In Santa Barbara County wine country there is no shortage of dreamers and innovators–those less obsessed with finding the right answers than they are about asking the right, and often most introspective, questions. After the last 18 months that so many of us have had, we need them more than ever. The spirit of so many vintners here and the dizzying diversity of grape varieties planted combine to make a most compelling destination. That’s why we spent the week here to bring you our tips, tricks, and must hits for your next Winestyr Weekend.
While the city of Santa Barbara itself will offer the most luxurious accommodations (Rosewood, Montecito anyone?), it leaves you anywhere between 30-60 minutes away from the vineyards that define the county’s northwestern reaches. Aim for the hamlets of Solvang, Buellton, or Los Alamos. Solvang, which comes outfitted with a town-wide and completely disorienting Danish theme...like an amusement park, offers plenty of small inns and motel options. Buellton is for those looking to be right on Hwy 101 or hoping to add up those Marriott nights in the pursuit of Titanium status. In Los Alamos, though, there is the Skyview Motel. Perched above the highway and alongside a steep hillside vineyard, here you’ll find comfy digs (though definitely on the small side) complete with a delicious on-site restaurant, fire pits with Adirondack chairs, and a bottle of Pinot Noir from Scar of the Sea in each room.
Flying into Santa Barbara Municipal Airport isn’t easy and oftentimes, it’s more expensive than what you’ll pay to fly into LAX and rent a car for your trip (which you’ll need to do anyway). Sure, the ride from Los Angeles is about 2.5 hours with light traffic, but you’ll cruise along the beautiful Pacific Coast for much of it anyway. Driving down from San Francisco adds 2-3 hours pretty easily. Either way, you’ll need and want your own vehicle. Finding an Uber or Lyft up in wine country is no small task.
While it may not come with the Michelin stars of Sonoma and Napa, northwestern Santa Barbara County has plenty to offer on the dining scene. Let’s start with the most important meal of the day, shall we? Everytime I’m in the area, I have to visit Bob’s Well Bread Bakery. With two locations, one in Los Alamos and one in Ballard between Solvang and Los Olivos, you’re never too far away from their brilliant selection of breakfast toasts on house made toast, baguette, or biscuits. The star dish, for me, would be sauteed mushrooms tossed in sherry-cream sauce and poured over a biscuit with bacon lardons and over-easy eggs. Simply put, it’s divine. Paula’s Pancake House in Solvang is not to be overlooked, in particular their decadent Danish pancakes topped with baked apples and whipped cream. To get a taste of the village’s Danish history without the carbs, take down the California omelet with green chiles and a side of Medisterpølse sausage.
Admittedly, lunch can be a bit hit or miss here. Grabbing some bread, cheese, and charcuterie at a market is not a bad way to go about things but the Los Olivos Wine Merchant Cafe is also at your service. Grab a salad of beets and burrata or the Mykonos pie for a hearty lunch to sustain you throughout your wine tastings.
Dinner is really where you’ve got some tough decisions to make. Bell’s, in Los Alamos, is a winemaker favorite for their farm-to-table fare and delicious wine list. If you follow Drake Whitcraft, of Whitcraft Winery, on social media then you likely already know that! In Buellton, Industrial Eats is plopped right in the middle of a warehouse complex but turns a stable of woodfired pizzas and expertly crafted, not to mention creative, entrees and sandwiches. The uni topped oysters and miso cod are particularly delicious! Hitching Post is a local legend, championing classic Santa Maria-style barbecue like few others. Back in Solvang, Sear Steakhouse should take care of your beef and martini cravings.
There are so, so many options for tasting visits when you’re in Santa Barbara County wine country. We’ll start in Lompoc, where we find the intimate tasting rooms of Sandhi and Piedrasassi. This warehouse strip on the eastern edge of town is actually where many of the region’s premier wineries actually keep their cellars, so giving them some time to focus on winemaking during harvest would be a helpful thing to keep in mind. If ethereal Grenache is on your mind, you’ll find it in Los Alamos at A Tribute to Grace’s storefront in the new Mercantile Building.
Perhaps our favorite tasting locale is Los Olivos, where you’ll find plenty of options centered around the town’s main drag. After grabbing a morning coffee at the Corner House Cafe, spend your day with Stolpman Vineyards and Solminer Wine Company, whose tasting rooms are neighbors right across the street from the cafe!
Lastly, and before you head out of town, stop into Whitcraft Winery in Santa Barbara proper. Drake and his team are offering limited, private tasting appointments at the winery where you’ll enjoy a thrilling look through their current release vineyard-designated wines.
By entering this website, you certify that you are of legal drinking age in the United States.