Santa Ynez Valley Getaway

Many of you have visited the cozy beach town of Santa Barbara, California just 90 minutes north of LA. It has a way of enticing visitors with a variety of top-rated restaurants, beach activities, and the arts at your fingertips.  But, did you know that there is a little enclave just 30 minutes northeast that is everything that Santa Barbara is not? The Santa Ynez Valley and its neighbors will lure you in for its uniqueness. Meet Los Olivos, Santa Ynez and Solvang - little towns that combined together make a perfect getaway for the wine-loving, horse country-loving, Danish pastry-loving, farm-to-table dining enthusiasts. Give it a weekend and you’ll be hooked.

Great crunch layered with heavenly cream pastry from Mortensen's Danish Bakery in Solvang, CA

Great crunch layered with heavenly cream pastry from Mortensen's Danish Bakery in Solvang, CA

The first thing you notice as you travel up the slightly winding Highway 154 is that the landscape changes from ocean views and terraced mesas to wheat-colored rolling hills dotted with oak trees.  Travel a little further and you will see Chacuma Lake and the many farms that make up the life of this community.  Vineyards and horse farms enrich the landscape.

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The juxtaposition between the dry grasses on the hills and well-irrigated vineyards are breathtaking.

My husband and I have taken this trip many times because it never disappoints.  Our first stop on this 48 hour getaway is Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company, a local brewer who has a tasting room and outdoor seating area on one of the Los Olivos’s two main streets.  My husband loves their hoppy IPA’s, particularly Lizard’s Mouth which has a tropical edge of papaya and mango and is hard to find back home. While he sips his beer and checks his “scores” (there are always team scores to check), I take this opportunity to walk around the streets and pop into the quaint shops that dot this tiny town.

Your glass may never seem full with any one of FMBC’s frothy IPA’s.

Your glass may never seem full with any one of FMBC’s frothy IPA’s.

Next on our itinerary was a visit to an urban winery to taste white and rose wines in an effort to round out our wine supply at home.  We chose Roblar, a local, urban winery at the end of the street. Their set up is impressive - vineyard right on the premises; a beautiful, vaulted ceiling tasting room; a variety of private party venues including an outdoor setting area under the trellises, and food and decorative items to sell.  

 If you are new to the wine tasting business, start here. The staff is so friendly. Carmen, our sales rep, went in the back to bring us cheese during our tasting because I am gluten free and couldn’t eat the crackers provided- that’s service! Also, they are one of the only wineries I know that let you choose your variety of wines if you join their wine club - another plus! You can stay and nosh here for hours but our stomachs were rumbling.

Producers of great white and rose wine, Roblar shines in the Pinot Noir category. We chose this as a “weekend evening” wine.

Producers of great white and rose wine, Roblar shines in the Pinot Noir category. We chose this as a “weekend evening” wine.

Time for lunch.  There are so many great local spots to try for lunch or dinner, for that matter.  We love Sideways, a local favorite, but if we don’t have a large group and we want to linger over a good meal, it’s SY Kitchen in neighboring Santa Ynez.

The aged balsamic compliments the creaminess of the fresh burrata.

The aged balsamic compliments the creaminess of the fresh burrata.

The bartenders are master mixologists, as evidenced by the display of a variety of their homemade bitters and fresh herbs lining the bar.  My husband tried an Old Fashioned mostly because the method of making it is so entertaining. They place a sugar cube on an Absinthe spoon and release the bourbon from a beaker in a chemist’s style contraption where the bourbon slowly drip by drip hits the sugar cube and begins to fill the glass.  A dash of homemade bitters here, a splash of water (if needed) and a curly lemon twist finish off this cocktail. The slow drip is evident in the complexity of the cocktail.

An Old Fashioned like none other

SY Kitchen spares no details in pouring the perfect Old Fashioned. Here the bartender drips bourbon onto a brown sugar cube resting on an absinthe spoon over a faceted cocktail glass.

Next, house-made bitters, and a lemon twist round off this classic beverage.

We always try to order one special;  today it was lasagna with homemade spinach noodles. It came in a cast iron skillet straight from the oven with cheese oozing from a slightly browned top.  My husband couldn’t speak between bites. I ordered the yellow beet salad with hazelnuts and goat cheese drizzled with fresh lemon thyme with grilled shrimp added as a protein.

Every inch of this dish was made with love.

Did we save room for dessert? No, but if we did we would indulge in one of their dessert cocktails like the Affogato 13, a concoction of house amaro and espresso over vanilla gelato.

In a word, “Yum!”

In a word, “Yum!”

Lodging in Los Olivos usually points to the Fess Parker Vineyard and Winery. It’s right on the main drag and offers a world class spa and winery tours. The Santa Ynez Inn offers quaint Victorian charm, an outdoor garden area with fireplaces and seating, and a delicious breakfast.

Relax here at night with a glass of awarding-wining local wine.

Relax here at night with a glass of awarding-wining local wine.

With the absence of city air, you should sleep peacefully. Wake up must include a stop at the history Corner House Cafe in Los Olivos. You will feel like a local here. The house-pastries and rich coffee will transport you to a happy place. Breakfast or lunch are served here with a smile.

Corner House Cafe serves up happiness in their freshly sourced food for breakfast and lunch. Don’t forget to order coffee.

Corner House Cafe serves up happiness in their freshly sourced food for breakfast and lunch. Don’t forget to order coffee.

On our way out of town on Sunday we once again are drawn to the places the locals go. Cold Spring Tavern is an old coach stop dating back to the Mexican-American War in the mid 1800’s. Today it is a rest stop for those who want feast on some great tri-tip sandwiches or homemade chili and listen to local musicians while sitting on half sawn logs, throwing back a cold one. Remnants of those early days still exits with the one room jail house and original log cabins that you can see walk the grounds. The real draw is the music that drifts up into the oak tree tops and melts down to the toes of the patrons. Everyone is in a good mood sitting for a spell here on a weekend afternoon. You are but 30 minutes to civilization. Relax and take it in.

Local bands keep the vibe easy at cold spring tavern

This historic spot is good for lunch, music, a cold drink and filtered light from the surrounding oak trees.

Photo sources: Pinterest and Writer’s Own Collection








mary van hielTravel