A couple of years ago, before my husband was my husband he wanted to whisk me off for my birthday weekend to Santa Ynez. “Santa Ynez?” I asked, “Where is that?” Clearly my East Coast routes were evident as he explained it was just about 2 hours away located in northern Santa Barbara County. So off we went for a beautiful weekend to what would become one of my favorite getaway areas.
The Santa Ynez Valley is directly up the coast from Los Angeles. It is made up of 6 communities – Ballard, Buellton, Los Alamos, Los Olivos, Santa Ynez and Solvang – all having their own unique flavor. The area is known for its winemaking and tasting, great restaurants, galleries, antiques and quaint inns. Additionally, there are horseback riding, year round festivals, the Chumash Casino & Resort, golfing, and more activities that make it the perfect place to visit and to explore.
I recommend that you make some plans but also just let some things happen organically. The people there are all incredibly nice and full of suggestions of places to go. By just going with the flow at times we came upon some unexpected little treasures.
The Victorian Mansion at Los Alamos
The Victorain Mansion was originally built in 1864 and then moved to its current location where more than 200 expert craftsmen, artisans, and artists spent almost 10 years creating the 6 themed suites inside. The themed rooms include the 50’s, Gypsy, Egyptian, Pirate, French & Roman Suite. We stayed in the Roman Suite where we indulged in every part of our experience: our Roman “bath,” chariot bed, wine in goblets. Plus, we watched “Spartacus” after our fabulous dinner (details below)! Each room has similar attention to details. In the 50’s Suite you sleep in a Cadillac and listen to a diner jukebox. The Egyptian room has a life-size King Tut sarcophagus that also serves as the secret entrance to your themed bath, and so on. It is certainly the perfect place to get away and play! And if that isn’t enough of a reason to stay, Proprietor Rod Rigole could not be any nicer or more enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the area of Los Alamos and is the perfect host.
The Ballard Inn
This romantic Inn is centrally located in the Santa Ynez area in the historic town of Ballard. Rooms are charming and comfortable. There are beautiful porches, games, fireplaces and charm in every corner. The Inn has an on-site tasting room with 5-6pm tastings exclusively for guests. The Ballard Inn Restaurant is overseen by Chef Budi Kazali and the food is spectacular. Breakfast is included with your stay.
Hadsten House Inn & Spa
A year long renovation transformed this centrally located Solvang property into a luxury boutique lodging destination. There is dining available at the Inn, a heated pool and a day spa featuring massage and aesthetic skin care treatments. Rooms each have a fireplace, complimentary wi-fi, HDTV and more European style amenities.
Full of Life Flatbread
In 1998, Flatbread owner Clark Staub kissed the music industry goodbye and followed his passion to being a baker, and restaurateur. This is one of the first establishments to practice farm-to-table dining where food comes from local farmers and ranchers and you drink beer and wine exclusive from Santa Barbara County. We started with a drink at the bar where our bartender and the patrons were all friendly and welcoming and where everyone seemed to know each other even if they didn’t. Following my local Chardonnay (Chanin Wine, my namesake! Who knew?) and local beer for my husband we were shown to our table, which was in direct view of the kitchen and pizza oven where magic happens. We LOVED our food: olive oil poached tuna with green beans, avocado and beet salad and our Central Coast Sausage Pizza cooked to perfection in front of our eyes while Chef Brian Collins oversaw the non-stop production of fabulous food. Per Clark’s recommendation for just one dessert (because we were stuffed) we indulged in their signature S’Mores…sinful and the biggest marshmallow I have ever seen!
Bell Street Farm
On the way out of our Flatbread dinner I was surprised to see a familiar face that was going into dinner with family and friends. She introduced us to her friend John who said to be sure and stop at Bell Street Farm for our next morning start and meet his husband Jamie. Another person to leave LA and the corporate world, Jamie opened Bell Street Farm in 2011. He greeted us with cowboy hat and a hug, insisted on going across the street to get me soy milk for my morning latte (they were out), and introduced us to other people who were there for their own wine tasting the night before at Babi’s (see below). Los Alamos truly is one of the friendliest places! It was too early for us to indulge in the rotisserie chicken, rotisserie pork or olive bread tartine but it all looked amazing. They also can make custom lunches and baskets for you to take on your wine tasting journey.
An informal and friendly Italian bistro located in Santa Ynez, Grappolo is owned by Leonardo Curti who was born and raised in Italy and it shows in their authentic Italian dishes. We shared the Grigliata Mista di Pesce an assortment of grilled fish, scampi, and calamari served with olive oil, garlic, lemon, and fresh herbs and a Caesar Salad and it was all delicious. As expected they have a variety of pastas, antipasti, salads, meats and fish. Also, their wine list is very impressive. Many local wines but also a huge selection of wines from around the world.
It was serendipitous that we would have parked on Figueroa Street when we decided to head to Santa Barbara for brunch on our way back to Los Angeles. Not just because it is my namesake (again!) but the food and ambience were perfect after lots of wine tasting and a little gambling the night before. A jazz trio played in the courtyard while I ate Lobster Benedict with my soy vanilla latte and my husband enjoyed his California omelette and coffee. Besides an excellent selection of brunch items they are known for their baked goods like raspberry white chocolate cake, chocolate heaven cake, carrot cake, big yummy cookies and many more items that can satisfy any sweet tooth.
To drink wine:
There are lots and lots of wineries, tasting rooms and places to drink wine… Here are just a few that we tried on this trip… for more you can visit www.sbcountywines.com.
Babi’s Tasting Room/Casa Dumetz Wines
The beautiful and energetic Sonja will pour her Casa Dumetz Wines and share stories of life and wine. Sonja Magdevski and fiancée actor-director-producer Emilio Estevez create the wines from both their estate-grown Malibu grapes and from Tierra Alta Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley. I particularly enjoyed the 2011 Clementina Viognier and 2010 Gravitas Grenache and brought one of each home.
Saarloos and Sons Family Wine Co.
A fourth generation family company that lives by the motto ‘Live to Honor those that have come before us, and Prepare the way for those yet to come.” This “modern vintage” converted historic home lies in the heart of the town of Los Olivos. The place is packed with new and old wine tasters, laughter and a unique vibe.
An added bonus is their wines can be paired with cupcake tastings by Enjoy Cupcakes!
Riverbench is known for high quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The tasting room is a restored 1920’s Craftsman style house on the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail. There is a nice outdoor patio area which is ideal for a wine country picnic, and vineyard and winery tours are offered by appointment.
The old Foxen tasting room is a popular, festive, small “shack” on the side of the road, which at one point in time was a blacksmith shop and is host to Bordeaux and Cal-Ital style wines. The newer facility is a large, state of the art, solar powered tasting room that hosts the traditional Burgundian style wines for which Foxen earned its high profile. Owners Bill and Dick, known as “The Foxen Boys” are often there to greet you and make you smile.
Jeannine Chanin-Penn… xoj9 | event curator | smart & beautiful events… My son, my husband, lobster & the color purple make me happy…