See Santa Ynez, Los Olivos, and Solvang on an 18-mile bike loop through wine country in northern Santa Barbara County. (Pit stops for tasting rooms are required!) Santa Ynez Valley at harvest is pure Central Coast fall: leafy vineyards and golden hills are dotted with oak trees turning color. Start this ramble at Santa Barbara Wine Country Cycling Tours and ask about the Ballard Canyon Loop—the cycling shop will set you up with a bike and directions. Leaving Santa Ynez, the Ballard Canyon Loop follows 5.5 miles of mostly flat, quiet country roads, passing along ranches with horses and sheep, to the small town of Los Olivos. Here, taste the fruit of the valley’s labor at one of the town’s tasting rooms. We suggest Andrew Murray and Coquelicot, both in the center of town near the flag pole. If you buy a bottle or pick up some lunch (Panino makes good sandwiches and salads), head to the Crooked Path, the garden and front lawn of a local resident and Danish composer. The shaded garden is often open to the public for free music performances. Back on the saddle and leaving town, the ride’s first climb is steep but only a quarter of a mile, and the payoff is big: views alternate between terraced vineyards and golden undulating hills. From here, it’s a lot of fun downhill, plus a few small climbs to keep things interesting. With light traffic (rush hour is unheard of on these back roads), the scenery feels like untapped gold. Pass by horses and green vineyards on your way to the village of Solvang, where hungry bikers would do well to stop by one of the bakeries built in the typical Danish half-timbered style. To return to your starting point in Santa Ynez, finish out the loop’s remaining 5 miles on a bike path that briefly follows a main road, and along residential streets lined with red peppercorn trees.
Santa Barbara Wine Country Cycling Tours is at 3630 Sagunto Street in Santa Ynez. Bike rental (road, hybrid, or mountain) and basic map: $35/half-day; $45/full day. Half-day and full-day guided tours (including wine tasting and picnic lunch) are also available. Andrew Murray’s tasting room is at 2901-A Grand Ave. in Los Olivos, and Coquelicot’s tasting room (diagonal) is at 2884 Grand Ave.; both are open from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Panino is located at 2900 Grand Ave. and is open from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Crooked Path, at 2885 Grand Ave., is the home of a local musician and is often open to visitors from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Andrew Murray, Coquelicot, Panino’s patio, and Crooked Path are all dog friendly.