Credit: Karyn Millet

Hotelier Kimberly Walker planned to open the Hotel Ynez last fall, but the pandemic had a schedule of its own. After months of COVID-caused shortages, delays, and innumerable complexities, the property is finally open for business. “We never really thought there was going to be a worldwide pandemic and a shutdown,” said Walker. “It makes being able to be open even more special.”

Walker is the cofounder and managing partner of the Nomada Hotel Group, a hospitality company specializing in the renovation of historic hotels, including San Luis Obispo’s Granada and the Skyview in Los Alamos. For those of us who remember the “Bates Motel meets haunted truck stop” aesthetic of the Skyview in the ‘90s, Walker’s transformation of the property from scary to chic is a true testament to her abilities.

Walker’s latest endeavor is an idyllic 22-room midcentury sanctuary set on a hilltop outside of Solvang. Once an aging motor lodge, the Hotel Ynez has been reimagined as a tranquil wine-country getaway featuring well-appointed rooms, upscale amenities, and an emphasis on outdoor spaces.

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The inn’s beautifully landscaped central courtyard makes for a convivial atmosphere in which discreetly placed speakers and a carefully curated playlist of slow jams set a decidedly chilled-out tone. Ample Adirondack chairs, stylish picnic tables, and a bocce-ball court sit beneath a canopy of old-growth oak trees, beckoning visitors to spend a day in the Santa Ynez sun.

“We wanted to create a sacred space in the center where guests can feel like they can relax outside of their room in common areas,” Walker says, “but also still feel like they’re in an intimate environment.”

At night, the outdoor pavilion is especially stunning, with citrus and conifers awash in lantern light and expansive fire pits providing warmth and an undeniably romantic ambience. It’s the perfect setting for sharing a blanket and a bottle of wine with someone near and dear.

“It’s almost like this elevated camping experience,” says Walker. “There’s an outdoor element, and yet you still get to go back into your room and sleep in a really nice bed.”

Credit: Karyn Millet

Indeed, Hotel Ynez’s rooms are exceptionally comfortable, with luxurious Montauk bedding and bespoke club chairs ensuring a restful stay. Though the aesthetic is vintage, the creature comforts are appropriately modern, including speedy Wi-Fi and oversized televisions. Some rooms are outfitted with gas fireplaces and Jacuzzi tubs.

But arguably the most compelling feature of the guestrooms is what lies just outside their doors. One of Walker’s essential changes to the property was to transform each unit’s motel-style parking space into a private patio lined with dry stacked limestone and furnished with remarkably cozy Bolivian hammocks.

Although the hotel lacks a dine-in restaurant, takeaway boxed breakfasts are included in the room rate. Guests may also opt to purchase a BBQ kit, packed with Santa Maria–style meat and seasonal vegetables delivered to their patio alongside a portable propane grill.

While I can’t personally relate, those looking for something more active than a meat-induced hammock nap can take a dip in the property’s understated swimming pool or choose to borrow one of several available Linus bicycles.

For a Santa Barbaran, the Hotel Ynez represents a fantastic option for a quiet staycation somewhere sufficiently different yet eminently accessible. There is something particularly enjoyable about spending a peaceful evening in the Solvang area, long after the hordes of æbleskiver-stuffed tourists have returned from whence they came.

Moreover, the Hotel Ynez offers a throwback glimpse of a simpler era, when California’s roadside lodges encouraged their visitors to step outside, breathe in the Pacific air, and take some time to unwind. Standing on my room’s patio in the warm valley breeze, waving at the neighbors and flipping ribs on the Weber grill, I felt a sudden kinship with all the 1960s vacation dads who came before me and wondered how I might look in plaid shorts and tall black socks.

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