Los Olivos, California is one of the five main communities that make up the Santa Ynez Valley. This scenic wine valley is located along the Central California coast in the heart of Santa Barbara County. The town of Los Olivos had a population just over 1,100 at the 2010 census.
Weather & Geography of Los Olivos
Los Olivos lies along a scenic road from Santa Barbara over the San Marcos Pass though to the coastal Santa Ynez Mountains. Los Olivos and the Santa Ynez Valley enjoy a glorious Mediterranean climate year-round. Oak and olive trees populate the gentle hills in the Los Olivos area. The climate and terrain of the area is ideally suited for olive production.
Los Olivos is the southern point of the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail. Driving the trail without stopping to taste is worth it just for the scenery as you cross through the mountains, vineyards and horse farms. Driving north along the pastoral Foxen Canyon Wine Trail from Los Olivos feels like traveling back to the early days of California. Rolling hills frame pastoral meadows, deer and other wildlife are abundant, and watercolor-perfect landscapes stretch to the horizon.
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History of Los Olivos
The town of Los Olivos is located near SR 154, and this road was once a Wells Fargo stagecoach line, with the stagecoach stop at Mattei’s Tavern, still in operation today. In 1885, Alden Boyd of Albany, NY paid $8,000 for 157 acres and a house on a bluff overlooking Alamo Pintado Creek in 1885. He planted 5,000 olive trees, and called it Rancho De Los Olivos. On November 16, 1887, the Pacific Coast Railway line extension from Los Alamos was completed. The stagecoach line made its last run at the same time.
The developers of the narrow-gauge railway named their town El Olivar, then El Olivos, and finally Los Olivos after Boyd’s ranch. Later, the narrow gauge railroad ran through town going as far north as San Luis Obispo and south to Los Angeles and San Diego. The train last ran in 1934.
Tourist Attractions in Los Olivos
Mattei’s Tavern is still one of the highlights of the area and hosts a well-respected restaurant in its historic charm. The town boasts incredible views of the rolling hills in the center of the Santa Ynez Valley, with its horse ranches and vineyards. Many growers are small family operations producing handcrafted extra virgin olive oils in many different styles such as classic Tuscan style and Italian blends. Many of the producers feature olive oil tasting, so be sure to include some olive oil tasting along with your wine tours while visiting Los Olivos.
Los Olivos has a full to overflowing glass of wine, art, equestrian activities and the glorious countryside surrounding the town. More than 20 wine tasting rooms are located in town, along with epicurean delights, artistic endeavors of all sorts and the overarching aura of Tuscany. The Artisans Gallery on Alamo Pintado Avenue features hand stitched leather accessories, jewelry, crafts and unique art from a variety of artists.
Romantic and sophisticated eateries are everywhere in the Los Olivos area, including sign-less Sides Hardware and Shoes Restaurant. The best way to experience Los Olivos is to park your car and walk. Most of the wineries, restaurants and shops are located along Grand Avenue. Hidden treasures are found along the side streets. The Los Olivos General Store modernizes the old neighborhood store, with a “wine-art-home” theme. They spotlight locally produced artisan items celebrating the lifestyle of the Santa Ynez valley. Gifts, home décor, jewelry, books, bags, scarves, wine accessories, gourmet foods, olive oils and more are available at the store along with wine sample tasting from the Larner Vineyard and Winery.
Los Olivos features Victorian architecture scattered around the little western village. Many of the buildings and homes downtown are 100 years old or more. The oldest wooden home in town is the Keenan/Hartley home, dating to 1882. The home was recently moved to the Mattei’s property. In May 1986, Los Olivos was used as the location for the town of Mayberry in the made-for-TV movie Return to Mayberry, based on the 1960s sitcom The Andy Griffith Show. Several locations in the town were also featured in the 2004 film Sideways. The Los Olivos Grand Hotel, built in 1985, is now Fess Parker’s Wine Country Inn, owned by the star of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. Whatever your interests, Los Olivos is a fabulously relaxing place to visit for a day or a vacation.
A visit to the Champagne Spa and Boutique at the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn and Spa is the perfect way to treat yourself to a little luxury. Follow that with boutique and couture shopping at the Tin Roof Boutique and the Heaven Scent Beauty Apothecary in town. Visit some of the thoroughbred horse farms nearby, or stop at the Quicksilver Ranch and admire the miniature horses raised there. Near by Los Olivos is the famous Neverland Valley Ranch, which once belonged to entertainer Michael Jackson. It lies about five miles north of Los Olivos. For the outdoor adventurers, the Cachuma Lake Recreation Area lies only 12 miles from Los Olivos. The lake features excellent fishing, kayaking, boating and hiking areas.
Some of the famous or should-be-famous wineries and vineyards are featured along the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail. The area offers unique ways to see the wineries and vineyards and to indulge in the wine tasting experience. Santa Barbara Wine County Cycling Tours offer wine tasting tours on bicycle. These are custom tailored and can include a gourmet picnic lunch within the route. The valley wine scene can also be experienced through a horseback tour, offered by Vino Vaqueros. The scenery is breathtaking in either case and travel between wineries is relaxing and romantic.
Andrew Murray Vineyards is based on the simple fundamentals of winemaking from France, Australia and California. The AMV is a Rhone-style wine specialist, and select specific blocks of grapes from vineyards managed to their specifications. They produce highly complimented single-vineyard Viognier Syrah, Grenache, Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc offerings. They have a centrally located Los Olivos tasting room that is open daily, and their winery on Zaca Station Road in the rolling hills is open weekends as well.
Artiste Winery specializes in the art of blending, producing wines with Old World sensibilities and New World personality. They handcraft their liquid art and present them for tasting in a 1870s art studio in Los Olivos. The combined tasting-art studio allows you to paint on the community canvasses or write in their art journals as you sip and stroll throughout their world.
Coghlan Vineyard & Jewelers offers wine and jewelry, as you might imagine from the name. They feature three pinot noirs whose labels reflect their semi-precious gems business. Each is unique and offers a variety of flavor and aroma traits typical of the pinot noir grape. The Coghlands transformed a historic Victorian in Los Olivos into their wine tasting room and jewelry shop. Their jewelry works are as unique as their wines, and everything –jewelry and wine – is handcrafted.
A true family wine operation, Dragonette Cellars is operated by the three Dragonette brothers, their wives and a brother-in-law. They use pinot noir grapes from the famous Fiddlestix vineyard to produce a highly acclaimed blend. Their Rhone-style blend of syrah from multiple vineyards has also received rave reviews. The family is passionately committed to handcrafting small lots of ultra-premium Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Grenache and Syrah-based blends. They focus on complexity, balance and purity in their products and are rapidly gaining recognition from top critics and consumers.
Using the outstanding grapes from the best vineyards throughout Santa Barbara County, Epiphany Cellars offers some of the more esoteric wines in the Los Olivos areas. They blend grapes from multiple vineyards to create flavor nuances that are deep and complex. They cater to the adventurous wine lover looking for new tastes, and their Rhone-based varietals are bold and daring.
No visit to Los Olivos would be complete without a visit to the Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard. The new winery and tasting room were completed in 1994, and were modeled after an Australian sheep station. The indoor spaces feature stone floors, a worn knotty-pine bar surrounded by Parker’s memorabilia from Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone, and a grand stone fireplace, surrounded by a wraparound veranda with tables. The complex sits on an acre of landscaped grounds bordering the vineyard itself. The amphitheater-style lawn is rimmed by mature oaks and provides the ideal setting for summer evening performances by the Shakespeare Santa Barbara company. The facility is pet friendly and the staff welcomes your four-legged family members. Indoor and outdoor seating for wine tasting is available, along with a large assortment of wines for sampling. Tessa Marie wines is also a must-visit. Tessa Marie is Fess Parker’s granddaughter, so wine is in her blood. She prefers the Italian varietals, particularly sangiovese. She also makes a vermintino, which has a faint vermouth finish.
Firestone Vineyard has long been considered a destination of choice in Santa Barbara County wine country. They specialize in expressive high-quality wines from select estates and vineyards in the Santa Ynez valley. The Firestone tasting room offers delicious wines to sample and an ideal location for picnics, along with regular winery tours.
The minimalist approach to wine-making is focused in the Foxen Winery, where they create only small-production vineyard-designated wines. Foxen is named after the great-great-grandfather of one of the proprietors. This namesake was an English sea captain who settled in the area in the early 1800s. He purchased the 2,000-acre Rancho Tinaquaic, a Mexican land grant comprising most of the canyon in 1837. Captain Foxen adopted the anchor as his cattle ranch brand, and this is now a trademark of the winery. Foxen completed a solar-powered winery and tasting room in 2009, and renamed the historical tasting shack “Foxen 7200.” The shack features the Bordeaux and California-Italian style wines. The Foxen pinots, chardonnays and Rhône’s are showcased in the new tasting room.
Further along the Foxen Canyon Trail just northwest of Los Olivos is Koehler Winery. They produce over 10 varietals on the 100-acre estate from some of the oldest vines in the region. They maintain their vines throughout the season from pruning to harvest, ensuring lower yields of the highest quality grapes. They have been in business since 1972, and continue to add new varieties of grapes to the estates. They continue to create complex, artistic and expressive wines and are a destination for travels from all around the world. Their wines are grown, produced and bottled at the peak of perfection on site. The Koehler tasting experience allows visitors to picnic and enjoy the entire estate – include the sheep, emus and other birds on the property.
Longoria Wines is small and family owned, producing artisanal wines from the finest vineyards in the County. The wines are distinctive for their purity of varietal and site expression, balance and compatibility with food. The Longoria Tasting Room is located in downtown Los Olivos, and features seven pinots, Chardonnays, Syrah, Albarino and Tempranillo. Their ultra-premium winery produces only 3000 cases per year, and the Fe Ciega Pinot is one of the best in the area.
The Los Olivos Tasting Room & Wine Shop was established in 1987, and was California’s first independent tasting room specializing in Santa Barbara and Central Coast Pinot Noirs. They also carry handcrafted fine wines produced by local smaller winemakers and wineries that may not have their own tasting rooms. They carefully select the wines they offer to represent the best of the Central Coasts elite wines. They feature a “Consumable Art” sign over their door to reflect the artistry in the talents of the winemakers they represent. Their selection includes two white wines, four pinot noirs, two select reds and a dessert wine.
Wine aside, the Los Olivos area is also famous for its nearby lavender farms, epitomized by the Clairmont Farm Lavender Company. This family owned organic lavender farm grows five acres of the Grosso variety lavender. This is the most potent and yields the most oil when distilled. The fields against the backdrop of the Santa Ynez Mountains are breathtaking as waves of purple stretch out towards the olive trees and mountains. Many 300-year old oak trees dot the grounds, and the driveway features lines of olive trees planted nearly 200 years ago by the Spanish missionaries. The farm is a mecca for photographers, videographers and painters during peak bloom season, mid-June through late July. Weather causes variations in the peak, and cool, foggy weather extends the peak. The lavender distillery operates daily, and the farm teaches how the farming is done and the products made. Picnickers are welcome, as are shoppers in the gift shop that features lavender products of every description including dog shampoo. Children can bring home a lavender sachet, and visitors can walk through the rows of more than 12,000 lavender plants and explore the farm.
Annual Events & Festivals in Los Olivos
Los Olivos hosts festivals and events throughout the year, celebrating wine, art and olives. The Winter Wine and Arts Festival occurs every February, followed by the Vintners Festival Weekend in April. The Vintners Festival Weekend attracts visitors from many locations, and offers the opportunity to meet vintners, taste the celebrated local wines and enjoy great music and food.
Los Olivos then brings their Jazz and Olive Festival to town in June, bringing both new and notable favorite jazz performers to town. Twenty-seven local wineries offer tastings, and 30 amateur chefs compete in the “Olive in the Kitchen” cook off while providing samples to the guests. Olive vendors offer oils and other olive related products for sale, along with cooking demonstrations using olive-based recipes by local professional chefs.
Los Olivos will celebrate Bastille Day in July. The annual Lost Olivos Quick Draw and Artwalk will celebrate its 27th year August 17, 2013, featuring artists of all flavors for visitors’ enjoyment. The town will welcome autumn with A Day in the Country in October to showcase the small town charm and atmosphere of Los Olivos. A 5K run, silent auction, vendor booths, pie contest and of course, wine tasting, will show off the best of the town in this fun event.
Visitors can ring in the holidays with an Olde Fashioned Christmas in early December. The streets are adorned with luminarias, and local merchants welcome guests in this return to the romantic small-town holiday celebration. There will be musical performances and a tree lighting ceremony, as well.
Visiting Los Olivos
If you are planning to visit Los Olivos, California in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley, click this link to view photos and video tours of vacation rental homes in Los Olivos, as well as read reviews of the properties and make a reservation. Here are a few Los Olivos vacation rentals to choose from:
- The Cottages at Mattei’s Tavern
- Bar Z Ranch
- Los Olivos Charmer
- Figueroa Mountain Ranch
- Hidden Views Guesthouse
- The Hill House
- Koehler Estate Vineyard
- Koehler Estate Guesthouse
- Los Olivos Chic
- Wine Country Cottage
- Rancho Foxen Canyon
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