Santa Ynez, California

Living in Santa Ynez

Iyna Bort Caruso

Santa Ynez, located along California’s Central Coast region, is a little bit cowboy and a little bit cabernet.

Some say it’s a community that feels straight out of a Hollywood Western with its false-front facades and old-time-looking businesses that hearken back to its founding in the 1880s. Crosswalks are even embedded with horseshoes.

Santa Ynez’s history could have unfolded in a dramatically different way. At one point there was talk the Southern Pacific Railroad might be built in the area. Instead of a railroad and a population boom that would have resulted, it stayed a serene little town, though now one with a sophisticated sheen. One-time feed stores, blacksmith shops and mercantile shops are now art galleries, restaurants and boutiques.

This pocket-size town of fewer than 5,000 is north of Santa Barbara in the Santa Ynez Valley, an area made up of six charming communities. The area has an eclectic mix of attractions. Its early, pioneering days are documented at the Santa Ynez Valley Historical Society Museum.  Nearby, the Chumash Casino Resort offers 24-hour gaming and entertainment. For endurance athletes, Santa Ynez has its own training center.

And then there is the wine, the main industry and obsession. There are dozens of wineries in the area. Credit goes to the mountains that channel the cool Pacific Ocean air that creates a microclimate ideal for grape-growing. The wine-making tradition dates back before California statehood, but the modern era of winemaking in the Santa Barbara region began in the 1960s with a generation of viticulture pioneers.

Santa Ynez offers an outdoor lifestyle, sandwiched as it is between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the San Rafael Mountains. Homes with big sky views are always in demand. Properties include ranches with residential compounds, country manors and wine estates.