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What a difference a short drive can make. Just half an hour or so up the coast and into the Santa Ynez Valley, and you’ll find yourself in a whole different climate with a small-town vibe, a countrified air, and a neighbors-helping-neighbors atmosphere. Every friend of mine who has moved from the big city of Santa Barbara up to the small towns of Buellton, Los Olivos, or Solvang has no regrets whatsoever. They remark on the safety, the schools, and the lack of traffic as just a few of the advantages. And, of course, one’s home-buying dollars go much further on that side of San Marcos Pass.

I visited Solvang a couple of weeks ago, on one of our cloudless, late-summer Sundays. It was a little too breezy for the beach in Santa Barbara, which made it perfectly perfect in the valley. Down the road from windmill-dotted downtown Solvang, and just a stone’s throw from the Alisal Ranch, lies a mobile-home park called Rancho Santa Ynez Estates. I have to admit, before I arrived, I thought it was likely that this park’s name was grander than it could possibly live up to.

But live up to its name it did. First and foremost, the natural setting of this park is breathtaking. With its own nine-hole golf course, walking trails along the river, and dramatic mountain backdrops beyond, almost every home has a stunning view. Rivaling the beauty outdoors are the homes themselves. Both of the homes that I visited are brand-new, so every appliance, cabinet, and fixture is pristine.

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At 101 Sierra Vista is a three-bedroom, two-bath home in a mostly neutral palette, waiting for a new owner to come in and give it their signature style. It has an open kitchen/great room/dining room in the front, with a granite-topped center island with a breakfast bar to define the traffic flow. The kitchen cabinetry is all bright white, with stainless appliances and a stylish horizontal-tiled backsplash. Recessed lighting and a big skylight combine with lots of windows for an overall light, bright, airy feeling. The bedrooms are down a long hallway, with the master suite in the back. The master bathroom repeats the tile treatment from the kitchen over its double sink and is bigger and more deluxe than expected in most any home.

Around the corner and down the block lies another available brand-new home at 66 Rio Vista. With three bedrooms and two baths, and a similar floorplan, the differences between these two homes are subtle yet noticeable. The kitchen in Rio Vista has dark-brown wood cabinetry, pendant lighting, and a more contemporary feel. Crown moldings adorn the ceilings throughout the home, and its layout is slightly different. The biggest surprise is the deck off the master bedroom in back that opens out onto the golf course. This brings the outside in and takes full advantage of the natural, parklike setting.

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Rancho Santa Ynez Estates is a 55-plus-year-old park with the private golf course, a pool and spa, and a clubhouse that residents can use. I’m told that the owners are a blend of retirees and busy working folks. The day I was there, the people looking at these two houses seemed to fit both profiles. But no matter which stage of life they were enjoying, the brand-spanking-newness of these homes in their idyllic, parklike setting drew admiring approval from the visitors. And on this lazy summer Sunday afternoon, no one seemed to be complaining about the drive.


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