Wine may be the initial attraction, but rolling hills, beautiful scenery, lavender crops and even ostriches are sights to behold in the beautiful wine country of the Santa Ynez Valley, just north of Los Angeles, California.
The area has gained notoriety for being the backdrop of the movie “Sideways,” but even with the flush of tourism that now abounds, it is still a wonderful getaway. Whether a first time visitor or a Valley veteran, there is a myriad of opportunities to experience fun, food and fine wine. Recently having spent four days with a friend in wonderful wine land, we found these sights, tastings and food fares well worth mentioning.
As we arrived in Los Olivos on a Thursday afternoon, we found Fess Parker’s Wine Country Inn on the quaint little street of Grand Avenue where we rested our heads for the next three evenings. A large room with fresh daisies, a fireplace, wet bar and a delightful wall of shuttered windows was luxury with neighborhood hospitality.
For dinner, the Wine Cask restaurant at the hotel served up freshly flown in Alaskan halibut that was unbelievably scrumptious. Desserts of flourless chocolate cake and creme brule may sound run-of-the-mill — but this “mill” was mouthwateringly good, and the service was excellent.
A wonderful way to spend an afternoon, which we did the next day, is just down the road at Clairmont Lavender Farm. The farm is five acres of naturally organic lavender plant. Especially nifty is the large distilling tank (reminiscent of a moonshine-making contraption) greets you on the grounds, making it able to view how lavender oil is made as it drips into glass bottles.
The farm lets you bring a picnic lunch and eat on the grounds. (The beauty of the farm, while visible all year round, is most evident in June and July when the five acres are in full purple bloom, as seen in the picture above, should you be planning a future getaway …) Lunch from Los Olivos Grocery Store is a delicious must. It has the best sandwiches, produce and selection of hot foods to make the afternoon’s picnic a delight for your stomach. If you decide to eat lunch after the visit to purple heaven, the grocery store has a lovely little porch for eating meals.
The main strip in Los Olivos, Grand Avenue, offers small shops, art galleries and the charming Spa Vigne. A solid theory (in my opinion) is to be prepared for the adventures in wine tasting; a relaxed body will allow the taste buds to do their thing.
In keeping with the vino atmosphere, the “Pleasures of the Vine” package at the spa leaves the skin utterly smooth and glowing. “Pleasure” doesn’t even begin to describe all that’s included: The Wine Infusion Body Wrap, the Harvest Crush massage with cabernet grapeseeds, the Grapeseed Massage and a custom facial with the spa’s own botanical products. Wonderful and definitely relaxing!
When it comes time to eat dinner again, the Los Olivos Cafe Wine Merchant is a great place to go. (It was the restaurant in the movie “Sideways,” in the scene where Miles says, “I am not drinking Merlot.”) The menu offers what the characters had for dinner, but there are so many more delicious items to try, especially the Cafe Baked Brie appetizer — amazing. Also on the menu, founder Sam Marmorstein offers his own tasty and award-winning wines.
Oh yes, the wine tasting … that was our next day — and we tasted in style. We drove to Solvang where we took the limo tour by Vin Dal Limousine (Vin Dal means “wine valley”). The tour was offered through our hotel where we stayed our last evening, Wine Valley Inn & Cottages, which rents beautiful rooms and private cottages. The limo tour included trips to four wineries: Mosby, Rusak, Bridelwood and Sunstone.
The tasting room at Mosby has a generous counter to taste wines and, aside from the delicious vino (with which we left with three bottles), the award-winning labels are absolutely beautiful, too.
Rusak’s tasting room is adjacent to a big redwood patio porch, shaded by four gorgeous oak trees. The winery, just past the Horse Whisperer’s farm, invites visitors to bring a picnic and enjoy a lovely view.
Bridlewood Estate Winery has its own unique look with mission-style architecture and lush greenery landscaping. A narrow deck seating area hugs the outside of the building and provides a quiet serene place to relax. Here we munched on lunch, provided by the limo tour.
Our last stop, Sunstone Vineyards and Winery, was like a little picturesque piece out of Tuscany. The tasting room was tucked into an Italian-like architectural stone building. Wine barrels line the far back wall of the room, adding an authentic feel. (And, of course, we didn’t escape without purchasing some vino from each winery.)
Obviously, there are many wineries throughout the area. There are no lack of tastings in every nook and cranny of the towns. The Firestone Vineyard we did on our own, which was huge, was crowded and lots of fun. The tasters were lively and friendly. We also visited many others that were off the beaten path.
When we ventured back into the little town of Solvang, we were able to appreciate the Danish capital of America. Just like Copenhagen, this little town also has a little mermaid statue welcoming visitors, along with windmills throughout. There’s much to see and lots of yummy bakeries along the way.
Additional sights to see while in the area (the Valley is compact, so all of the sites and towns are within a half hour of each other): Ostrich Land in Buellton — the birds are funny to watch and the longer you look, the funnier they become. Then, there’s this little known place of Nojoqui Falls County Park, which is worth the 15-minute drive from Solvang. There’s a beautiful 164-foot waterfall after just a small little hike into the park. And, of course, most people recommend dinner at the Hitching Post in Buellton (also seen in the movie).
There’s a carriage and buggy museum, a miniature horse farm, a gambling casino and lots more in the land of wine tasting. So it’s no trouble to “pace yourself” along the way!
Santa Ynez Visitors Association: www.syvva.com