Auberge Brings Luxe to Coastal Cowgirl Haven Santa Ynez Valley

Southern California style has traditionally been pegged to surf, skate and the street. But SoCal ranch — or as TikTok calls it, “coastal cowgirl” — has become just as pervasive. (Think fisherman sweaters, nautical stripes, denim, cowboy boots and straw cowboy hats.)

The Santa Ynez Valley 30 miles northeast of Santa Barbara is the place to soak it in, which may be why the area has been such a favorite with designers and lifestyle brand builders of late, among them Jenni Kayne, Jacey Duprie of Wyeth, Kendall Conrad, and Heidi Merrick.

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The horsey wine country encompassing the small towns of Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, Los Alamos, Solvang and Buellton is also becoming a bona fide luxury destination with the opening of Auberge Resorts The Inn at Mattei’s Tavern, adding to a low-key scene that includes Michelin-starred restaurants, a bounty of vineyards, olive groves, lavender fields, and some good local shopping.

“It’s become a mini Napa,” says L.A. designer Kayne, who has been coming to the area since she was a kid. “It’s one of those places that when I get there, my shoulders just drop…And it has influenced me, how I’m inspired by California nature and oak trees.”

(Kayne’s Oak Essentials skin care products are used for facials at the Auberge, and until it sold for just under $6 million, the Jenni Kayne Ranch house in Santa Ynez was a showplace for her home line and interior design services.)

“It’s the perfect blend of California and Texas,” says Duprie, who grew up on a cotton farm in South Texas before moving to L.A. and starting her Damsel in Dior blog. Her Wyeth collection has a “Santa Ynez Barn Jacket” inspired by weekends the influencer spends with family in the area, doing everything from riding horses to wine tastings. Everything she needs fits into the deep pockets.

“It’s really wild and rugged and gorgeous,” says Conrad, a former model who started her understated handbag collection in 2000 with the help of a saddle maker. She moved to the Solvang area two years ago from Santa Barbara. “In the summer, it’s like Andalusia with that neutral palette, all browns and dry, and in the winter it’s like Scotland. And we’re 15 minutes from the beach.”

Where to stay

Now that California’s historic rains appear to be tapering off, the valley is more green and lush than ever and the wildflowers are popping.

In Los Olivos, the 19th-century water tower with a palm tree planted next to it stands at the center of the Auberge property as a symbol of its history as a community hub with coastal-meets-country character.

Swiss immigrants Felix and Lucy Mattei opened the Inn at Mattei’s Tavern as a stagecoach stop in 1886, and the Auberge has lovingly restored the historic saloon-style bar room and restaurant, filling it with antiques, family portraits by the couple’s son, oil painter Clarence Mattei, and relics of the famous Rancheros Vistadores cowboy club whose members included Ronald Reagan and Walt Disney.

Executive chef Rhoda Magbitang came to the hotel from the Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood. The Old West vibe carries through to the menu, which includes a Painted Saddle cocktail with pink peppercorn-infused gin, fino sherry, dry vermouth and bay laurel from the herb garden outside; crispy cauliflower with garlic tahini and spiced local honey; Central Coast abalone with white miso butter, and dry aged porterhouse.

Mattei’s Tavern chef Rhoda Magbitang.
Mattei’s Tavern chef Rhoda Magbitang.

The newly built accommodations have a relaxed ranch vibe. Gravel walkways dotted with fire pits, succulents and lavender plants lead to 67 freestanding guest rooms, including five historic cottages. They all have four-poster beds, fireplaces, white clapboard armoires, brass accents, and individual touches, such as rocking chairs and porch swings on private outdoor patios.

Amenities include a pool, movement studio and barn-chic events space, as well as Gin’s Tap Bar serving local brews and wines outdoors with live music. Locally inspired activities can be arranged on site, such as olive oil and wine tastings, and a “uni experience” that lets guests learn about and prepare the prickly delicacies divers pluck from the Channel Islands. When it opens this summer, the Lavender Barn will be a wellness destination, offering a range of spa services.

Guest room at The Inn at Mattei’s Tavern.
Guest room at The Inn at Mattei’s Tavern.

Guests are just steps away from the wine tasting rooms clustered along Grand Avenue, Los Olivos’ main drag, and the Foxen Wine Trail is just a short drive (or bike ride) up into the hills.

“We were the 11th winery in the Santa Barbara Vintners Association in 1989, and now there are over 200 wineries,” said Ashley Parker during a tour of the picturesque Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard along the trail. Her family has had a foothold in the area since her late father, actor Fess Parker, bought their 714-acre ranch in 1988, and opened the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn in Los Olivos a year later.

“Santa Barbara has been growing as a wine region and I hate to say it, but ‘Sideways’ had a lot to do with it,” she said of the wine country road trip comedy starring Paul Giamatti, which celebrates its 20th anniversary next year.

Fess Parker was the setting for the famed dump bucket scene, and the film led to so much free press that the family sold through two vintages of pinots “like that,” she said. The rolling vineyard estate, named a top 100 winery by Wine and Spirits magazine in 2022, is the ideal place for relaxing with a glass of 2021 Ashley’s pinot noir, or 2020 Festivity brut cuvée bubbly.

“We’re trying to get away from the Fess stuff a bit,” Parker said of her father’s legacy of playing Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone on TV, which drove a nostalgic customer to the brand. “Demographics are helping us, because there are 20- and 30-year-olds coming in who don’t have any idea who Fess Parker is, they just like the pinots.”

Fess Parker Home Ranch
Fess Parker Home Ranch

In town, the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn, which recently renovated its 19 rooms with a country farmhouse feel similar to Mattei’s, is another great option for lodging, with the popular Nella Kitchen & Bar in the lobby serving littleneck clams, meatballs, pinsas and pastas.

Where to eat

The Santa Ynez valley is a foodie haven, with fine dining restaurants, cult favorite Bob’s Well Bread bakery selling out of sourdough loaves and caneles most mornings (tip: order online in advance for pickup), farm stands and local seafood among the many temptations.

Gramercy Tavern and Per Se veterans Greg and Daisy Ryan kickstarted the culinary scene when they opened French bistro Bell’s in 2018 in funky Los Alamos. Five years and one Michelin star later, the restaurant is still a must for its unforgettable mille crepes with uni and caviar, steak tartare and the perfect egg salad sandwiches for lunch. The $90 prix fix dinner changes nightly but might feature prawn pain perdu, steak au poivre and dark chocolate mousse.

The couple opened the seafood-forward Bar Le Côte in Los Olivos last year, which serves boquerones and olive spears, scallop crudo and chili marinated whole sea bream along with its famed saffron buns with uni butter.

Bar Le Côte
Bar Le Côte

Where to sip

Part of the fun is seeing the local wines on the menus, then visiting their vineyards.

Carhartt Family Wines (which shares family history with the Detroit-based workwear clothier) is entirely direct-to-consumer except for the bottles it makes for Bar Le Côte, including a yummy mourvèdre. The back patio of the tasting room is the place to be on weekend afternoons, for live music, dancing, food trucks and maybe a local blacksmith selling custom wares. (Especially on weekends, reservations are a must for nearly all of the tasting rooms.)

Carhartt Family Wines
Carhartt Family Wines

Santa Barbara County has one of the highest number of female winemakers in California, among them Jessica Gasca, whose boutique winery Story of Soil focuses on single varietal wines sourced from sustainable, organic and biodynamic vineyards. Funky, tart and wild, the 2022 Martian Ranch Vineyard Gamay Noir is unique to the area, which includes three distinct growing regions: Happy Canyon, producing cabernet sauvignon and other Bordeaux varietals including merlot and sauvignon blanc; Los Olivos and Ballard Canyon, where Rhône (syrah, grenache, viognier) and Bordeaux varietals are grown, and Santa Rita Hills for chardonnay and pinot noir.

Hailing from Ballard Canyon, Stolpman Vineyards pours a range of Rhone wines, from roussanne to syrah, at its pleasant tasting room and outdoor patio. Next door is the place to discover its So Fresh label of carbonic wines, including the tasty Love You Bunches orange and rose.

Duprie recommends the patio at the oak-studded Roblar Winery in Santa Ynez for a glass of chardonnay and lunch from the farm-to-table menu that includes a terrific cheese board, and early spring pea and citrus salad.

Scotty Boy wines
Scotty Boy wines

For a totally different experience, head to Buellton’s Industrial Park, where Scott Sampler’s “low and slow,” punk rock approach to winemaking has made his Central Coast Group Project bottles favorites at Mattei’s, Horses in L.A. and other trendy new establishments.

If you’re lucky, you will score an appointment through his website to visit his office, piled high with books about everything from Richard Diebenkorn to border collies. He’ll play some vinyl (Lou Reed), the chat will veer from LSD to the old days at Hollywood haunt Musso & Frank, and Sampler will sample some of his CCGP 2014 “Purple Pyramid” syrah, or his Scotty Boy natural wine label “El Sandweeech” carbonic co-ferment of organic pinot noir and chardonnay. “It’s more like a hangout,” he says of his approach to tastings.

Figueroa Craft Brewing and Ascendent Spirits are also in the vicinity, as is Industrial Eats, a lunchtime restaurant, pizzeria and craft butcher that serves brisket sandwiches, reubens and salads, alongside daily specials.

Where to shop

Not far away, the Danish Village of Solvang is full of windmills and kitsch. Not to miss, though, are the bakeries selling traditional strudel, kringle and butter cookies. The Solvang Bakery (where the Kardashians get their legendary holiday gingerbread houses) and Mortensen’s Bakery are good bets.

If you take Alamo Pintado Road back to Los Olivos, Olive + Lavender Farms is a cute stop for oils, vinegars, bath salts and other gifts.

Jedlicka’s Western Wear will get visitors in the mood with its wide selection of snap-front shirts, cowboy boots and Stetsons, plus a life-size plastic horse out front that’s the ultimate photo-op.

Global Eye Shop & Studio stocks artisan lifestyle goods such as pillows, candles, jewelry and dresses, as well as handmade ceramics by co-owner Kristen Cramer, including lovely porcelain black painted and carved cacti mugs, wheel-thrown candle holders and poppy flower table lamps.

Los Olivos General Store is a one-stop-shop to stock up on local honey, jam and soaps, and pick up a sandwich next door at local chain Panino, to eat out front while sitting on an Adirondack chair and grabbing some rays.

Stalwart Santa Barbara retailer Wendy Foster’s Los Olivos outpost has country-chic floral dresses, skirts and bandanas from Ulla Johnson, The Great and Xirena.

In Santa Ynez (where S.Y. Kitchen is the place to dig into T-bone truffle sliders, Tuscan beef ragu pasta, and gelato), Brass Tack has a fantastic mix of vintage, resale and new, with dresses by MM6 and Rachel Comey, duster coats, cowboy boots and more.

Across Sagunto Street, Santa Ynez General, which also operates the retail store at The Inn at Mattei’s Tavern, has mastered luxury with a local touch, with party-ready dresses by Esse, Rosie Assoulin and Alix of Bohemia, movie premiere-worthy suits by Blaze Milano, Harden novelty rainbow and cactus knits, Frame denim, Ami tees and the store’s own house brand of sandals and boots.

Santa Ynez General
Santa Ynez General

“There are 4,000 people in Santa Ynez, and the whole valley is 20,000 people,” says former Neiman Marcus buyer Pearson McGee, who opened the store with his husband Spencer Turnbull in 2019. “They are coming to me for things they are not seeing in the big department stores or national chains. The style here is ranchier and understated; my client might be wearing jeans and T-shirts, but flying to Europe for a wedding and wanting special.”

The pandemic put Santa Ynez on the map, bringing in a lot of transplants, he says, and business has been booming. The apparel store started at a tiny 600 square feet and has grown to 1,700 square feet. The couple added a home store, featuring Style Union ceramics, Tina Frey resin pieces and Atelier Salsier table linens.

“We’ve had a great response at the Auberge, and it’s driving business to our main store,” McGee says. “A lot of people come to the Santa Ynez area but they never come to Santa Ynez.”

Auberge Resorts The Inn at Mattei’s Tavern, 2350 Railway Avenue, Los Olivos, Rooms start at $950.

Fess Parker Winery & Vineyard, 6200 Foxen Canyon Road, Los Olivos,

Nella Kitchen & Bar, 2860 Grand Avenue, Los Olivos,

Bob’s Well Bread, 550 Bell Street, Los Alamos; 2449 Baseline Drive, Ballard,

Bell’s, 406 Bell Street, Los Alamos,

Bar Le Cote, 2375 Alamo Pintado Avenue, Los Olivos,

Carhartt Family Wines, 2939 Grand Avenue, Los Olivos,

Story of Soil, 2928 San Marcos Avenue, Los Olivos,

Stolpman Vineyards, 2434 Alamo Pintado Avenue, Los Olivos,

Roblar Winery, 3010 Roblar Avenue, Santa Ynez,

The Central Coast Group Project, 53 Industrial Way, Buellton,

Industrial Eats, 181 Industrial Way, Buellton,

The Solvang Bakery, 438 Alisal Road, Solvang,

Mortensen’s Bakery, 1588 Mission Drive, Solvang,

Olive + Lavender Farms, 2450 Alamo Pintado Road,

Jedlicka’s Western Wear, 2883 Grand Avenue, Los Olivos,

Global Eye Shop & Studio, 2935 Grand Avenue, Los Olivos,

Los Olivos General Store, 2900 Grand Avenue, Los Olivos,

Wendy Foster Los Olivos, 2928 San Marcos Avenue, Los Olivos,

S.Y. Kitchen, 1110 Faraday Street, Santa Ynez,

Brass Tack, 3553 Sagunto Street, Santa Ynez,

Santa Ynez General, 3558 Sagunto Street, Santa Ynez,

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