A weekend in Santa Ynez Valley, CA

Santa Ynez Valley is a picturesque destination, known for its rolling hills dappled with vineyards, western-style storefronts, and the iconic Danish-style architecture in the town of Solvang. Ronald Reagan, Dolly Parton, and Fess Parker, who played Davy Crocket, have all had homes in this region. Fess Parker loved it so much he even created an inn and vineyard that you can visit today. Pioneers developed the land around a stagecoach stop in the mid 19th century, and much of the feel still has elements of the rustic early settlement. The scenic valley of roughly 20,000 residents is known for its agriculture (mostly wine), horse ranches, and friendly people. It is also the setting for the comedy, Sideways, which I recommend watching!  Located just over the mountain range from Santa Barbara and two hours north of Los Angeles. Santa Ynez has many wineries, boutiques, restaurants and galleries to make it a relaxing weekend getaway. 

Situated between the sloping hills of the Santa Ynez Mountains and San Rafael Mountains, the Santa Ynez Valley has six charming towns: Solvang, Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, Buellton, Ballard and Los Alamos.  All with their own distinct character. But please be warned these are small. 

When to go: I would recommend going in the springtime, after the rainy season, when the landscape is lush, green and abundant.

Where to stay: You can not go wrong staying in any of the villages, although both Solvang and Los Olivos have quaint downtowns that are fun to walk around. There is something to be said for staying in Solvang to avoid the midday crowds. I went on a girls trip, and we were able to actually rent a historical house that was part of Mattei’s Tavern (an original tavern from when it was a stagecoach stop) in Los Olivos!

Friday:

If you are coming from southern California, I recommend getting dinner en route at Cold Spring Tavern (5995 Stagecoach Rd, Santa Barbara, CA 93105). This mountainside Western saloon, will remind you of the true west. For those who would like to stretch their legs before dinner, there is a one mile hike to the abandoned Knapp’s Castle ( parking can be found roughly at 3880 E Camino Cielo Santa Barbara, CA 93105). It’s a great spot to see the sunset through the stone arches of the original structure. The trail is completely downhill on the way there, so be prepared for the uphill on the way back. 

Saturday: Wine tasting

I recommend starting your morning with breakfast at the Corner House Cafe (2902 San Marcos Ave, Los Olivos, CA 93441) in Los Olivos. For those with a sweet tooth, the local favorite God’s Country Provisions Donut Shop sells their donuts in the tower next door on the weekends. 

After your breakfast, walk around the small downtown for a little bit before starting your wine tasting with a “chaser” of cupcakes at Saarloos and Sons Winery (2971 Grand Ave, Los Olivos, CA 93441). The family owned winery frequently names and labels their wine after ancestors.. You may get the opportunity to meet snarky, yet family-oriented son #1, Keith, who will share a bit about his elders that he honors in all actions he takes.

We had planned on spending the day wine tasting at different vineyards but ended up spending the whole time at our first stop, Demetria Estates (6701 Foxen Canyon Road, Los Olivos, CA 93441). We packed a picnic to eat outside at Demetria’s which resembles a Greek villa. The Greek-American owners named the vineyard and their daughter after the Greek goddess of harvest, Demeter. We had a local, Raymond (805-757-2342, ~$25/ hour) drive us around and give us the oral history of all the vineyards and the region in general.

After wine tasting we had a suburb dinner on the patio at S.Y. Kitchen (1110 Faraday St, Santa Ynez, CA 93460). They have a great farm to table italian food and cocktails. 

For those who aren’t quite ready for the party to end, consider a nightcap at country western, Maverick Saloon (3687 Sagunto St, Santa Ynez, CA 93460).

Sunday: Solvang, a Danish village

Spend Sunday morning walking around the Danish village of Solvang. Danish-American’s moved west in the early 20th century to avoid the long midwestern winters and created this village. Start with a hearty breakfast from Paula’s Pancake House. Enjoy window shopping, the many small boutiques, year round christmas stores, and art galleries. For those with a sweet tooth grab a danish pastry to go! 

If you are looking for more weekends away, check out my weekend itinerary for Santa Barbara, San Diego, Napa Valley, and San Luis Obispo.

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A day in…the Mission District!

The Mission District is named after the historic Missión San Francisco de Asís and the adjacent Basilica, known colloquially as “Mission Dolores.” In more recent times, the neighborhood has been a hip Latino neighborhood, known for its art, music and food scene. While gentrification has changed the vibe of some sections, such as Valencia Street and the neighborhood surrounding Mission Dolores Park, much of the southeastern neighborhood still holds roots as a working-class Latino enclave. While this guide is mostly focused on the Mission neighborhood, I include a stop in the Castro District with an evening restaurant option there. 

If you like exploring the bay area in day trips, check out my “A Day in” itineraries for Carmel, Oakland, Berkeley, and the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Morning: 

The ornate Basilica in Missión San Francisco de Asís.

Start your morning off with a coffee to go at Four Barrel Coffee (375 Valencia St).

Take a look at  the Missión San Francisco de Asís and adjacent Basilica at the corner of 16th and Dolores Streets. The Mission, founded in 1776, is named after St Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order.  The Mission church, which is the smaller white adobe building next to the basilica, was dedicated in 1791. It is said to be the oldest intact building in San Francisco, having survived the 1906 earthquake while the neighborhood buildings burned down. The Mission includes historical information about the Native Americans Ohlones, who inhabited the coastal areas around San Francisco and who were evangelized. 

Walk three blocks to Tartine Bakery (600 Guerrero Street.) for pastries. Enjoy your treat at Mission Dolores Park while people-watching and taking in the views of the city.

Afternoon:

Window-shop down trendy Valencia Street. There is a striking contrast between Valencia Street and Mission Street which caters to the traditional Spanish speaking population in the surrounding environs. 

A yummy burrito from Farolito; you can split with a friend!

Try a tasty burrito from Farolito (2779 Mission Street) for lunch. Don’t forget cash because they are cash only. Another good burrito place is Taqueria La Cumbre (515 Valencia Street) and for any empanadas lovers I would recommend Venga (443 Valencia Street). 

To work off the burrito head down 24th Street to Precita Eyes Muralists (2981 24th Street), a nonprofit organization promoting positive community change through artistic expression. Pick up a $5 map of the murals in the neighborhood and learn more about the meaning behind the artwork (most are deeply-rooted in ideals of social justice.) A significant number of the murals are around Balmy Alley, Clarion Alley, and the Women’s Building (3543 18th Street). Continue on 24th Street until Potrero Street then come back and take a right up Mission Street. 

While mural-viewing, stop for a margarita with a view of the city at El Techo, (2516 Mission Street). They have a reasonable-priced happy hour from 4-6 PM on weekdays.

Epic “Maestrapeace” mural at the Women’s Building. This portion of the mural depicts Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Guatemalan human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Finish your mural tour at the “Maestrapeace” on the Women’s Building (3543 18th Street) or continue on to Clarion Alley. Walk to the Castro to see the LGBTQ epicenter of San Francisco. Indulge your sweet tooth with a treat from Hot Cookie (407 Castro Street). Spend some time walking around and get a chuckle out of the cleverly-named storefronts. 

Evening: Dinner and a movie! 

The iconic Castro Theater

Choose between Castro Theater, Alamo Drafthouse or Foreign Cinema!

Option 1: Grab a seat at the iconic Castro Theater for a movie and grab some post-movie grub at either the nautical Woodhouse Fish Comp or stylish Fin Town. For those musically inclined, the Castro Theater does sing alongs to Disney Movies and even movies like Bohemian Rhapsody. They even provide small goody bags! More information can be found on the Castro Theater website (castrotheatre.com/singalongs.html).

Option 2: Go to the Alamo Drafthouse for dinner and a movie (reserve tickets in advance to guarantee good seating.) 

Option 3: Have dinner at Foreign Cinema, a restaurant which has a cool vibe, where you can sit outside and watch old black and white movies while you dine, or try the indoor ambiance of the building with its high ceilings with movies projected onto the wall (make a reservation, evening seating on a first-come first-serve basis; bar seating can be limited).

A huge thank you to Jamie for giving me all the tips on your vibrant neighborhood! Another thank you to Sarah for testing everything out with me!

If you are looking for other neighborhood guides in the Bay area, check out my guides to Berkeley and Oakland.

An Ideal 3 Days in San Diego

San Diego, this vibrant coastal city with a laid back vibe allows for any traveler to have a relaxing escape. Don’t be surprised if you hear F18 aircrafts flying overhead because this city has a foundation as a military town. Whether you are a foodie, family of five, or college student on spring break San Diego has something for you. It offers canyons and peaks to hike, beaches to sunbathe or learn to surf at, and is home to many micro breweries to indulge in.  

Torrey Pines.

Friday: Brewery Tours

Enjoying a cold brew in Stone Brewery’s beer garden.

Start your day off with a self-guided brewery tour in Miramar, take an uber because those IPA’s are strong!  Miramar hosts Ballast point, Green Flash, Saint Archer, Ale Smith, 32 North, and the glute-friendly Duck Foot.

Soak up some of the hops with lunch from the hole in the wall, Punjabi Tandor. A personal favorite is chicken tikka masala and the garlic naan.

Entrance of Stone Brewery at night.

In the evening enjoy happy hour and sunset at subscale Vintana in Escondido. Then end your day of breweries with dinner in the lush beer garden at Stone Brewery.

Saturday: Coastal Adventures in chic seaside community of La Jolla

Cafe Caroline in La Jolla Shores.

Start your day off with a low key breakfast at Café Caroline on top of a UCSD Oceanography building in La Jolla Shore. Get a morning coastal hike in at Torrey Pines. La Jolla Cove is known for good kayaking if you would prefer a water sport.

Rocks along the beach at Torrey Pines.

Grab a well earned lunch at Puesto in La Jolla Village. You can’t go wrong with any of the crispy cheese tacos and their rotating seasonal guacamole. Take some time enjoying the sunshine and water in La Jolla Cove.

Make it to a quaint early dinner and/or happy hour at Herringbone La Jolla.

Evening options: Little Italy for gelato or nightlife and a speakeasy if you are into it in the Gaslamp district

Sunday: Coronado and Balboa Park

Brunch at Coronado’s Clayton’s.

Get breakfast at Clayton’s Diner or Leroy’s on Coronado. Despite being called “Coronado Island” this section of San Diego is actually a man-made peninsula, and home to a Naval Base. Walk to Hotel Del Coronado (known locally “Hotel Del”) for some sunbathing.

Drive to Balboa Park and enjoy one of the many cultural exhibits (San Diego Museum of Art, Japanese Tea Garden, Rose Garden, Air and Space Museum, etc.) Get a lunch at Cucina Urbana in Bankers Hill, all of their pizza and pasta is phenomenal. They also host a seasonal 9 course Beast Feast.

Enjoying a walk through Balboa Park with friends.

Enjoy dinner and nightly Mariachi performances in Old Towne. Old Towne is the location of the Mission San Diego de Alcála, by which the city is named after. I recommend Casa Guadalajara, with its vibrant decorations and price conscious happy hour deals.

Mariachi display in Olde Town.

Evening options: the alternative from the night before either Little Italy for gelato or nightlife in the Gaslamp district.