After traveling several thousand miles on the road during the pandemic with Rerun the Retriever and writing about it in this column, it can be said with canine certainty that Rerun knows a thing or two about travel. And if a commotion enough to generate electricity for an Emirati-sized skyscraper is any indication, Rerun is in love with the pet-friendly Santa Ynez Valley. Her human agrees.
Four hours south of San Francisco, the Santa Ynez Valley – called “the valley” by locals – is made up of six distinct pet-friendly towns and all located within a few miles of each other: Santa Ynez, Solvang, Los Alamos, Los Olivos, Ballard and Buellton. Numerous hikes and parks, dozens of wineries with outdoor tasting areas and innovative farm-to-table outdoor dining are all set in a unique marriage of old, new, retro, western. and Danish. visitsyv.com
Set on two acres and open in March, the newest pet-friendly property in the area is the 22-room Hotel Ynez. Originally built in the 1950s as a roadside motel, it has been completely redesigned, removing the traditional concept of a ‘park on your doorstep’ and replacing it with a charming welcoming courtyard containing gardens, fireplaces, comfortable seats and pétanque. Ball.
The spacious deluxe rooms are beautifully decorated with all comforts including high quality Matouk bedding, an electric fireplace, 65 inch flat screen televisions, a sitting area and a work desk. Redesigned bathrooms have vintage vanities, individually wrapped face and eye masks, and all natural products from the California Fable Soap Company in small batches. A small, separate bar area has a retro Magic Chef cherry red fridge in keeping with the region’s historic roots. For the caffeine junkies among us, a Nespresso machine makes mornings possible.
Hotel Ynez offers free, chic Linus bikes for guests to use, and just across the road, a four-mile round-trip bike / jog trail leads into downtown Solvang. We walked the path early in the morning and as bushy-tailed rabbits ran past, Rerun convulsed with delirious glee over a potentially appetizing leporidian lunch.
A small swimming pool with wraparound loungers adds to the euphoric calm of the Ynez Hotel. Each room has a stone patio and, most importantly, large hammocks overlooking the graceful gardens. The result is an enchanting environment, a return to a quieter time. Continental boxed breakfast is included. hotelynez.com
In a quiet location off Mission Drive in downtown Solvang, world traveler chef Michael Chernay and his wife Sarah opened Peasant’s FEAST just as COVID struck. Trained by Michelin-starred collector Joel Robuchon, and with organic farm life experience, Chef Chernay has linked sustainability with his love for cooking. Valley knew a good thing when they tasted it and rallied to keep FEAST busy with take out orders until the restrictions were lifted. On the pleasant outdoor patio, Rerun chewed a bone with reckless abandon as I devoured Chernay’s creamy cauliflower soup and tangy, mouth-watering slow-cooked pork shoulder carnitas with hot, fresh tortillas. paysansfest.com
With an almost cult locale after its original Los Alamos location, former entertainment industry executive-turned-baker Bob Oswaks has opened a second Bob’s Well Bread Bakery restaurant in the small town of Ballard (under 500). . Replay Bob’s chicken liver treats on the patio while I stuff myself with seasonal mushroom “toast”. The concoction of fresh cream with bacon and shallots was based on a peppered artisanal biscuit. At the same time creamy, soft and crunchy, it has disappeared, à la Houdini. Walking alongside loaves of bread in aromatic olive oil, homemade cookies and pain au chocolat made leaving with my dignity intact a challenge. bobswellbread.com
My visit to the area luckily coincided with one of the Winemakers’ Series events (monthly through September) at Pico Restaurant in the Los Alamos General Store. Lumen’s legendary Lane Tanner – who was rumored to be single-handedly responsible for the resurgence of tie-dye fashion making wine stains a must – regaled the stories of the region’s early days of wine and paired wines, while unrelated chef John Wayne Formica, though he’s sometimes called that, orchestrated a three-course culinary symphonic meal.
In the charming garden dining room, Rerun alternated between serious snoring and drooling waiters. If a beetroot and wildflower appetizer could taste like a late spring day, this is it. Pressed taro coated the tender duck confit from Maple Leaf Farm. A light plum sauce, a tangy orange zest and fresh green onions created dazzling happiness for the taste buds. The final tune was the perfectly cooked Grass Run Farm Korean Tri-tip with a kalbi barbecue making my knife underutilized.
Eating in Pico should be compulsory before leaving the valley. While Hollywood’s John Wayne has certainly been making iconic westerns for decades, Chef John Wayne’s creative and delicious cuisine sustains the soul, changes and redefines the region’s culinary path. losalamosgeneralstore.com
Surrounded by the Santa Ynez and San Rafael Mountains, Lake Cachuma has four hiking trails in the recreation area and the 13km Tequepis Trail just outside. Arriving mid-morning with temperatures hitting 70 degrees but looked like 90s, we embarked on the five mile Sweetwater Trail from Vista Point to the Bradbury Dam Overlook.
With the expansive reservoir filled with bass and trout as a backdrop, hawks were overhead and the lichen-draped trees appeared to be unplanned bird-watching real estate developments. Rerun was happily driven almost mad as only a Labrador can be with birds above and water nearby. countyofsb.org/parks/cachuma.sbc
After a morning run, it was time for Rerun to be driven in style in a fully electric, zero-emission Moke vehicle, rentable by the hour in downtown Solvang. It’s a nice way to see the sites including the old Santa Inés Mission with its pastoral views, the five Danish windmills around town and of course to sample the many bakeries. mokexp.com
Although Rerun enjoyed lapping the wind in the Moke, she was much more interested in Solvang’s Hans Christian Andersen Park, where just past the tennis and paddle courts is a creek bed trail. En route to Ballard, Sunny Fields Park is a great picnic spot with an excellent children’s play area.
No trip to the region would be complete without a dedicated wine tasting. Fortunately, many have alluring gardens where Rerun could doze off at my feet. At the Four Brothers Wine Co. in Los Olivos, palm trees and flowers complemented their refreshing Grenache Blanc 2019. fourbrotherswine.com
Santa Ynez Organic Sunstone Vineyards & Winery has expansive picnic grounds and their 2018 Merlot stash with hints of figs, plums and chocolate reminded me of another wine fridge. sunstonewinery.com
The lesson learned
Rerun has very strong opinions on travel in general and road travel in particular. Like her human, she continually marvels at the beauty of California’s many splendours, especially those that greet her with open paws. The Santa Ynez Valley is no exception. Weft.
Julie L. Kessler is a journalist, lawyer and author of the award-winning memoir: “Fifty-Fifty, The Clarity of Hindsight. She can be reached at [email protected] Some providers have hosted the writer, but the content was not reviewed by them prior to posting and is only the opinion of the writer.