Dreaming of a wine tasting getaway to Los Olivos wineries? In this guide, I’m sharing all the details you need to plan your wine-filled adventure in California’s Central Coast.
Downtown Los Olivos is a wine lover’s paradise, with more than two dozen tasting rooms just steps from each other.
And outside town, you’ll find many more wineries serving up delicious wines with drop-dead gorgeous vineyard views. It’s no wonder Santa Barbara was named 2021 Wine Region of the Year by Wine Enthusiast!
But if you’re feeling overwhelmed with so many places to choose from, I’m here to help.
As an American Wine Expert and WSET-certified wine blogger, I’ve done all the searching and sipping for you. And I put together my handpicked list of Los Olivos wineries you won’t want to miss. Plus, all the tips you need to help your trip go smoothly.
While you’re here, don’t miss taking my wine country destination quiz! It will magically match your taste buds, travel style, and winederlust desires to reveal the wine region of your dreams. Plus, you’ll get my wine region guide to make planning a breeze. Take the quiz.
History of Los Olivos Wineries
Los Olivos is Santa Barbara County’s oldest winegrowing area, with some of the earliest vineyards being planted here. Back in 1804, Spanish Franciscans tended grapevines and made small amounts of wine at Mission Santa Ines.
Credit for the Los Olivos name goes to Alden March Boyd, one of the area’s first settlers. In 1885, he bought a chunk of land, 157 acres to be exact, and named it Rancho de Los Olivos.
Fred Brander was a pioneer in this wine region. After studying at UC Davis, he interned at Dry Creek Vineyard in Sonoma. And in 1975, he ventured out on his own to plant a 40-acre vineyard in Los Olivos.
Fred discovered the area was perfect for Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. And Brander Vineyard was born.
Convinced Los Olivos had a unique microclimate, he led the charge to establish the Los Olivos District AVA. And in 2016, was successful in getting it recognized.
Today, there are more than a thousand acres of vineyards in the district. And there are dozens of wineries and wine tasting rooms throughout the AVA (American Viticultural Area).
Los Olivos District AVA Climate and Terroir
Located in Santa Barbara County’s Central Coast, the Los Olivos District AVA is 30 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean.
What sets it apart? Well, unlike the rest of California where mountains are parallel to the coast, this region’s transverse ranges run east to west. This funnels the cold ocean breezes down the valley. And makes it surprisingly one of California’s coolest wine regions.
Los Olivos is a nested AVA of the Santa Ynez Valley AVA. Bordered by Happy Canyon AVA and Ballard Canyon AVA, it includes small towns like Los Olivos, Solvang, Ballard, and Santa Ynez.
The landscape and soil here are very uniform compared to the rest of the Santa Ynez Valley. And that’s a big part of why it was recognized as its own AVA.
This area is an alluvial terrace, with gravelly soils like the Bordeaux’s left bank. It’s got good drainage going on, which keeps the vines healthy. But also retains enough water to keep them from getting too thirsty.
Being further inland, the climate is moderate, with warm, sunny days. Less fog than areas to the west means warmer days and chillier nights. Just right for ripening those grapes without losing their zing.
The lack of rainfall makes organic farming easier, reducing the need for fungal disease treatments. Plus, the root-louse phylloxera is less of a concern, allowing some vines to survive without grafting onto American rootstock.
What Wine Is Los Olivos Known For?
Los Olivos is known for Bordeaux and Rhône varieties. If you’re not familiar with these regions, think Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc for Bordeaux. And Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Viognier for Rhône.
In Los Olivos, you’ll find a fresher style of Sauvignon Blanc. Usually unoaked and zesty, it packs more acidity than white wines from the warmer Happy Canyon AVA.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are made in a lighter style than other Californian big-hitters. And some fantastic Syrahs and Viogniers are coming out of this region. You’ll even find Spanish and Italian varietals like Tempranillo and Sangiovese.
VIP Wine Tastings
As a member of The California Wine Club, one of the perks I receive is VIP winery tours and tastings in California. They work with small producers who love to host wine club members when visiting the area.
All I had to do was reach out when I was planning my trip. They not only set up some complimentary tastings but also offered insights into other wineries and local dining spots worth exploring. Visiting those wineries felt special, an experience that went beyond the usual.
Visit the website to learn more about this benefit and the access you get to small-batch wines you often won’t find outside of the winery.
Recommendations may be affiliate links on which I earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. This helps me share new wine destinations with you and I only recommend products and services that I love and think you’ll love too!
The Best Downtown Los Olivos Wineries
This small town is packed full of wine-tasting rooms. While there are many great options, these producers stand out for exceptional wines and hospitality.
This winery started as a home winemaking project, fermenting Syrah grapes in a garage. Brothers John and Steve Dragonette, and their close friend Brandon Sparks-Gillis, turned their passion into a profession in 2005 when they founded Dragonette Cellars.
They focus on low yields to make high quality, complex, and balanced wines. You’ll find Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Rhône varieties.
These come from sought-after vineyard sites in Sta. Rita Hills, Happy Canyon, and Santa Ynez Valley. The wines are fermented in small lots and aged in French oak.
All the wines I tried were excellent. From the Grenache-based rosé to the Bordeaux-style Sauvignon Blanc to the smooth Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir.
Don’t miss the Radian Pinot Noir. This steep, windy vineyard produces tiny clusters that make intensely flavored berries. The wine is deep and complex, with loads of black cherries, herbs, and earth.
And for a fun twist, try the Collaboration Pinot Noir that’s made by the winery’s staff. The blend you taste might just be the handiwork of your tasting room host.
Reservations are recommended at the downtown Los Olivos tasting room, though walk-ins are welcome. Sample a preset flight of five wines. And if you take home three bottles, the tasting fee is comped.
You can also book a private winery tour and tasting at their Buellton winemaking facility to explore reserve-level and single-vineyard gems.
If you’re a fan of Rhône-style wines, check out Stolpman Vineyards.
Marilyn and Tom Stolpman’s dream of owning a vineyard was inspired by their honeymoon in Napa Valley. In 1990, it became a reality when they purchased a vineyard.
It’s since been passed down to Pete and Jessica Stolpman, the next generation. And longtime vigneron Ruben Solorzano, dubbed the “Grape Whisperer” by Wine Enthusiast, manages the Ballard Canyon vineyards.
They use dry farming, encouraging vines to dig deep for water and producing more flavorful grapes. Plus, they allow native yeast to ferment their wines, adding character.
One of the cool things is that Stolpman gives back to their farmers, sharing a percentage of the profits.
Stolpman’s Viognier is delicious, with great acidity, luscious peach, and a lingering finish. For red wine lovers, try the Hilltops Syrah, a concentrated wine made from the oldest vines.
And don’t miss the Sun and Earth, one of Ruben’s wines. A blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache, and Syrah, it’s got beautiful blackberry, raspberry, baking spices, and cedar.
Reservations are required. And groups are capped at six in their Los Olivos tasting room. The outdoor patio is a peaceful spot to savor their wines.
You can also explore the next-door Fresh Garage, which serves up Stolpman’s carbonic wines.
Pin for Later!
For exceptional Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and cool-climate Syrah, don’t miss Brewer-Clifton.
Since its founding in 1996 by Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton, a few things have changed. Steve ventured out on a new path in 2015. And the winery was sold to Jackson Family Wines in 2017.
But Greg Brewer remains the winemaker. This deal allowed him to stop his consulting gigs and focus on making his outstanding wines. In fact, he was named Winemaker of the Year by Wine Enthusiast in 2020.
The vineyards are in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, known for its cooler climate. Greg uses whole cluster fermentation for the reds and whole cluster press for the whites.
And neutral oak adds body and texture without overpowering the fruit flavors. These wines are meant to be ageable for 10 years or more.
The Chardonnays are outstanding. They have almost a salty quality from the ocean influence. Plus, bright acidity, stone fruit, and citrus.
The Pinot Noirs are herbal, with black cherry, strawberry, and a dash of spice. And don’t miss the Ex Post Facto Syrah made in a cool-climate style with soft blackberry, black cherry, and black pepper.
You’ll want to make a reservation for their personalized tasting experience. Groups of six or more should contact them in advance. And if you’re a wine club member, consider a private appointment at the winery for a special experience.
Story of Soil
For those of you who like to geek out on soil, you should stop by Story of Soil.
Jessica Gasca is the mastermind behind this boutique winery. Her love affair with winemaking began during an internship in 2009. And she continued learning by apprenticing at Sanguis Wines. By 2012, she was making her first vintage.
Jessica’s focus is on letting the soil’s story shine, believing it’s not the winemaker but the earth that speaks through the wine. The fruit is sourced from vineyards in Sta. Rita Hills, Los Olivos, Santa Maria Valley, and Ballard Canyon.
Single-varietal and single-vineyard wines are created in small lots with minimal intervention. These are wines with soul.
I loved their rosé of Pinot Noir, a light pink, fresh wine from the Gold Coast Vineyard in Santa Maria Valley. The Pinot Noir from Ampelos Vineyard in Santa Rita Hills was a standout too.
But my favorite was the Syrah. Also from Ampelos Vineyard, it’s made in a cool-climate style with no heavy extraction. Just neutral oak, allowing the blueberry and black plum to shine, with a hint of black pepper.
Story of Soil recommends reservations, but they welcome walk-ins when space allows. And if you buy three bottles, the tasting fee is waived. You can even rent the tasting room for larger groups. Just ask in advance.
Future Perfect Wine
Get ready for a dose of sunshine in a glass at Future Perfect.
Sunshine, aka Sunny Doench Stricker, is the heart and soul behind this winery. Originally from Ohio, Sunny spent most of her life in LA as an actor, but her passion for wine led her on a new journey.
In 2017, she moved to Los Olivos, bought a farm, and embraced winemaking. She learned from some of the best, including Jessica Gasca of Story of Soil. And Amy Christine and Peter Hunken of Holus Bolus.
Future Perfect sources local fruit that’s organic, biodynamic, or sustainably farmed. The hand-harvested grapes are made into small-batch wines using neutral French oak.
Their sparkling rosé bursts with lively bubbles and flavors of lemon, strawberry, and raspberry.
And the “Breakfast Wine” Sauvignon Blanc, from Grassini Vineyard in Happy Canyon, is so delicious you’ll skip the pancakes and go right to the wine.
And try the Pinot Noir from Our Lady of Guadalupe vineyards in Sta. Rita Hills. It balances earthy, meaty, and smoky notes with beautiful fruit.
Shop their rainbow-themed merch while you sip. And if you like the wines, be sure to get on the wine club waitlist while you can.
Open daily, reservations are recommended but walk-ins are welcome. Large groups of nine or more, reach out in advance.
Or for an unforgettable experience, consider their semi-private tastings at Diamond Sky Ranch, offering stunning mountaintop views of Santa Barbara County.
Holus Bolus & The Joy Fantastic
Founded in 2005 by Amy Christine and Peter Hunken, Holus Bolus is a hidden gem for Burgundy and Rhône varietal lovers. Amy is a Master of Wine and WSET instructor, while Peter spent years working at Stolpman Vineyards.
The Holus Bolus label features an octopus, symbolizing the eight limbs of Amy and Peter. These single vineyard wines are made from fruit sourced throughout Santa Barbara County.
And in 2014, they planted their own 5-acre vineyard in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. The fruit goes into wines playfully named “The Joy Fantastic” after a Prince album.
Try the Amy & Peter Made This Pinot Noir. Sourced from a historic site in Sta. Rita Hills, it has a delightful balance of acidity, red cherry, and savory herbal notes.
And don’t miss The Joy Fantastic Syrah, one of the coolest plantings of this grape in Santa Barbara County. With black pepper on the nose and beautiful black fruit, it earned an impressive 97 points from Wine Enthusiast.
Want to visit? They have a cozy tasting room where you might even have the chance to meet Amy or Peter themselves. Reservations are a smart move, but they also welcome walk-ins.
Carhartt Family Wines
Mike and Brooke Carhartt purchased the family’s Rancho Santa Ynez property in 1992. And by 1996, they had planted a vineyard, releasing Carhartt Family Wines‘ first vintage two years later.
In 2005, they opened their Los Olivos tasting room. Known as the Carhartt Cabin, it’s earned three consecutive “Best Valley Tasting Room” awards from the Santa Barbara Independent.
Their son, Chase, joined as co-winemaker with Brooke in 2011. And Carhartt has expanded to three Santa Ynez Valley vineyards, farmed using organic and sustainable practices.
If you’re familiar with the Carhartt clothing brand, you might be wondering if there’s a connection. Well, there is! Mike is the great-grandson of Hamilton, who founded the famous heavy-duty workwear company.
Now, let’s talk wine. My personal favorite was the Mourvèdre. Made in a lighter style, this red wine has soft tannins. And elegant notes of spice, red fruit, and dried herbs.
And if you’re a fan of cool-climate Cabernet Sauvignon, try Carhartt’s. It’s got great acidity, with violets, blackberry, blackcurrant, and spices.
Pro tip: Carhartt stays open later than most tasting rooms in downtown Los Olivos. So, plan this as your last stop. Reservations are optional at their wine-barrel-furniture-adorned patio and tasting room.
Or you can book a private tasting and tour at the ranch. Plus, check out their vacation rental in the Sangiovese vineyard to sleep among the vines.
Other Downtown Los Olivos Wineries to Visit
If you’re looking for more options, these are some other wine tasting rooms in downtown Los Olivos to check out.
Margerum Wine Company
I visited Margerum’s Santa Barbara tasting room in the Funk Zone (more on that coming soon). But they also have a location in downtown Los Olivos.
They focus on Rhône wines, and everything I tasted was fantastic. Plus, they offer food and wine pairing experiences (sparkling wine and oysters, yes please!). Just be sure to book in advance.
Epiphany Cellars & The Bubble Shack
If you can’t make it to Fess Parker Winery, they also have two tasting rooms downtown. Epiphany features their Rhône-based varietal wines.
And at the Bubble Shack, you can taste…yup, you guessed it, bubbly! These are under the Fesstivity Sparkling Wine label.
Reservations are recommended for both, but they’ll take walk-ins if space is available.
The Best Los Olivos Wineries Outside Downtown
While not an exhaustive list, these are some of the top Los Olivos wineries to visit beyond downtown. Just head north on Foxen Canyon Road and you’ll find them along the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail.
His vision of owning a vineyard and winery came true when he and his wife, Sandra, discovered the stunning property in 2005. They named it after their daughter, Demetria, inspired by the Greek goddess of harvest, Demeter.
Today, their son, Alexis, continues the family legacy. And they’ve brought on Ryan Roark as vineyard manager and winemaker. This globetrotter has winemaking experience from France, New Zealand, and Napa Valley.
With 45 acres of biodynamically farmed estate vineyards, Demetria focuses on Rhône varietals. Plus, they source some fruit from other Central Coast vineyards for Burgundy-style wines. The wines are made as natural as possible, using native yeast for fermentation.
The Pantheon Blanc, a Sancerre-style Sauvignon Blanc, is a standout. The lime, lemon, grapefruit, and floral notes are backed by zesty acidity.
Their Viognier is excellent too, with juicy peach, melon, honeysuckle, and a touch of texture. And for a special treat, try the sparkling rosé, with cherry, grapefruit, and lively bubbles.
Reservations are required for visiting. Bring your own food to enjoy on the patio or lawn. It’s the perfect place for a winery picnic. And kids are welcome too!
Just limit groups to eight. And keep in mind, there’s no Wi-Fi or cell service. So, plug those directions in ahead of time.
For a deeper dive, book a tasting with the winemaker. And if you fall in love with the property (and your date), they even double as a wedding venue.
If you’re a Syrah lover, then you can’t miss Zaca Mesa.
Founded in 1973 by John Cushman and five friends, it was the third winery in Santa Barbara County. And the first to plant Syrah in 1978.
Now, they hold claim to the oldest Syrah block on the Central Coast, known as the Black Bear Block. Their wines were even served in the White House in 1996.
Stewart Cushman, John’s son, runs things today, keeping it a family-owned winery. And Kristen Bryden has been the head winemaker since 2016.
Zaca Mesa focuses on single-vineyard Rhône-style wines. But they also have a sister label, TREAD, producing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from sourced fruit in Santa Barbara County.
They make a nice Cabernet Sauvignon too. But the real star is of course the Syrah.
The Clydesdale, named after Stewart’s middle name, has intense violet and berry aromas and loads of black fruit and cocoa. And don’t miss the Syrah Estrella from the historic Black Bear Block. It’s even more concentrated and has great aging potential.
The Courtyard is open daily, with reservations recommended but not required. Or on weekends, book ahead to visit their Lounge & Terrace or the group-friendly Vineyard Oak Tree. And enjoy live music on Sundays.
Feel free to bring your own food, the family (kids are welcome!), and even your furry friends.
Fess Parker Winery
For a bit of Hollywood in wine country, check out Fess Parker Winery. You might remember Fess best from his iconic roles as Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. But after venturing into real estate development, he bought a 700-acre ranch in 1988.
His dream was a family business that included a vineyard and winery. By 1995, his son Eli took the reins as head winemaker. And in 2001, their wines graced the tables of the White House.
Though Fess passed away in 2010, the family continued the business. Today, Eli and Ashley Parker co-own the winery, focusing on Rhône and Burgundy varietals.
They even make a delicious Riesling, a medley of lemon, lime, green apple, and a zing of acidity.
The newly renovated property is stunning. Make a reservation to enjoy a flight on the gorgeous patio, complete with an outdoor fireplace. Or snag a plush leather seat in the spacious tasting room and ogle over the wine-bottle-lined library room.
It’s a 21+ experience. But you can bring your own food for a picnic on the lawn.
If you’re in downtown Los Olivos, check out their Epiphany and Bubble Shack tasting rooms. In Santa Barbara, you can catch them in the Funk Zone too. And for the ultimate luxury experience, stay at the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn.
Los Olivos Wineries Tour
If you’re sticking to downtown Los Olivos wineries, there’s no need to book a tour. The town’s more than 25 wineries are all within steps of each other.
But if you want to visit wineries outside of town, a wine tour definitely has its advantages. You won’t have to worry about driving. Or organizing all the bookings. And some tour companies can get you into wineries that aren’t normally open to the public.
This is a great small group tour that includes hotel pick-up, all your tastings, lunch, and snacks. Or if you prefer more one-on-one attention, try this private wine tasting tour. Both options pick up throughout Santa Ynez Valley or even from the city of Santa Barbara.
Planning Your Visit to Los Olivos Wineries
When Is the Best Time to Visit Los Olivos Wineries?
Being in Central California, Los Olivos is beautiful year-round. Not too hot in the summer. And temps are still in the 60s in the winter.
Summer is peak season, so avoid it if crowds are not your thing. And during the busy fall harvest, you’re less likely to see winemakers in the tasting room. I’d recommend trying winter or spring if you’re looking for a more intimate tasting experience.
If you’re visiting in October, don’t miss the Santa Barbara Vintners Festival. Taste wines from more than 50 local wineries. And enjoy regional food pairings. Plus, you may even get to meet the winemakers and winery owners.
What’s the Best Way to Get to Los Olivos?
Los Olivos is about a 45-minute drive from the city of Santa Barbara. If you’re flying in, there is an airport in Santa Barbara. Or you can fly into Los Angeles and it’s a 3-hour drive north from there.
How Many Wineries Are There Near Los Olivos?
Within the Los Olivos District AVA, there are 12 bonded wineries. But in downtown Los Olivos, there are more than 25 tasting rooms. Wines in these tasting rooms come from throughout Santa Barbara County.
Are Los Olivos Wineries Open Year-Round?
Most of the wineries in Los Olivos are open year-round. Just be sure to check their website before stopping by in the off-season.
Do You Need Reservations for Los Olivos Wineries?
Reservations are recommended at many Los Olivos wineries. And some even require them, especially if you’re going to the winery property.
If you’re visiting in the off-season or on a weekday, you shouldn’t have an issue walking into most tasting rooms downtown. But for weekends and in the summer, I’d recommend booking in advance.
How Much Does Los Olivos Wine Tasting Cost?
Wine tasting in Los Olivos is not cheap. Although, it’s still far less than places like Napa Valley. Most tastings will run you around $20 to $25. But can be $35 to $45 for premium or library wines. And some wineries will waive the fee if you purchase a few bottles or join the wine club.
Can I bring my kids and pets to the wineries?
Some wineries in Los Olivos are kid-friendly. But it’s best to check the website in advance to make sure it’s not 21+.
Many wineries welcome dogs in the outdoor spaces. And some even allow them inside the tasting room. Again, double-check their policy before showing up with your pup.
Do Los Olivos wineries have food?
There aren’t many Los Olivos tasting rooms and wineries that have food for purchase. Some do allow you to bring your own though.
In downtown Los Olivos, I recommend Panino for delicious sandwiches (located next to the adorable Los Olivos General Store). If you’re heading up Foxen Canyon, you can pick them up on your way and enjoy a picnic.
For table service, don’t miss the Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café. Not only is it one of the best restaurants in the area, but it’s also where the famous double date scene occurred in the movie Sideways.
Where to Stay for Visiting Los Olivos Wineries
There aren’t many hotel options in downtown Los Olivos. So, I recommend staying in the nearby town of Solvang. This historic village is famous for its Danish architecture and delicious bakeries. Plus, it’s loaded with fantastic restaurants, shops, and more wineries.
For a great value, I recommend the Vinland Hotel & Lounge. This pet-friendly hotel was recently renovated. And it has a pool and an excellent hotel bar. Plus, it’s convenient walking distance to all the sights.
If you’re looking for a little more luxury, go for the Corque Hotel. It’s perfect for couples looking for a romantic getaway. And it even has its own on-site restaurant.
Find these and many other options on Booking.com. Just enter “Solvang, California” and select your dates below to see available options.
Have you visited any of these Los Olivos wineries? What are your favorite wines from this region?