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Calendar >  Travels With TR – The Uniqueness of the Santa Ynez Valley

Travels With TR – The Uniqueness of the Santa Ynez Valley

By   /  January 22, 2015  /  1 Comment


tom & carolSeveral weeks ago, my wife and I, along with my son Chris and his wife Leslie, ventured north along the California coast and over the Santa Ynez Mountains,  that separate Santa Barbara from the Santa Ynez Valley, for a quick mini-vacation to Solvang and the surrounding small cities. Our goal was to visit a number of wineries and to take in some of the other unique sites this area has to offer.

The first part of our drive took us to Santa Barbara and a lunch stop in the Santa Ynez Mountains at a popular weekend B-B-Q stop for hundreds of weekenders. Our plan was to have lunch at the Cold Spring Tavern, a former Cold Spring Relay Station and stagecoach stop over 125 years ago. The building also served as living quarters in 1868 for Chinese workers building the roads from the coast to the inland. The original Road Gang House building still remains and as does part of the building that served as the Toll Road office. The Ojai Jail was once located here as well. This historic set of buildings was purchased in 1941 by Adelaide Ovington and her daughter Audrey. They converted many of the remaining buildings into a kitchen, dining room and bar. This popular Tavern and restaurant has gained quite a reputation with its tasty menu, especially on the weekends when they serve up $10 tri-tip sandwiches. Cars and motorcycles line the two lane road on each side as people make their way up the mountain to grab a sandwich or to wait in line to eat in the rustic restaurant. The sandwiches are cooked on cookers under small tents where you pick up your food after paying inside one of the bars at the Tavern. Regular dinners are served in the small restaurant Thursday through Sunday.  There you can order a wide range of dinners such as venison tenderloin, Elk steak, Medallions of Rabbit, Pheasant breast as well as traditional dinner selections; not to mention Jack Daniels Pecan Pie or Rum Walnut Chocolate Chip Pie for dessert. The wait is worth it for this dining experience, whether it be inside the dining room or outside on the picnic benches with a delicious sandwich.

As we made our way down the mountain toward Solvang we passed by the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, the only Native American run gaming casino in the valley. Our destination was the Danish American city of Solvang and the Petersen Village Inn.  This 4 Diamond inn has 40 large guest rooms, a complementry continental breakfast in the Café Provence and is close to the heart of downtown Solvang. The city of Solvang is called the Danish capital of America and was named by Sunset Magazine as one of the 10 most beautiful small towns in the Western United States. The area is said to have a Goldilocks climate, not too hot and not too cold.  Solvang was settled in 1911 by Danish Americans looking for a warmer climate and a place to build schools for their children. The original idea was to build buildings in the Old World Provincial Danish architectural style from the 16th century, and this style continues today. In September 1936, Solvang began Danish Days, which continues to this day. The town population of 5,487 more than doubles on some days, especially weekends, as busloads of tourists and others arrive to enjoy this popular tourist town.

As far as the downtown area of Solvang there are numerous Danish bakeries, Danish restaurants, wine tasting rooms, not to mention the typical tourist’s shops, many located on Copenhagen Drive. Along with this visitors can see the Hans Christian Andersen Museum operated by the Ugly Duckling Foundation, located on top of the Bok Loft Building. This museum has exhibits and displays of volumes of the literary work of Hans Christian Andersen. On the edge of town is the Old Mission Santa Ines, the Mission of the Passes. This Mission was built in 1804 and is the 19th Mission built in California. The Mission was built in honor of St. Agnes, a 4th century martyr, and has been referred to as the Hidden Gem of Missions. It is still an active parish church with much of the inside still from the original mission. At the other end of town is the Ostrich Farm with over 50 ostriches and emus to see. On the corner of Mission Drive and Alisal Road, visitors can shoot pictures of the bronze Mermaid Fountain, a ½ sized replica of the famous Little Mermaid Fountain of Denmark. The Denmark Fountain is one of that country’s top attractions. The small replica made its first appearance in 1976 in Solvang and quickly became part of the logo of the city. Another interesting stop for the many motorcycle enthusiasts that travel to the town is the Solvang Vintage Motorcycle Museum. Motorcycles from 1910 to the present, with vintage and rare bikes on display, give bikers a chance to step back in two wheel time. For history buffs the Elverhoj Museum of History and Art offers Danish American History and art history.

Two of the restaurants we ate at in Solvang provided good, but a totally different dining opportunity. Our dinner at the Mirabelle Inn Restaurant gave us a chance to experience wine country cuisine.  The restaurant has received the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. The small inn features 10 comfortable rooms and guests receive a full breakfast and afternoon wine and appetizers Thursday through Monday. One of our breakfasts was in the Solvang Restaurant, a classic Danish styled eatery. We ate there specifically to have the classic aebleskivers, pancake balls covered in powdered sugar and raspberry jam. There is even an outside walk-up window serving these tasty treats all day. The restaurant also offers classic Danish food such as frikudeller meatballs, Danish sausage, and Danish flodeboller – a marsh mellow filling on a wafer cookie dripped in chocolate. The restaurant even offers German bratwurst and sauerkraut.

One of the first towns we visited outside of Solvang was the town of Buellton.  Buellton is the town off of Highway 101 many drive to prior to traveling to Solvang. One of the first site you will notice immediately off of the freeway is the first Pea Soup Andersen’s Inn and Restaurant. The iconic windmill is visible from Highway 101 and many visitors stop by the restaurant to try the famous Andersen’s Pea Soup.  Some visitors to Buellton take in the Mendenhall Museum which houses the West Coast’s largest petroliana collection – vintage gas pumps and gas station signs as well as other items dating back to the early days of lead gas station memorabilia. Two local spots we visited in Buellton were first the Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company, a local brewery started by a father-son team – Jim and Jaime Dietenhofer. The brewery has won many awards including a series of awards from the 2014 Los Angeles International Beer Competition. The second place we stopped in was the Firestone Walker Brewing Company, a brewery begun in 1996 by Adam Firestone and David Walker. What is interesting about this brewery is it was started on the Firestone Vineyard using wine casks to brew the first beers produced. The brewery and restaurant was later built once the brewery took off.  Not far from the downtown Bulleton area are two lavender farms. There are several other lavender farms in the Santa Ynez Valley. One restaurant on the way into town from Solvang became somewhat famous due to the movie, “Sideways”, starring Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church. The movie was about the escapades of two friends on a bachelor party weekend in the Solvang area. The steakhouse, The Hitching Post, was the scene of a famous Merlot vs Pinot Noir argument between Giamatti and Church. This cowboy steakhouse is famous for their Santa Maria style BBQ and is packed in the evenings. Another restaurant with a unique feature is the Terracant Wine Company and Restaurant, featuring 52 wines on tap.

The first winery we stopped at was Sanford Winery a short drive out of Bulleton. This winery was started in 1971 and is the first winery in the region to produce Pinot Noir. The Rancho La Rinconada tasting room was completed in 2001 for the winery. Another scene from the movie, “Sideways”, was filmed in the wine fields of Sanford, a wine country picnic scene with Giamatti, Church and Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh.

As we continued our winery tour, our next town was Los Alamos. Los Alamos was  named for the cottonwood trees in the area. It is a very small town featuring antique shops, art studios and several restaurants. One historic hotel is the 1880 Union Hotel. It is a 14 room old hotel with a Victorian style inside. The hotel has a wine saloon, a small swimming pool and a Buffalo Room, a pool room. The Wine Saloon is owned by actor Kurt Russell and features his GoGi wines. In 1982 Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney and LaToya Jackson filmed a music video in the hotel, called “Say, Say. Say”. Next door to the Union Hotel is Casa Dumetz, a small wine tasting room owned by Emilio Estevez’s and his fiancé Sonja Magdevski. On the other side of the Union Hotel is the beautiful Victorian Mansion Bed and Breakfast hotel. We had our lunch at the Bell Street Farm Eatery. The sandwiches were tasty and visitors could also get picnic baskets to go.

Our trip would continue following the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail. Not far from our next town, Los Olivos, we stopped at The Fess Parker Winery. This winery was founded in 1989 by actor Fess Parker, famous for his Davey Crockett and Daniel Boone roles. Mr. Parker first moved to this area first opening a hotel in Santa Barbara, later purchasing 714 acres in the Santa Ynez Valley for his winery. The winery has won numerous awards for their wines and winemaking. Just down the road from the Fess Parker Winery is the Firestone Winery, founded in 1972. Harvey Firestone, the famous tire innovator, purchased property in this area and the winery was established by his son Leonard. The Firestone Winery is the first major estate winery established in the Santa Ynez Valley.

The next small town we arrived in was Los Olivos. This quaint town has 30 tasting rooms in the downtown area and is called the Central Hub of the Valley Wine Industry. One unusual tasting room was the Artiste Winery and Tasting Studio. It is said their inspiration is from a Claude Monet studio. Artistic wine labels line the walls. Another fun store to visit is the J. Woeste Home and Garden Treasures, a collection of unusual fountains, garden statues and other gift items. One of the yearly highlights in the town is the Los Olivos Jazz and Olive Festival.

As we made our way back to Solvang we passed by the town of Ballard. Two highlights in this area, other than its wineries, are the Miniature Donkey Farm and the Miniature Horse Ranch.

Our short visit of 2 ½ days only begins to touch on all of the many attractions in the Santa Ynez Valley.  Each of the towns in this area has a different atmosphere and uniqueness to them. You could travel to the area many times and still not cover all there is to do and see. If you have not traveled in the Santa Ynez Valley, I highly encourage you to make this a destination stop. If you have been here before, but some time has passed, you will not believe how much it has changed. And if you have recently been here, I am sure you will want to return as soon as possible.



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  • Published: 9 years ago on January 22, 2015
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  • Last Modified: January 22, 2015 @ 12:30 pm
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About the author


Tom “TR” Robertson – 35 year Vista resident; 43 years at Carlsbad High School as the A.S.B. and Yearbook Advisor (retired); 35 years as a volleyball official for San Diego County C.I.F.; 15 years as a Academic League Moderator for North County high schools; work part time in the Special Events Office for the San Diego County Fair. Hobbies – going to new and unusual restaurants; going to movies, watching college basketball and football games; going to plays and musicals, traveling to anywhere in the world, playing with Australian Shepard Sydney, enjoying these and more fun activities with my wife Carolyn, spending time with two sons – Brian and Chris. For the Vista Press I write the Travel articles, write play and musical reviews, review restaurants and cover special events in Vista and other locations and cover other local Vista news.

1 Comment

  1. Doug Tico says:

    Hey TR!!
    I was a student of yours at CHS/Class of 80. I’m Doug Tico, yearbook staff and quite a fan of yours. You were the best teacher ever and I’m so happy to see you still out there making waves.

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