The Santa Ynez Valley has become a star of its own making
California’s Central Coast has gained a reputation for many things. Chief among them are the scenic drive up Pacific Coast Highway and a growing wine-making industry centered between Santa Ynez Valley and Paso Robles. That same spate of golden, rolling hills has also become a focus of cyclists from all over the world. Much of the region is full of Native American, Spanish and, yes, even Danish history.
For years now the quiet roads that lie just over the hill from Santa Barbara have welcomed cyclists of every stripe—from the seasoned pro riders who have come to rely on the steep climbs for training to the casual cyclists who fixate on the scenery. We found the hills and scenery were the perfect destination for e-bikes. E-bikes rule in hilly country, and we were ready to take it easy!
Santa Ynez Valley
Located in northern Santa Barbara County, California, the Santa Ynez Valley is located 35 miles from the beaches of Santa Barbara, 125 miles up the coast from Los Angeles and 300 miles south of San Francisco. The quiet country roads that are sprinkled throughout this entire valley make for fantastic cycling. Majestic views of vineyards and windmills are thematic of the six distinctive communities within Santa Ynez. As much as the area provides the perfect weekend getaway for its urban and traffic-bound neighbors to the south, it is proving equally popular with out-of-state visitors as well.
There are two ways to enter (or exit) the valley, and we would advise you to be sure to use both. Heading north from Santa Barbara, you should definitely take the San Marcos Pass (State Route 154), which offers sweeping views of the entire valley and Lake Cachuma. The other entrance would be off Highway 101 in Bulleton, which provides beautiful ocean vistas.
Although there are many hotels and inns from which to stage your rides, the crown jewel of all Santa Ynez is the namesake Santa Ynez Inn. This luxurious, AAA, four-diamond-rated inn delivers a unique hotel experience with an abundance of Victorian grace and warm hospitality. From the moment you enter the lobby of this beautifully decorated 20-room inn, you’ll be hard-pressed to want to walk outside.
The word “solvang” is actually Danish for “sunny fields,” and with its replica look and feel of a quaint Danish town that was dropped into California, Solvang has the look and feel of a born-to-be tourist Mecca (or Hollywood studio backlot). But, it does have authentic Danish roots given that it was founded back in 1911 by a group of Danes who were seeking a new colony with warmer winter climes.
There are plenty of hotels within the town to accommodate all price ranges. Our best advice is to get to town early, as from one end of town to the other there is a plethora of bakeries serving warm Danish pastries. Besides the many unique village curio shops, Solvang is also home to a diverse array of other attractions—from the Mission Santa Ines and Hans Christian Andersen Museum to the Solvang Motorcycle Museum and Chumash Indian Casino (outside of town).
Prior to—or following any ride—leaving Solvang without engaging in some carbo loading at Paula’s Pancake House would just be plain wrong. (Note: if you are a coffee fan, be sure to hit the Bull Dog Café first to get the best cup of joe in town). One other (odd) must-see while you’re in the area is the Ostrichland USA located near the edge of town on the road to nearby Bulleton. The Ostrichland Farm also happens to be located next to the two restaurants that played a pivotal role in the movie Sideways.
Besides Solvang and Santa Ynez, there is also the small town of Los Olivos, which is the perfect place for lunch and a day trip. The pedaling around the area is scenic and easy on the e-bike.
TWO RIDES TO CONSIDER
The Solvang to Ballard Canyon Loop combines the charm of riding through Solvang, the Alamo Pintado Valley and the country feeling of Ballard Canyon. Moderately easy at 12.5 miles in distance with little elevation change.
Alisos Canyon Loop is a great, demanding country ride. It’s 41.5 miles in length, but you can cut it short and turn around at any point. Enjoy views of oak-studded, rolling hills with majestic mountaintops in the distance.
Make certain to map out any ride based on mileage and battery power your bike is capable.