I hope I don’t jinx things by saying that it appears that we are coming out of this pandemic. Lots of people are more than ready to head for destinations that provide a change of scene, allow for social distancing and aren’t further than a half-day’s drive.
The towns in the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County check all those boxes. Solvang, Ballard, Buellton, Los Alamos, Los Olivos and Santa Ynez are nestled between the Santa Ynez Mountains to the south and the San Rafael Mountains to the north — unique because these mountain ranges run east-west, unlike most ranges that run north-south. This makes for ideal grape-growing and hence the reason the valley is popular with anyone who enjoys wine.
However, this wine region flew beneath the radar until the 2004 film “Sideways” hit the theaters. The story revolves around a pre-wedding, bachelor-buddy road trip. Nearly the entire film was shot in this region, showcasing the charming countryside and family-owned restaurants and wineries.
Fifteen years later, it’s good to discover that the film’s popularity did not spoil all that the valley has to offer. Its towns and 60 wineries are still low-key, scenic, welcoming and beautiful.
If you go:
Stay: Vinland Hotel and Lounge is located just as you enter Solvang from the west and only a few minutes’ walk to the heart of the activity. Updated rooms are spacious and reasonably priced. Top suites come with a partnership with three nearby wineries, offering guests exclusive perks and experiences with the vineyards. The V Lounge opens to a patio and offers savory tapas. Not-to-miss: shrimp and quinoa lettuce wraps and the spanakopita. The lounge offers reduced-price happy hour drinks and even specialty cocktails.
Breakfast: Solvang Restaurant is the place to find aebleskivers, the traditional Danish sweet treat that looks like an oversized doughnut hole and is cooked in a special pan. It’s served with powdered sugar, jam, syrup or a combination of the three. Owner Jeff Paaske promises fresh aebleskivers all day because the
restaurant has a dedicated, full-time aebleskiver-maker. The menu features generous breakfasts and traditional Danish foods. Bonus: The restaurant’s authentic, colorful, intricate woodwork created by Danish artist Ferd Sorensen, considered the father of Solvang’s architecture.
Lunch: Industrial Eats in Buellton prides itself in creating tasty, seasonal dishes from locally sourced sustainable farms. Sit out under the trees or at communal tables at the repurposed warehouse and enjoy pizza from wood-fired ovens or other menu items that offer plenty for both meat-lovers and vegetarians. Herbs and spices are used liberally and the menu makes for interesting reading.
Dinner: Trattoria Grappolo in Santa Ynez is everything you want in a traditional Italian restaurant and more. You’ll see plenty of local patrons, so you know the fare is worthy. The menu also offers gluten-free and vegan choices. Especially tempting: Melanzane alla Parmigiana (eggplant, tomato and parmesan cheese) and Faroe Island salmon cooked in the pizza oven. Seating inside and out leaves plenty of room between patrons.
Anytime: Santa Ynez Sausage Co. in Buellton is new to the Santa Ynez Valley food scene, and these are not your father’s sausages. The offerings mix it up with ingredients — pork, chicken, lamb and artful blends of cheeses, vegetables, and herbs and spices. A vegetarian sausage is also available. All of this served up from a vintage Airstream trailer on the property, adjacent to the Sideways Inn, featured in the 2004 film.
See and do: Santa Ynez Valley Botanic Garden, in Buellton’s RiverView Park, is a 2.5-acre natural retreat that offers both shady serenity and a place for kids to play and learn about the local environment — the Santa Ynez River watershed. The butterfly garden, willow maze, play elements, artwork, good signage and covered picnic tables will keep everyone’s attention. Thank the Santa Ynez Valley Botanic Garden Foundation for this gem.
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