before long, it was time for a surprise from my husband — a 60-minute Swedish couples’ massage right here at Wine Valley Inn & Cottages’ Garden Spa. I’d only had a massage once before in my life, and it was just from a friend who was going to school as a masseuse and was rather amateurish. This, though, was totally different. Paired with our choice of aromatherapy, I could feel the stress seeping out of my muscles with every touch of the expert masseuse. Afterward, my body had never felt so loose—all the tension I’d been holding in was finally expelled. I honestly felt like I was melting when we took a dip in our private Jacuzzi afterward.

Home to more than 120 wineries and tasting rooms in its own designated viticultural area, wine is big in Santa Ynez Valley.

Home to more than 120 wineries and tasting rooms in its own designated viticultural area, wine is big in Santa Ynez Valley. And with both my husband and I not really knowing much about wine but still wanting to tour the vineyards and sip a glass, we suffered heavy choice paralysis. The front desk staff at our hotel suggested a few different tours that visit many local wineries, as well as a studio that goes to various vineyards and gives painting lessons along with the wine. That sounded like a blast, and thankfully they had room for us at Gainey Vineyard just outside Santa Ynez.

Wine, Dine and Art Sublime

Arriving at the vineyard, we enjoyed a leisurely stroll through the vines before arriving at the plein air studio set up by Art Spot on Wheels. Our expert artist instructed us at every step of the way through our three-and-a-half-hour painting course, and I think the massage from yesterday paired with the estate Chardonnay made from the grapes growing right in front of us really let me go with the flow and not worry that every mark I made was perfect. Sharing in the fresh air, great wine and ample laughter really made the afternoon absolutely blissful. In the end, my husband and I had two paintings that were very clearly our own — though it was the same view, my husband’s painting was much more impressionist while mine was trying to be more detailed.

With paint on our hands and some on my husband’s shorts, we headed back to the hotel to clean up and change into more formal attire before dinner at First & Oak. Just a short walk from our suite, First & Oak is the premier restaurant in the Santa Ynez Valley, specializing in local, fresh produce and products from local area farms. And it’s not just them saying that — First & Oak has earned itself a Michelin Plate, which is a stepping stone to getting a coveted Michelin Star.

First & Oak encourages you to create your own tasting menu instead of simply having a shared appetizer and separate main courses. And with the both of us ordering entirely different dishes, it was a great way to sample a huge portion of their offerings. My favorite: The Wagyu tenderloin. Amazingly tender with huge flavor complemented with the Romanesco, onion, fennel and red wine reduction, I couldn’t help but let out a pleasurable sigh after swallowing my first bite.

Pedal the Pavement

The next morning, we set out for our last planned activity of our vacation—a 12-mile bike excursion with Santa Barbara Wine Country Cycling Tours. At 9 a.m., we started the Leisure Valley Stroll tour, pedaling our way through the Santa Ynez Valley. On our five-hour tour, we rolled past local apple orchards, pastoral farms and picturesque vineyards, hearing history of the area from our guide and sharing stories among ourselves. It was a gentle incline and a steady pace and honestly didn’t feel much like exercise — especially with all the breaks — and coming back was a nice coast mostly downhill.

In the small town of Los Olivos, we stopped for olive oil tasting and learned how fresh lavender is pressed into oil at Clairmont Farms. At the end of the journey, a farm-to-table lunch was waiting for us on a set table in the heart of a gorgeous vineyard. All in all, a beautifully picturesque way to end our trip exploring the finer things.