Of all the equestrian meccas in California, the Santa Ynez Valley, nestled peacefully between the Santa Ynez and San Rafael Mountain ranges, is, perhaps, paramount. It’s here, a mere 35 miles over beautiful San Marcos Pass from Santa Barbara’s beaches and two hours north of Los Angeles, that Andalusian piaffe, Icelandic tolt and thoroughbreds’ thunder in full gallop. Eight equine breeds — including those Andalusians, Icelandics and thoroughbreds, as well as American paints and quarter horses, Arabians, Peruvian pesos and endearing Miniatures horses — call the Santa Ynez Valley home. Ranches range in size from a few acres to hundreds, and from modest to world-class and world-renowned. Indeed, the area offers some of the most impressive ranch estates in the United States.
There’s yet another world-class phenomenon afoot in the Santa Ynez Valley — a thriving wine industry. California’s new “It” wine country is gaining attention, accolades and respect as over 70 local wineries produce highly praised wines and show them off to the world through their inviting tasting rooms, awards and critical acclaim, and even a popular Hollywood movie, Sideways. Shot entirely on location in the valley and following two quirky guys as they wined, dined and misbehaved their way through the valley, the film significantly increased the Santa Ynez Valley’s recognition (as well its wine sales) nationwide.
The area’s charisma is manifest not only in its spectacular ranches and charming wineries, however. Six communities, sprinkled throughout the valley, each offer their own special character, and an eclectic mix of ranchers, cowboys, winemakers and stylish city-dwellers. There’s tiny Ballard with its little red schoolhouse (still in use); Los Alamos and Santa Ynez providing an authentic Western flair; Los Olivos, a taste of upscale Americana offering over a dozen wine tasting rooms, boutiques and art galleries, and a flagpole at its crossroads; and Danish-inspired Solvang, home to authentic Danish bakeries, restaurants and shops, as well as a host of inns and wine tasting rooms.
Although the pastoral valley evokes tranquility, its cultural and activities calendars are perpetually filled. Golfing, hiking, biking, fishing, soaring and, of course, horseback riding are available year-round; theater performances, concerts and other entertainment are plentiful.
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