As autumn settles into the Santa Ynez Valley and scarecrows emerge as reminders of harvest time, Los Olivos celebrates its 37th Annual Day in the Country.
Organized by the Los Olivos Chamber of Commerce, this year’s Day in the Country parade and festival takes place Saturday, Oct. 21, in downtown Los Olivos.
Nestled in the heart of the Valley, the town of about 1,100 residents traces its origins to 1887, when stage coaches traveled on narrow dirt roads and the Pacific Coast Railway completed a line extension, connecting Los Olivos, Los Alamos and Santa Ynez. Originally settled by a New Yorker, who planted thousands of olive trees on the land he had purchased, today Los Olivos is a quaint town surrounded by upscale horse ranches and vineyards.
Residents cherish the old town vibe, slow-paced lifestyle and family friendly values that make Day in the Country a popular event with visitors throughout Southern California and up and down the Central Coast.
Event organizers estimate between 3,000 and 4,000 people will attend this year’s event.
“It’s a big family day,” said Amy Freedman, volunteer event manager and co-owner of Stafford’s Chocolates in Los Olivos. “We start out with a family fun run and kids get to run in the country.”
Breakfast starts at 7
Day in the Country begins at 7 a.m. this year with a Burrito Breakfast, held in place of the standard pancake fare. The breakfast at Grange Hall is organized by members of Lucky Clover 4-H and continues until 11 a.m. This year’s Burrito Breakfast coincides with Fun Runs from 7-9:30 a.m., including a Kids’ Run, 5K run and 5K walk sponsored by Platinum Performance. Aspiring runners and walkers (dogs are welcome, too) can sign up on race day at 6:30 a.m. Prizes will be awarded shortly after the races.
“I think Day in the Country is one of the best festivals around,” said Freedman, who lives in Buellton with her husband and two children, ages 7 and 10. “With all the locals that support it, there’s something for everyone, especially with the new wine-tasting event.”
Dubbed a Roundup by event organizers, this year’s new wine-tasting event boasts 17 participating wineries. Adults who are 21 and older can purchase a Roundup pass for $25 that allows them to sample up to 18 wines from nine of the 17 participating wineries. Tickets can be purchased at the event.
There is also a beer garden hosted by Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co., with food provided by The Bear and Star; Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe; and a First & Oak gourmet food truck. In addition, Los Olivos Rotary is serving up tri-tip sandwiches for a community fundraiser.
“This is our 37th year and it’s growing each year,” said Freedman, who has participated in the event as a local business owner for the past five years.
“I thought it would be great to give back to my community and be part of the event,” said Freedman, who was asked by the local chamber to chair this year’s Day in the Country.
Two other members of the community who cherish Day in the Country are husband-and-wife team Jim Lohnas, a 72-year-old retired commercial real estate consultant, and Puck Erickson-Lohnas, a 67-year-old landscape architect. They’ve been selected as this year’s Day in the Country grand marshals in recognition of decades of volunteer work as residents of Los Olivos.
“We’re very flattered,” said Puck Erickson-Lohnas, a principal of Arcadia Studio Landscape Architecture. “We love our little town. We’re really proud that we were selected — and our [seven] grandchildren are very excited.”
The Lohnas’ will be honored during the parade, where they’ll be surrounded by Los Olivos residents, out-of-town visitors, local horses, farmers with vintage tractors — and lots of children.
“I’ve lived in the Valley since 1975 and we’ve lived in Los Olivos since 1995,” said Puck, whose husband is active with the Los Olivos school board and the town’s Jazz and Olive Festival. “It’s always been a great, small community with neighbors that really know each other and help each other out.”
Puck recalled a fond memory of Los Olivos from many years ago, when she was raising her sons.
“The alley, where my sons built some jumps for their dirt bikes — these jumps still exist,” she said with excitement, pointing out local children still use the bike jumps. “That makes me feel good. They’re allowed to grow up the way kids are supposed to grow up.”
Kids are welcome
For children, Day in the Country has added a Kiddie Korral at Saarloos Paark at the north end of Los Olivos. For a small donation, kids can access the park and participate in activities, ranging from kiddie steer roping to old-fashioned yard games and face painting. Kiddie Korral is managed by the owners of Los Olivos Lemons, which recently moved to the area from Austin, Texas.
Next to Kiddie Korral, Day in the Country visitors will spot the giant lemon, where children and adults can purchase premium lemonade drinks. The fresh-squeezed “craft lemonade” is the brainchild of Grant Sanregret, founder of Los Olivos Lemons. He created the “Cup of Happiness” lemonade concept to assist the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation after his son was diagnosed with the genetic disease.
“Cystic Fibrosis patients across the globe have been the motivating factor behind creating our ‘Cup of Happiness,’” Sanregret states on the Los Olivos Lemons website. “We want to show people that no matter the obstacles you face in life, your attitude is the driving force that determines your outcome.”
Known throughout the Valley for its relaxed atmosphere, the Day in the Country parade spotlights the charmed country life residents boast about in Los Olivos.
“The kids are part of the parade,” said Freedman. “There’s a little bit of everything for the kids. It’s a really family oriented day, with the parade, and the horses and the animals.”
Tractors are featured prominently in the Los Olivos parade as well, she said, partly because of the town’s agricultural history and partly because people love them.
“Many of the locals have old, vintage tractors,” Freedman said. “Many of the tractors are family owned and they’re prized possessions. These tractors are very significant because they reflect what the event is all about.”
Although vintage tractors are mainstays at Day in the Country, Puck said she has enjoyed watching the event grow and change over the past three decades.
“It’s evolved over the years,” said the 2017 Day in the Country co-grand marshal. “I like the fact that in the fall the community gets together and has a good time.”
Asked if she has any reservations about an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people converging on the small town of Los Olivos this year, Puck didn’t hesitate.
“The more the merrier, as far as I’m concerned,” Puck said, noting she and her husband are looking forward to participating. “It’s always been a fun day. We’re just excited to be part of the festivities.”
Freedman agrees. She said locals — and people from out of town — look forward to Day in the Country because it has evolved without sacrificing the traditions they count on seeing each year.
“It’s a lot of fun, and people mark it on their calendars each year,” Freedman said. “It’s a small town, and people love their traditions. They love their small-town lifestyle. It kind of kicks off their holiday season as well.”