One of my favorite get aways from the City of Angels is the Wine Country of Santa Barbara County, aka Santa Ynez Valley. It is nearly the perfect little day or weekend trip. I’ve done both, the day trip and multiple days. There is as much or as little as you want to do. But primarily there is a lot of food and wine, and more wine, with some smattering of beer, if that’s your bag. From LA, it’s a little over two hours depending on route and traffic. Some sections of the 101 gets a bit backed up depending on your hour. I love this stretch of highway, because after the city of Ventura, the 101 Ventura Freeway and Highway 1, PCH combine to run you up the coast past Santa Barbara, where they split again. If you have never taken this trip, it is one of those drives along the Pacific Ocean that people have talked and written about for decades. Steep cliffs on one side, beach and ocean along the other. Some breathtaking views that never get old. Then you have the choice to enter the Santa Ynez Valley via the ocean or mountain route. One can stay on the 101 till after the 1 turns off to follow the coast. The 101 at this point takes a bit more of an inland route North. PCH at this point heads towards Lompoc and more amazing vistas along the Pacific. Either way takes you into the Valley of the Grapes. Lompoc is basically the most Westerly edge and Los Olivos, Santa Ynez the Eastern edge. The mountain route, CA 154 the Chumash Highway exits the 101 just past downtown Santa Barbara and treks up over the San Marcus Pass following an old stagecoach route. A totally different, yet equally lovely to enter wine country.
Now before you get there, again, depending on your time of day, you might to want to fuel up your body before indulging in multiple wine tastings. There are a few different options to explore on each route. I will explore these more here in Part One before getting into the heart of Wine Country.
Food via 101 route:
Well first and foremost any trip up toward, through, or into Santa Barbara would not be complete without a stop at La Super Rica Taqueria on Milpas Street. Just down the street from one of the best concert venues I’ve ever been to, The Santa Barbara Bowl. But I digress, La Super Rica. No web site, no big sign, but a line. You can exit the 101 at Milpas St exit and just travel north into town. Once you get close, there will most inevitably be a line out on the sidewalk. And for good reason, this is some of the most authentic and tasty Mexican food you can find in Southern California. I mean it was Julia Child’s favorite taqueria. The tortilla’s are pressed and cooked right in front of you fresh for each order. It is a small family run establishment that makes you feel at home, and doesn’t care if you don’t know what you are ordering, they’ll explain each and every dish if you want. Wash it down with an ice cold Bohemia or Dos Equis and you are ready to hit the road again.
Then it’s which way? 101N to the 1N into Lompoc? 101N to the 246 into Buellton or Solvang? Or the 101N to the 154W into the 246 or into Los Olivos? Options Options Options. Again I always opt to choose based on food options. There is different food options each direction you go. Also depends on your time. The 101N to the 246 is by far the quickest, as the 101 lets you maintain a faster speed. But I digress, Food, namely what food adventures lay ahead on each route.
This route takes you a little more out of the way to get some grub, but it is no less fun or scenic. As I mentioned before, the 101 travels on the same path as PCH along the coast past Santa Barbara. The road takes a turn inland at Gaviota State Park and head northward over and through the mountains. After only a few miles the turnoff for PCH which at this point is also called Cabrillo Highway since you aren’t along the ocean. But it is still Highway 1, and you have only one option, West. Take this for another few miles, till you see a turn for Jalama Beach via Jalama Road. It is not a large turnoff or intersection, so keep your GPS going and your eyes peeled. At this point you will have a long, windy 14 mile drive to the beach. Again, the scenery is lovely and unless you are starving it goes by quickly. Upon arriving at the beach, there is a Park Ranger Station where you can get a day pass to hang all day, or a “burger pass” to go to the Jalama Beach Store and Grill and get a Jalama Burger. http://www.jalamabeach.com/restaurant.html. For a burger at a remote beach outpost it is very very tasty. They offer other options, but this is why people travel off the beaten track. To have a tasty, messy burger, a tall boy of beer right on the Pacific. There are camping options if you are so inclined, but then you’ll miss all the wine tastings. It’s a great big 1/3 pound beef burger on a toasted bun with special sauce, shredded lettuce, red onions, slice tomato, and cheese if you so choose. Get some fries, and the aforementioned tall boy of beer, and wonder out to one of the many picnic tables, or relax out of the wind inside behind the glass and watch the waves. The burger speaks for itself, and I’ve never met anyone who has said it wasn’t one of their favorites. After this you’ll be all ready for Wine Country.
This is the same way you’d head for a Jalama Burger, but pass the Highway 1 turnoff and continue into the Santa Ynez Valley. This is a nice way to go and experience the California lifestyle. If you decide to go this route I’d stop in Santa Barbara and pick up a nice picnic at one of the many stores and stop at one of the beaches along the route before getting to the 246. There are three nice state beaches to stop at for a picnic, and depending on the time of year, you may or may not have to pay a fee to use the park. But it goes to a good cause, keeping the parks up and running. So the first you will come to is El Capitan State Beach, followed by Refugio Beach State Park. All have parking and some sort of bathroom facilities. Check them out to see which looks nicest to you, and stop. Or hit all three if the swell is up and watch the surfers. There are also a few smaller spots you’ll see cars parked and walking to the beach. But some of these are a bit sketchy and dangerous. One of my favorite grocery stores that you can pick up supplies at is Cantwell’s Market and Deli. Good stuff, perfect for a little beach retreat.
This is a fun little route as I mentioned up and over the mountain pass via the old Stagecoach route. Now there are two options. One is a bit more historical and rustic, where as one is more relaxed outdoor venue. First up is the Cold Spring Tavern, an actual part of history as this was a stop along the old Wells Fargo Stagecoach line and most of the buildings are from this time. Even an old jail in the back where law breakers were locked up. http://coldspringtavern.com/ There is Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner. Breakfast is only Saturday and Sunday, so plan accordingly. There is lunch everyday, but the weekends are when you can get their out of this world and famous Tri-Tip Sandwiches. These are the real deal, Santa Maria style BBQ. Spiced and cooked to perfection, with a cold beverage you will be more than satisfied. Eating in a rustic setting under the trees by a babbling brook. And yes, the spring is still active, so bring some empty water bottles to fill, you’ll need some good hydration after consuming much wine. The dinner service starts every day at 5, and is very heavy on traditional old fashioned meat and potatoes. But done in a very tasty and modern way. There is usually some different fresh local game if that is up your alley. All in all, a great place to dine. And did I mention the bread? They bake their own breads here that are outstanding, and if you are lucky you can order some to go, my favorite is the honey wheat.
That leads us to our second option along the 154, being Paradise Store overlooking Lake Cachuma. http://paradisestoresb.com/. This is very minimal, but again with famous Tri-Tip. I’ll let you decide which one you like better, but you can get food there daily from 9am till dark. The view is fantastic and you can sit on the deck, sit under the trees, shoot pool or watch the music. There is a live band usually always playing on the weekends. And an outside pooltable. It’s no frills, but quite tasty, and with an expansive bottled beer collection. You can’t go wrong here at all.
So that is my routes and dining choices going into the Santa Ynez Valley of Wine!
Hopefully this will help with a trip up there. I’m working on Part II with notes about the actual Wine Country.