Los Olivos: The California Town Where Olives Run Aplenty

In the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara, California, Los Olivos is a place rich in culture and history.

Jun. 14, 2017
By Elizabeth Hazard

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The town of Los Olivos, California recently held its 13th annual Jazz & Olive Festival. The yearly event, held by the Los Olivos Rotary Club, fea­tured tast­ings from Santa Ynez Valley’s winer­ies, local food ven­dors serv­ing up dishes fea­tur­ing olive oil or olives and a sam­pling of jazz music from sev­eral renowned jazz bands who were per­form­ing through­out the day.

The event high­lights two of the things that the area known as Los Olivos is most widely-known for: olives and wine. Located in the Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara, California, Los Olivos is a place rich in cul­ture and his­tory.

The town’s begin­ning can be traced back to the 1880s when the Pacific Coast Railway was form­ing along the coast of California. Around this time, in the small town of Ballard, a young man by the name of Alden March Boyd made a pur­chase of land cov­er­ing over 157 acres in 1885. There on his prop­erty, he planted olive trees by the thou­sands — 5,000 trees in fact. He aptly named the prop­erty Rancho De Los Olivos.

Two years later, in 1887, the Pacific Coast Railway com­pleted its exten­sion along the California coast­line up to Los Alamos. The rail­way decided to name the town after the rows and rows of olive trees — it first was known as first El Olivar, then El Olivos, and finally Los Olivos.

Today the Los Olivos area is known to pro­duce some of the best olive oils in the world. Within the past decade, the area has seen an increase in olive oil tast­ings, which are now catch­ing up to the area’s offer­ings of wine.


One place lead­ing the way in olive oil pro­duc­tion is Rancho Olivos. The hus­band-and-wife run busi­ness is com­prised of seven acres of olive trees grow­ing a mix­ture of Spanish and Italian olive vari­eties.

Their olives are hand picked within hours of har­vest to pro­duce fresh, arti­sanal extra vir­gin olive oil. Visitors to the ranch are offered tast­ings of the oils along­side the olive trees right there at the couple’s farm stand. Olive oil tast­ings can be paired with a local wine tast­ing tours, a very com­mon trend for vis­i­tors to the Santa Ynez area.

The growth of the olive oil indus­try in Los Olivos wouldn’t be com­plete with­out the men­tion of Theo Stephan, a pio­neer in olive oil pro­duc­tion and a sta­ple at the Los Olivos Jazz and Olive Festival.

In the mid-90s Stephan pur­chased a ranch in the area and became the first to import Koroneiki trees from Greece to south­ern California.

Years later she founded Global Gardens one of the first mail-order olive oil and vine­gar food clubs. She also authored the book Olive Oil & Vinegar: Delicious Recipes for Healthy Caliterrean Living.

Today, Stephan con­tin­ues to be an author­ity on the sub­ject of olive oil and con­tin­ues her mis­sion to edu­cate peo­ple on the topic. In the next two years, she plans to open a per­ma­cul­ture’ school on her prop­erty in Los Olivos, where the mis­sion will be to teach chil­dren about sus­tain­able liv­ing.

Los Olivos is a town that boasts an array of horse ranches, art gal­leries, bou­tique winer­ies and restau­rants that fea­ture olive and olive-oil-cen­tric recipes.

The town, while small in pop­u­la­tion, also packs quite a bit of its own Hollywood his­tory. Several movie stars and musi­cians have at one point claimed Los Olivos as home, and it is where Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch sprawls beside Figueroa Mountain. The town appeared on screen in Sideways, per­haps the most quin­tes­sen­tial of all wine movies. The olive-filled area also served as the iconic TV town of Mayberry in Return to Mayberry.

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