Winery Tour Santa Ynez and Santa Maria Valleys
It is just gorgeous up there and here are the links to our fave places.
Of course, allow 2- 2 1/2 hours drive time from L.A., once you get to Ventura its a breeze and an absolutely beautiful drive up. Just go 210 to 134 to 101 all the way. Avoid rush hour through Santa Barbara (there and back-- never plan on driving thru Santa Barbara or the valley between 5-7pm --its a nightmare)
Its a little pricey, but sometimes you can get a deal on Expedia or Orbitz. But you'll save on their free breakfast which is really good and complete--eggs and everything. Sign up for their newsletter and once in a while there's a special like 2 for 1 night, or kids eat free.The rooms are small but gorgeously appointed. We usually share a double queen with the kids-- its a tight fit but it works since we only sleep in there... There's an INDOOR HEATED POOL (can you say: Kids Love It and Never Want to Leave) and an adjacent HUGE outdoor jacuzzi with 2 outdoor fireplaces. We've done nothing more than order takeout pizza, popped open a great bottle of local wine, and enjoyed it immensely while the kids played in the pool- great. Walking distance to Solvang- a great little stroll.
Santa Ynez Marriot
If you are a point-collector, it's often a good deal. For families, try and get a special rate on the suites on the top floor...they are huge with 2 separate rooms and TVs . Nice. But the downside is its right off the freeway and not walking distance to Solvang.
Wineries: Be careful they close up early--like 5-6 pm-- so most of our tasting is during daytime--one of us tastes, the driver tastes and spits it out.
Really nice small family owned winery with exceptional wines... picnic under their big oak tree its heaven! They have doggies for the kids to make friends with, and you can stroll through the adjacent vineyard- we are regulars!
Absolutely gorgeous surroundings, if you ask they might let you go out back there are horses and a lovely lake where you can picnic (if you sign up for their wine club you have access to it--yeah we did and its worth it)
In the town of Los Olivos. The owner is a hoot-- we love his wines too-- his tasting is worth the fee.
Restaurants (avoid at all costs dining in Solvang, except for the HadstenHouse restaurant- we like it- and the Big Bopper Burger stand on the main drag. Other than pastries, we've not been impressed by meals in Solvang. IMHO your better bets are below:
Brothers Restaurant at Mattei'sTavern
A historic landmark with fine dining and great steaks.
Off the beaten path on Hwy 154. Worth finding. The best place for gourmet (read: Expensive) picnic supplies like imported and local (Cowgirl Creamery) cheeses, fresh deli salads, artisan-style breads--more economical to load up at Albertson's in Buellton for the basics, get your "gor-may" items at LosOlivosGrocery, then head to one of the above wineries and buy a bottle, and enjoy a perfect picnic!
You get free buffet breakfast and wine and cheese hour-- the BFast is terrific! We've had dinner there and service can be choppy but the food is really good.
In the cute little (and I mean LITTLE town of Los Olivos). I think its the only thing open after 5 there. Cute for lunch.
Buy a box of their pastries on the way home. They have the best ones I think. Also the Onion bread is pretty terrific too.
Subway--Of course, there's a Subway on the Main drag in Solvang... you know, the kids....
You can visit the Santa Ynez Mission-- its walking distance from the town of Solvang or park right there in the lot by the Solvang Bakery and there's an entrance to it right behind the lot.
SolvangRestaurant-- Abelskivers(sp? ) Little Danish donuts with raspberry jam.... I did get these from their little take-out woindow, there usually is a line that moves very slooowly, but they are delicious and the raspberry jam with them is very good. Eat warm.Los Olivos... Cute little town to walk around.. museum: Wilding Museum is nice and usually has a kid's craft set up, good ice cream cones at the little coffee place cafe next to it, and Scott Cellars tasting room is rigth across the street-- there's also a several Olive Oil tasting rooms there too which we enjoyed--I bought a great local oil, right from the owner of the orchard --called "Olive Hill Farm" and it is wonderful. Jams and granola, all sorts of local goodies can be purchased at these places.
The Blueberry Farm- Off the 101 freeway...you will see a big sign...in June and July its U-Pick BLUBERRIES and they are terrific. The kids love it , they give you little metal pails and you go and pick them among the acres and acres ...it so beautiful out there!
Farmer's Market on Wednesdays afternoons in Solvang is wonderful- fuill of fresh local produces, cheese, breads, nuts-- we love it.
Classic Organic Produce- You will see a sign on the side of the 101 as you go up. Stop by on the way home. There's a little barn and whatever they have harvested that day will be there for sale-honor system cash only- with a sweet little cat to greet you and a cow behind a fence. Last time I bought organic carrots, salad greens, eggs(natuarally light green color!) and the stuff made the best salad ever.
Claremont Lavender Farm- There's a quirky little lavender farm on the way to Los Olivos, a cute little town just North of Solvang. You'll see the sign on the road pointing to it. When you meet the owner you'll see why I labeled it Quirky :)
QuickSilverRanch Miniature Pony Ranch-on Alamo Pintado Road on the way to Los Olivos. When the gates are open you can just drive in and see them up close. OMG soooo cute the kids will LOVE it.
Fruit stands along the side of the road.. variety varies with season...so worth it to stop... you'll be glad you did when you get home.
Sideways-- I recommend renting this film before you go up...it was filmed up there and you'll see signs: "as seen in Sideways" at a lot of places....
Like I said above avoid dining in Solvang.. snacks, dessert, maybe a light lunch are fine... just don't expect "fine" dining.
Some of the "Tasting Rooms"-- be careful they often charge $18.00 or more PER TASTING... ridiculous. You are much better off, I think, going directly to the actual winery for tastings. They'll usually charge $6-8 per tasting, but put it towards a purchase. Also, remember you can always SHARE a tasting- Hubs and I often do that because I like Whites and he Reds...
We have had the best luck at the smaller, off the beaten path places. That being said, even if you get one bad apple tourist trap, its still gonna be good. IMHO in that area of Cali, you just can't go wrong, really. Sigh... wish we moved there when we had the chance.... it truly is God's country and the people are so warm and genuine. Take a trip and you'll see what I am talking about.
Sorry so long---I get carried away!!
Make it a Great Day!