Visiting Santa Ynez Valley
We stayed in Solvang, which has numerous tasting rooms and then spent a day in Los Olivos, which also has numerous tasting rooms. We visited a few of the wineries as well, but thought the breadth of representation of small wineries was great in Los Olivos. Where are you staying?
re: Niki in Dayton
We liked Andrew Murray quite a bit. We also spent a couple nights in Santa Barbara. Note there are probably at least 10 tasting rooms in Santa Barbara itself, many of them off State St, between the 101 and the beach. I liked the Sauvignon Blanc at Kalyra (in SB), but I can't find it for sale here in Ohio. In SB, I also enjoyed Jaffurs tasting room. I didn't really care for any of the Pinots I tried from the area, but the Syrahs, the Sauvignon Blancs, and the Rhone Ranger whites were surprisingly good.
I grew up in Santa Ynez and have family that still lives up there. I historically have gone up there a couple times a year and have always gone out tasting for an afternoon or two and typically return with a case of mixed wine. When I go up there here are the places I typically go. Note that most of these places have been around for quite awhile--I don't list any of the newer wineries (last 5 years) because I've never been to them.
Sunstone (I've had a wine club membership here for about 12 years)
Go if you have time:
Firestone (up the hill from Curtis)
Kalyra (on the way to Sunstone).
Mosby (on way to Sanford)
Lafond (on way to Sanford)
Expensive (don't usually buy many of their wines) but they have some good things to pour
Bottom tier (for me) typically but decent wines, nice drive and/or nice grounds:
There are also quite a few tasting room in Los Olivos and a few in Solvang that host pouring for some of the smaller vintners.
Visited Santa Ynez from Canada last year and had a great time. We went to Beckman, Dierberg, Melville and Roblar wineries - our favourite was Roblar (very good wines and beautiful tasting room). Also visited the tasting rooms for Stolpman and Longoria in Los Olivos - both of these wine tastings were amazing (some of the best wines we've ever had in the $20-50 per bottle range) and highly recommended.
I'm not a big fan of visiting the bigger wineries. Much too crowded, especially on the weekends. Appointments are the way to go. If you have time, make an appointment with Wes Hagen at Clos Pepe. Appointment takes about 3 hours (from 10:30AM - 1-1:30). You get the tour the actually vineyard then proceed to taste wine at their home along with bread and cheese. Very intimate tasting with the wine maker. Their wines are decent as well.
If you care more about the view/atmosphere, make an appointment with Demetria. IMO the most beautiful winery in the Santa Ynez Valley. The wines they make aren't the best (I think they suck) but the view and grounds are beautiful. When I visited there, we got to sit outside and listen to live music.
In Lompoc, you have the wine ghetto. You have a lot of good pinots here including Fiddlehead, Flying Goat, and Ampelos.
Los Olivos (as other have mentioned) is another good spot for tasting. You have several tasting rooms all in walking distance. My favorites in LO include Longoria, Dragonette, Qupe.
If I had to choose one winery to visit, it would definitely be Arcadian. I think Joe Davis (winemaker at Arcadian) makes the best Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah in the central coast. Tasting is by appointment only.
In Solvang there is a tasting room (Tastes of the Valleys) with some nice selections including Au Bon Climat and Arcadian - ABC is very good and known as one of the pioneers of the area particularly Santa Maria, but my wife and I really fell in love with the wines from Arcadian. This was a nice place to kind of kick off our weekend and the staff person was very nice, and informative of the wines they were pouring, the winemakers, and other wineries as well. Ambience was good too.
Otherwise, I'd defenitely recommend Beckman, near Los Olivos, and Melville, in the Santa Rita Hills. Also you should visit the "wine ghetto" in Lompoc, where there are many smaller / fledgeling wineries. My picks would include Samsara, Ampalos, and Evening Land, as well as Fiddlestix. Some of these are by appointment only,depending on what day of the week and time etc. Brewer-Clifton is also in Lompoc, not far from the "ghetto", they have some very interesting wines. I think they are mainly by appt. only.
Have fun !
PS - re-reading I see I've got numerous mis-spellings - sorry about that but notable among them is the name of Ampolos. A very good winery, with (as is the case for so many wineries) really interesting and welcoming owners / growers.
Another wine tasting room you may want to check out is the Ballard Inn, a B&B my wife and I have stayed several times and love. They have a really nice and wide selection of local wineries to taste, you don't need to be a hotel guest. Also their restaurant is wonderful !