When the movie “Sideways” came out in the early 2000s, I was immediately infatuated with the beautiful scenery of the Santa in Ynez Valley Wine region.
I had been working at a lovely restaurant in Massachusetts where I had discovered my love for wine. I was a sponge and wanted to soak up all that I could about varietals, growing regions, and tasting notes.
Fast forward 10 years. When I first started dating my current husband, it was one of the first movies that we watched together. Just say it’s a dark comedy is an understatement, but there is something so appealing about the characters in this movie. How broken they are but also passionate about a variety of things.
The female characters are what drew me into this movie, but I digress. This blog is about our trip, not the movie. I will leave that for another time.
Going to Santa Barbara has been on our bucket list for quite some time. We try to go away for a long weekend for our anniversary every year. It comes at the perfect time where you need to get away because it’s winter. This year we chose to go to the Central Coast.
We landed at LAX, grabbed our rental car and headed north on the 405. Yes in California you need to say ”the” in front of highway/freeway names. We then decided to drive to Malibu, so we went on the 10 to the PCH or the Pacific Coastal Highway.
It was absolutely gorgeous ride, but I’m also horrified on how close those houses are to the beach! All I could picture with them just sliding in to the ocean. When we made it to Santa Barbara, it was time for lunch. We had to go to the Boat House at Hendry’s Beach. The Boat House is located right on the beach and what a beautiful view it has. Unfortunately, it was a little chilly for us, so we sat indoors.
We were starving. With the difference in time zones, my body felt like it was 2:30 and I hadn’t had anything to eat except the cookie on the flight. We started with some shrimp cocktail that was delightful. I saw there was a lobster roll with french fries tossed in Old Bay seasoning, so I had to jump at that. Scot went for the Cioppano, an Italian style fish stew.
The service was spectacular and the view was stellar. It was a great way to start our trip.
We checked into our hotel, the Hotel Milo, located across the street from the beach. It is located right at the end of the Funk Zone, more on that to come. The room was perfect. There was plenty of room and the view was cool indeed. It is definitely a cute boutique hotel. Valet service is available offering in an out parking. When you’re going to be using your rental car a lot that is a huge perk.
Once we got settled and took a quick 45 minute cat nap, we decided to go down to the Funk Zone. What is the Funk Zone? The Funk Zone is a really cool section of the city that has a lot of restaurants, wineries, cool shopping and art galleries.
It was time start our wine tastings. Our first stop was Au Bon Climat. We originally had a reservation at 3 PM but I called to tell them I needed a cat nap because jet lag was kicking in. She generously offered to move it for me.
We were warmly greeted when we entered the shop on Anacapa Street. A communal bar in a tasting rooms is one of my favorite places to sit. Scot and I decided to go for the reserve tasting. The very knowledgeable server gave us tasting notes and education about their wine.
While chatting with others at our table, they suggested we visit Frequency across the street. Most wineries prefer a reservation, so we thought we would take it stab at it as it was already 5 o’clock. We had dinner reservations at seven and didn’t want to go back to the hotel if at all possible.
We walked over to Frequency and were warmly welcomed. Turns out she was from Texas! She knew the winery where Scot works and had been to the Hill Country numerous times. We had a wonderful time tasting the wines from this boutique winery. I even liked the white wines!
The host was so engaging as we chatted about the wineries we were scheduled to attend up in the valley, where we were going for dinner, and some of our favorite wineries back home.
What a lovely afternoon in the Funk Zone. We arrived at Loquita right at our reservation time. We were seated in the middle of the busy restaurant that is filled with Spanish style art and a party atmosphere. Scot chose a parron of Tempranillo.
Dates stuffed with almonds and blue cheese was our first bite. They were smoky good. Second, we followed up with Patas Bravas and Jamon and of course we had to have paella. There is a wide assortment of types of paella. We went for the chicken, chorizo and mushroom. It did not disappoint!
Our friend from the Frequency winery suggested we had to get the churros, so of course I did. Scot also got a really lovely coffee service where he thoroughly enjoyed dipping that churro.
The next morning we got up and made our way up to the Santa Barbara Mission. We were not planning on going inside the mission as we needed to get out to the wine country. I needed to see the gardens next to the mission. In this garden, there is a Julia Child rose that is the color of butter. Unfortunately, being in March, the roses were not in bloom, but I was delighted to see her name in this beautiful rose garden. I think she would be very proud.
We then went back down to the Funk Zone to check out the Cheese Shop. The day before we had driven shop, but didn’t get a chance to go back before it closed. I love a good cheese shop! The cheese shop had everything! Obviously, there are all types of cheese, charcuterie, a small and lovely curated wine selection, some pre-made nibbles, gorgeous, fresh bread and then some things for the kitchen. There also are some lovely pantry items. We picked up a few things to bring with us out to Santa Ynez and we were on our way.
When we come back, we will make sure to spend more time in Santa Barbara. We were there in between major wind/rain episodes and it was a bit chilly so we didn’t walk around as much as I would have liked.
There is a vibe in Santa Barbara that I wish I could capture in a bottle. It is very cool and chic but I didn’t find it snobbish. Every one was kind and engaging that we ran across. There are beautiful little gardens every where. Even the court house is lovely!
We will be back for sure.
I had done my research prior to arriving in the Santa Ynez valley. I had asked for recommendations on my social media platforms and received a lot of feedback. I condensed the list, gave it to Scot for review and refined it even more. As a rule, we do not like to do more than two tastings in a day. We were able to hit 5 wineries in total over the 2.5 days we were going to be there. Reservations were all made prior to arriving for all of the wineries noted below.
Having a full belly prior to going to our first tasting or have our first stop be someplace that offers food is key. That helps me determine the order in which to make the reservations.
Our first stop was Presqu’ile Winery in Santa Maria. I was so excited for this first stop. We preordered the Mezze picnic. It consisted of a beautiful salad, farmers cheese, chicken, wings and other goodies all with an Asian flair.
The wines were very good and I always love doing it vertical comparison, which we did with their Pinot noir. This tasting experience set the bar pretty high for the rest of the weekend.
Our second stop was at Foxen. This was one of the wineries featured in the movie “Sideways”. The tasting area was outdoors in a rustic, but comfortable. As it was a bit chilly outside, they had beautiful Mexican blankets to use and made it very cozy. Our server is very knowledgeable and shared a lot of information with us about the area, wine making in general and Foxen specifically. It was a lovely afternoon.
We purposely went the long way to our hotel so we could drive by some of the wineries that were featured in the movie “Sideways”. As we continue down the road towards Solvang, we drove by a Firestone and Fess Parker. We did not, however, stop at either of those wineries but they looked beautiful from the road.
We arrived in Solvang, and it was exactly how I thought it would be. A beautiful town with a lot of Dutch/European characteristics and a hopping downtown.
We had reservations at The Landsby, which is centrally located on the main drag. The room was spacious and lovely and really embraced its Danish roots.
We had made dinner reservations somewhere else but we were still full from the Mezze picnic! I don’t usually cancel reservations but decided to do so and take our chances walking in to Peasants Feast. We were warned that it might be busy but a chilly Thursday night turned out to be our winning ticket.
We had a lovely meal. Scot went for the smash burger and I had some soup and Mac and Cheese. It was all so good! We decided to check out the deli on Saturday prior to heading out of town.
The next morning we strolled around Solvang. We went into their lovely book store and chatted with the staff. I love an independent bookstore! I could smell the spices from Solvang Spice and had to go in. What an incredibly, beautiful, curated spot.
We had brought out wine suitcase that holds 8 bottles of wine. It also has some extra space in it so Scot convinced me (trust me it didn’t take much) to get a few spice bottles. It is a must see spot if you are in Solvang.
Time to head out for tastings, but first lunch. We had heard so much about SY Kitchen in the town of Santa Ynez we decided we had to try it. It was better than expected! The atmosphere was very relaxed and the food. Oh my lord, the food, the FOOD!
Now on to the wineries. The town of Los Olivos is a beautiful little, walkable town in the middle of the wine country. There are 27 wineries in this town alone! There are a few restaurants and shops but it is very winecentric.
The first reservation we had was at Dragonette Cellars. It is a small tasting room with a cute porch where you can grab some great people watching. We were booked in the library and had a lovely experience with our wine steward. He educated us on the wine and the land and what makes the wine in this growing region different in just a few mile radius. It was a really nice tasting and we enjoyed all of the wine. After we paid for our bottle to take home with us we were off to the next stop, Stolpman.
Stolpman was across the street from Dragonette and they do most of their tastings outdoors also. With the sun shining the 60 degrees was tolerable but they were also kind enough to give me a blanket.
We enjoyed the wine tasting and conversation with our wine steward. He shared a lot of information about the CA wine industry (honestly, I can see why so many are fleeing and coming to the TX wine country. CA likes their red tape). The vines that produce their wine are less than a few miles away so it is considered estate wine. It was very relaxed and chill. It was hard to decide which bottle to take home, so we bought two. One for the hotel and one to take home.
Back to the hotel we went. We snacked on the items we got from the Cheese Shop in Santa Barbara, rested a bit then we went down the road to Buellton for dinner.
This was the meal I was looking the most forward to, The Hitching Post. When we walked into the restaurant, it looked exactly like it did in the movie. The movie is 20 years old and it looked a bit aged then but I decided it was kitschy and charming. We had heard from numerous people that the food was good and worth the visit. It was packed. Granted, it was a Friday night but the parking lot was crazy and a lot of folks waiting. The bar was filled with locals. That is always a good sign.
Of course, Scot ordered some of their brand of Pinot Noir. We had experienced it back in MA. Our local wine bar carried it once in a while and we loved it. Then we started with a few appetizers. I had to have the wood grilled artichoke and it did not disappoint.
I had a Petite Filet and a baked potato. I haven’t had one in years but the person next to me had one and I had to go for it. It was the perfect combination. What a lovely meal, it only could have been made better if Maya from “Sideways” was our server.
Peasants Deli was calling our name. We had to to try it before leaving town. I went onto their website and ordered sandwiches to be picked up. When we arrived, they had experienced internet difficulties and hadn’t received our order. No problem, I explored the little market a bit and went into the Arcade. It is part of their property and really cool! I felt like it was 1982 and I was with my friends at the mall arcade! When our sandwiches were ready (we ate them later and they were awesome!) we said goodbye to Solvang as we had one more winery to stop at prior to heading back to LA for our departure. Brave & Maiden is a beautiful location and tasting room with wines to match.
The wines are a bit expensive in comparison to the other wineries we had been to on this trip, but the experience was worth it. It was the most expensive tasting we did and was the only one who did not offer an industry discount. It is not a deal breaker but for the price, I wish he had gone a little more in depth about the wine. It seemed like we were all tired so it was kept a little more on the surface.
I am really happy that after almost 20 years, I finally got to the Santa Barbara area. It was beautiful, the people were great and the experience was exceptional.
What would I do differently? Next time, we might stay more off the beaten path in wine country. We will probably stay a few days in Santa Barbara and I will go to SY Kitchen and Peasants Feast more than once!
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