santa barbara wine country

Have you ever traveled somewhere and just known from the minute you arrived that you found “your spot”?  That’s exactly what happened to Mr. Wells and I on our first trip to Santa Ynez wine country outside of Santa Barbara over 6 years ago.

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Since then we’ve tried to get back at least once a year and each time we find some new little gem to explore from new wineries to shops to incredible new restaurants.

So why do we love it there?

  1. It’s an easy weekend away from the hustle of Los Angeles and a short 2.5 hour drive up the coast.
  2. Similar to LA, the weather is temperate 95% of year so it’s a great destination at any time.
  3. It’s got that great laid-back California wine country feel similar to Napa but without the high sticker press or the crowds.

It’s hard to do this idyllic place justice in a single blog post, so we’re at least going to break it up into 2.  Today I’m just going to focus on the basics – where to lay your head, fill your bellies and empty your pocketbooks.  Next week’s post will focus on #ALLTHEWINE.  And as the town of Santa Barbara has so much to see and do on it’s own, we’ll save that for another time.

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Today we’re going to focus on the areas of Solvang, Buellton and Los Olivos – basically every location featured in Sideways (yes, this is where it was filmed).  Solvang is the largest of the 3 towns and usually serves as our home base.  Over the course of the last 6 years, we’ve definitely seen an increase in popularity and foot traffic which has led to some great new spots opening up.

WHERE TO STAY

Most of trips thus far we’ve crashed at Hotel Corque.  It was a Best Western or some other chain hotel in a previous life but has since been revamped to boutique hotel status.  The rooms are spacious, the decor is fairly chic, there’s a pool, ample parking and has one of the best restaurants in town on site, Root 246.   It is admittedly on the pricier side most of the year, but if you look to go during non-peak time and are willing to wait to book until closer to your trip, you can usually score a deal.

We’ve also gone the VRBO route.  I definitely prefer it over Airbnb as the vast majority on their site are vacation homes vs. staying in someone’s actual home while they’re out of town.  I’ve found that it just lends itself to a more vacation-like experience (and less of a feeling like you’re intruding in someone else’s space).  Mr. Wells and I have stayed here and loved it.  Then I did my bachelorette weekend here with 5 of my closest girlfriends.  Both places were fantastic and the hosts were awesome.

Lastly, we have the coveted Landsby Hotel.  I haven’t managed to convince Mr. Wells to stay there yet since it opened in 2015 as it’s definitely the priciest place in town.  That said, it’s a design lover’s DREAM.  Take a peek….

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WHERE TO EAT

As previously mentioned, I love Root 246 and we’ve eaten there every time we’ve visited.  Farm-to-table fresh, upscale dining.  Everything tastes like it was killed/harvested that morning before being grilled to perfection.  We’ve never been disappointed here.

Root246

If you’re looking for a more old-school steakhouse, there’s The Hitching Post II (also featured in Sideways).  The steak really is incredible. No frills, no fancy sauce designs on your plate, just great quality eats.

We’ve also tried Mad & Vin, the in-house restaurant at The Landsby.  It was good.  Like LA trendy restaurant good.  Great?  I think we’d have to give it another go before I upgrade it’s rating from 4 to 5 stars on Yelp.  But the design was beautiful; straight out of a West Elm catalog.

thelandsbyhotel_madvin

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Breakfast can be had at any number of bakery/cafes around town.  As it’s a historically Danish town, you’ll find all kinds of treats from aebleskivers to almond pastries to waffles and everything in between.  We’ve done a handful of places including Paula’s Pancake House, the Succulent Cafe and The Belgian Cafe.  Just be warned that the lines are long at any of these places on a Sunday morning (which shouldn’t be a problem for those of us used to waiting 45 minutes for a table at brunch in LA).

belgiancafe

Lastly is a hidden gem – Cold Spring Tavern.  We learned about this place courtesy of our guide on a wine tour we took the first few times we visited.  It’s the old stagecoach tavern on what was the mountainous trek from Santa Barbara to Santa Ynez wine country.  It’s been there a 100 years and on Sundays they do the most incredible steak sandwiches you’ve ever had in your life.  It’s down a windy mountain road, but once you’re there it’s quite the adventure – there are all walks of life from Harley bikers to chic, Santa Barbara yuppies to everything in between all crammed in and around this smoky old tavern that’s still standing.  The last time we went they had live music and it was just an incredible experience.  It’s not on the most direct route back to Los Angeles, but it’s certainly the most fun (and tasty!)

coldspringtavern

WHAT TO BUY

I will preface this with the fact that the vast majority of our purchases when we travel here are cases of wine.  That said, there are a few key places you may want to check out including Olive Hill Farm.  It’s an olive oil tasting room in downtown Los Olivos and makes the perfect pit stop to break up your other tastings of the day.  The last time we were there I picked up a bottle of Italian Seasoning-infused oil and it makes the perfect roasted potatoes; I’m currently heartbroken as the bottle is almost empty.

olivehillfarmootasting

A few other great places to try:

Coming up next week, I’ll have part 2 of the Solvang series packed full with the good stuff – all the wine!

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