Located not far from the intersection of California State Highways 154 and 246, the quaint historic town of Santa Ynez awaits. The town looks like the setting for a classic western movie. Many of the downtown buildings have turn of the 20th century facades reminiscent of the Old West, although modern conveniences abound. The town boasts a historic saloon and restaurants from gourmet to casual.
Weather & Geography of Santa Ynez
The town sits at 600 feet above sea level and is home to around 4,400 people. It is one of five main communities that make up the Santa Ynez Valley. The town is located approximately 40 miles north of Santa Barbara along the Central California Coast.
The Santa Ynez Valley lies in the heart of Santa Barbara wine country, about two hours northwest of Los Angeles. The Valley has 20,000 residents spread among its towns and ranches. The Los Padres National Forest partially surrounds the Santa Ynez Valley. The town of Santa Ynez it at the southern end of the Valley, home to some of the finest wineries and vineyards in California. Just below the township of Santa Ynez is the reservation of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. This is believed to be the smallest reservation in the United States. Approximately 150 Chumash descendants occupy the reservation, although no full-blooded Chumash remain.
Santa Ynez weather averages over 250 sunny days per year. Highs in the summer are in the low 80s, and winters are usually in the 40s to 60s. Lows rarely drop below freezing, and snow in the Valley is virtually unknown. Weather in the area is usually mild and dry in the summer and wetter in the winter. Air quality is wonderful thanks to off shore winds from the northwest most afternoons throughout the year. The mild Mediterranean climate is ideal for growing grapes and other agricultural crops.
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History of Santa Ynez
The Valley itself has been home to many cultures over the centuries, all of which have left an impression on the Valley’s heritage. The Chumash Indians were the first and longest known inhabitants. Spaniards came to the valley in the 1700s when Spain ruled the Valley area. Spain turned California over to the Mexican government in the early 1800s. Mexicans arrived followed shortly by Americans. True to its Old West nature, the Santa Ynez Valley relied on the stagecoach. The coach line ran from Yuma, Arizona to San Francisco as early as 1858. The first stage station was established near what is now the town of Ballard in 1860. People traveling up the coast by stage crossed the scenic San Marcos Pass or through Gaviota Pass.
In 1881, the founding of the town of Santa Ynez began when Bishop Francis Mora received approval from Congress to sell the land parcel called College Ranch. The land was located east of Mission Santa Inés and had been given to the Catholic Church by the government of Mexico in 1843. Bishop Mora sold the land to people for $6 and $15 per acre tract. Each settler also received one lot in the proposed town site if they purchased an additional lot for $15. The town site was planned in 1882, and was to be named “Sagunto” after Bishop Mora’s birthplace in Spain. The town of Santa Ynez was to be built at the Mission Santa Inés. That town never materialized, so the new town became known as “Santa Ynez” rather than “Sagunto.”
The coastal port of Gaviota was connected to Santa Ynez and the Valley by a country road. Wagons carried farm products to the pier to be loaded on ships bound for San Francisco and beyond. In 1887, the narrow-gauge railroad was completed. The railroad ended its service in 1934 when cars and trucks became common. Residents hoped the Southern Pacific railroad would come through the Valley, so the Santa Ynez Valley Land and Development Company purchased the College Hotel. This hotel, built in 1889, was to become a landmark in the town. It featured two floors of gingerbread Victorian architecture, 30 rooms, ornate cupolas and verandas. It cost the huge sum of $30,000 to build and famous guests stayed at the hotel in the early days. The railroad decided on a different route, instead choosing a coastal route from Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo in 1901. The College Hotel never became financially successful, being used as a boarding house for a time, and then in the 1920s as a land sales office. Fire claimed the hotel in 1935.
The town of Santa Ynez had its boom years in 1880s when many businesses were in operation. Some old timers insisted there were 11 saloons in town at one time, as well as a blacksmith, general mercantile store, pharmacy, feed store, millinery and barber shops. When the Southern Pacific railroad decided to bypass the town, the town returned to its peaceful, country existence. Today many residences and businesses call the area home, and some of the original buildings are still in use. The Valley area is home to cattle and horse ranches. Some of the ranchers are nationally recognized breeders of Arabian and Thoroughbreds. The industry brings in millions of dollars annually, and the area is home to the world-famous Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center.
Tourist Attractions in Santa Ynez
The town of Santa Ynez is special for reasons beyond its Old West roots and country charm. The Trattoria Grappolo restaurant in the town serves gourmet dinners and wines from local farmers and vineyards in the Valley. It is considered one of the most romantic settings in the Santa Ynez Valley. Many of the nearby farms have roadside apple and vegetable stands or “pick your own” events. The Valley farmers grow crops of vegetables, olives and wine grapes. The wine making industry in the area has become the primary industry over the past two decades. Currently over 50 wineries produce award-winning wines in the Santa Ynez Valley. Tourism accounts for much of the economy in the town of Santa Ynez and the Valley in general. Wine tasting rooms, antique stores, art galleries and historical sites abound in the region.
Activities in and around Santa Ynez include hiking in the Los Padres National Forest or bicycling through the Valley. With year-round good weather, world-class cyclists train in the Valley regularly. Nearby Lake Cachuma offers recreational boating with kayaks and canoes, camping, fishing and lake cruises. It is also a popular destination for viewing bald eagles.
Key tourist attractions in Santa Ynez and the Valley include premium wine tasting opportunities set among the gently rolling hills and ancient oak trees. The area is the perfect setting for a long weekend of relaxing natural beauty and experiencing hand crafted artisan wines produced on local ranches and estates along rustic country roads.
The Carriage Museum is located in the town of Santa Ynez and houses one of the best collections of wagons and stagecoaches in the U.S. The museum is curated by John Crockett, a descendant of Davey Crocket. The collection contains more than 35 horse drawn wagons, carriages and stagecoaches, some dating back over 100 years. One of the favorites is a western coach operated by Yellowstone Stage Lines. It carried visitors to Yellowstone Park and could accommodate 11 passengers, a driver and a shotgun guard. Teams of four to six horses were required to draw the coach. The Valley gained attention as the setting of the 2004 film Sideways, but was a beautiful place to visit long before that.
If you are looking for something to do in the evenings, we recommend the Maverick Saloon, one of the last original, thriving California saloons. It’s a fantastic 50-year-old saloon founded in 1963, with an authentic western atmosphere and live music.
Annual Events & Festivals in Santa Ynez
The town of Santa Ynez celebrates its western roots each June with the Old Santa Ynez Days Festival. This extravaganza includes a street fair, parade and country-western entertainment. Eubanks’ Peppertree Ranch in Santa Ynez sponsors the Spring Peppertree Art Show each May and the Fall Peppertree Art Show in November. The Vaquero Show and Sale is hosted by the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum in Santa Ynez every November. The Santa Barbara County Vintners Association celebrates the Santa Ynez Valley wine tradition every April with the Vintners Festival and the Celebration of Harvest in October. These festivities involve the entire valley, dozens of wineries and wine tours through the various wine trails of the valley.
Visiting Santa Ynez
If you are planning to visit Santa Ynez, California in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley, click these links to view photos and video tours of vacation rental homes in Santa Ynez, as well as read reviews of the properties and make a reservation:
- Estelle Ranch
- Folded Hills Ranch
- Goodgame Ranch
- Left Hand Ranch
- Olive Hill Ranch
- Rancho La Paloma
- Rancho Maroma
- Rancho Santuario
- A Town Center Retreat
- Vista El Dorado