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.

A weekend in Napa Valley, CA

The rolling hills of Napa Valley have become synonymous with images of culinary excellence and award-winning wine. Much to many Francophiles’ surprise, the area was put on the global wine map when two local vineyards won in a blind taste test at the “Paris Wine Tasting of 1976.” Napa Valley is now best known for its dry red wines, the most popular of which is Cabernet Sauvignon but Merlot, Pinot Noir and even Chardonnay have received high praise. (If you are more interested in vineyards producing white wine, check out the neighboring laid back Sonoma Valley.)  I consider the Napa Valley region as the apex of “rural chic” and the culture is still steeped in its agricultural history. Napa Valley is an hour drive north from San Francisco and it makes for a great weekend getaway.

Situated between the sloping hills of the Vaca and Mayacamas mountains, Napa Valley includes five cities: Napa, Yountville, St. Helena, Calistoga, and lesser known American Canyon. The region stretches for over 30 miles from north to south, and be prepared to have up to a 40 minute drive between destinations. Napa Valley can get expensive. Tastings at inexpensive vineyards start at around $35, and seeing multiple vineyards in a day can add up. Please note: I enjoy wine, but I am not a sommelier, so my itinerary is focused on a positive experience rather than as a wine critique! Pace yourself both physically and financially and remember to hydrate, as the area is known for hot temperatures and drinking all day can cause dehydration.

I enjoy watching movies and reading books about a place before I visit. For Napa, I recommend watching movies such as Wine Country, Bottle Shock, or the oldie but goodie, The Parent Trap. A few of Dean Koontz’s novels are set in Napa, but I would recommend The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty by Julia Flynn Silor.

When to go: I would recommend going in the spring-time, after the rainy season, when the landscape is lush, green and abundant. Autumn and winter are also often good times. I would be wary of going in the summer, as Napa gets very hot and temperatures can go above 100 degrees.

Where to stay: I love staying in downtown Yountville, as it has a quaint downtown and walking around the center is always fun. I have previously stayed at Maison Fleurie, A Four Sisters Inn, and really enjoyed the ambiance.

Friday: Dinner in Napa

The Restaurant, Allegria, has seating inside the old bank vault.

Get a reservation for dinner at Allegria (1026 1st St, Napa, CA), an upscale italian restaurant in a historic bank landmark, built in 1916. Take a stroll through Napa’s downtown after dinner. Please be aware that much of the town shuts down earlier in the evening, since most tourists spend the day sampling wine.

Saturday: Wine tasting

Start your morning with a pastry and coffee from Bouchon Bakery (6528 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599), in the middle of the quaint downtown section of Yountville.

Drive up to Calistoga, and start your day at Sterling Vineyards (1111 Dunaweal Lane, Calistoga, CA 94515).  This has the only aerial tram in Napa Valley and offers cascading views of the area. By the late afternoon, the tram can get hot and crowded, so I recommend starting here.

A tranquil Chinese garden and serene Jade Lake were added to the ascetic appeal of the already beautiful Chateaux Montelena by a Chinese- American family during the roughly two decades that the estate took a hiatus from wine making and was a private home. Do not miss walking the grounds at this vineyard!

Next stop is Chateau Montelena Winery (1429 Tubbs Ln, Calistoga, CA 94515) this beautiful 19th century chateau and vineyard was put on the world vintner map when the Chardonnay won the “Judgement of Paris” wine competition in 1976. The movie, Bottle Shock, is a fictionalized depiction of this new world victory! 

After visiting two vineyards get a late picnic lunch at V. Sattui (1111 White Ln, St Helena, CA 94574). You can pick up some food from the store and sit outside at many of the park benches. After lunch, you could continue on with winery tours, but I would recommend regrouping at your hotel and window-shopping the quaint shops in downtown Yountville. 

For dinner consider the French restaurant, Bouchon Bistro (6534 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599). For those who are looking to burn through some serious cash, French Laundry (6640 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599) is a delicious 9 course prefix experience ($310/per person). Located in an unassuming stone farmhouse, this restaurant is repeatedly listed among the top restaurants in the world and received 3 stars in the Michelin guide. 

For those who still have the energy, consider an after dinner drink at Restoration Hardware (6725 Washington St, Yountville, CA 94599) which is open until 10:00PM.

Sunday: Hot Air Balloon ride and Oxbow Public Market

For those who are not afraid of heights, start your morning very early with a memorable sunrise hot air balloon ride provided by Napa Valley Balloon, Inc (4086 Byway East, Napa, CA 94558). This could be missed for those who want to sleep in and save some money. Prices run roughly in the low $200’s per guest. 

Try a grab and go brunch at Oxbow Public Market (610 1st St, Napa, CA 94559) before heading home for a weekend well spent (in more than one way) in Napa Valley!

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

A weekend getaway to San Luis Obispo, CA

San Luis Obispo (or SLO for short), is a small city in California’s Central Coast. SLO’s location makes it a popular and manageable weekend getaway for Los Angelenos and San Franciscans alike, as it’s 3 hours from LA and 3.5 hours from San Francisco. SLO was originally developed around the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, a 300 year old Spanish mission with a museum. It is known for its rich history and as the location of Cal Poly SLO, but is a Central Coast gem that can be enjoyed at any age!

Accomodations: Definitely the most iconic stay would be in the eccentric pink Madonna Inn (100 Madonna Rd), it seems like a hotel that you would find in Las Vegas 30 years ago… You can also find accommodations on airbnb or booking.com. 

SLO was a great location for a low key Bachelorette weekend or romantic getaway.

Friday night:

If you are able to arrive a little early, Wolff Vineyards stays open for sunset views. Otherwise arrive and check into your accommodations and get settled. 

Saturday:

Hike the Bishop’s Peak, which takes about two hours. 

Enjoy a well-deserved brunch at Mint + Craft (848 Monterey St); they have small outdoor seating in a pedestrian alley.

Avila Beach

After brunch relax at Avila Beach. Avila Beach paddleboard and other sports offers first come first serve kayaks and paddleboards. If you remain for sunset, Pierfront (480 Front St, Avila Beach, CA 93424) Mr. Rick’s (404 Front St, Avila Beach, CA 93424) and Ocean Grill (268 Front St, Avila Beach, CA 93424) offer great sunset views. For those who are not beach goers, the Paso Robles region offers an abundance of wineries that you can check out. 

The outdoor patio of NOVO. (c) Arizona Foothills Magazine

Get dinner at Novo (726 Higuera St), the restaurant is walking distance to all the bars downtown. They have a beautiful tiered outdoor seating, which overlooks the San Luis Obispo Creek. You can hear the faint sound of the stream and birds while dining. It’s dining in a real life upscale rainforest cafe! Try to get a reservation for outdoor seating in advance.

Sunday:

Luna Red in the evening. (c) The Wedding Spot

Start your meandering day off with  brunch at Luna Red (1023 Chorro St), they have a peaceful outdoor patio seating. The restaurant is located next to the Mission San Luis Obispo de Toloso, which is worth an hour to check out. Spend the rest of your time window shopping the quaint downtown, don’t forget to walk down the infamous bubblegum alley.

Head back home after a relaxing weekend getaway in SLO!

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

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A day in…the Santa Cruz Mountains & Soquel Cove!

The Santa Cruz Mountains are dappled with houses among wooded forest. This is what I picture Marin County, thirty years ago before it was turned over by tech yuppies looking for a rustic home. The “Mountain Folk” as my friend who lives there adoringly calls herself and her neighbors, are friendly and remind you of a bygone era of early California settlers. The Santa Cruz Mountains are great to slow down and enjoy the serene nature that California has to offer. One hour and a half south of San Francisco, this is a great day trip retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. 

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

Getting there: Continue on 17 from Los Gatos, CA then continue onto Summit Road and a right onto Soquel San Jose Rd. 

Start your morning by getting a coffee and a homemade treat from the female owned Casalegno’s Country Store (3 Laurel Glen Rd, Soquel, CA 95073). It has been around since 1929 and is a great stop for a coffee on your drive through the redwoods of Soquel en route to… 

Spend a few hours hiking the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park (Aptos Creek Rd, Aptos, CA 95003) which offers over 40 miles of hiking trails through 10,223 acres of wildlife. There are so many variations and amount of time you could spend here, you can check out more information here. With so much land, expect to not see many crowds. 

The iconic Capitola Venetian.

After hiking, drive down to Capitola Village and get a well deserved brunch from Zelda’s (203 Esplanade, Capitola, CA) which overlooks the brightly colored guest suites of the Capitola Venetian  and Soquel Canal. Spend an hour looking around the small downtown area. There is a beautiful and brief (10 minute) pedestrian walk along the Soquel Creek.

For those who prefer a leisurely day you could end here, but for those who would like a little more adventure, you can check out some the Wine Trail. MJA Winery Tasting Room, Wargin Winery (5015 Soquel Dr, Soquel, CA 95073), and Alfaro Vineyard Winery (420 Hames Rd, Watsonville, CA 95076) will not disappoint.

MJA Winery Tasting Room

Cap your wine off with some BBQ from the family-owned and delicious Aptos St BBQ (8059 Aptos St, Aptos, CA 95003), they often have live Blues Music playing. Try the tri-tip and my personal favorite, pulled pork sandwich! Those who want brisket, beware that it sells out quickly. Cheers to a relaxing day in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

A huge thank you to Lolo and Ivan for showing me around their beautiful town!

A leisurely day in…Martina Franca, Italy!

Walking around the center of town in Martina Franca. Take in the beautifully crumbling baroque facades.

Located in the Puglia region of Italy, at the top of the heel, Martina Franca is an ancient town known for its fine food, home-grown wine, textiles, soccer and opera music. The white sandstone buildings are tanned with age and rooftop crevices provide space for wildflowers to grow. The green and blue shutters provide a contrast to the white and tan marble  buildings. Where some see signs of decay and decadence, most tourists will enjoy the genuineness of Martina Franca. This beautiful town provides a wonderful site for a leisurely day in the Puglian sun. 

Start your morning at Bar Adua for a coffee and pastry. The family owned business has been around since 1936. If you have the chance, try capocollo, a kind of cured ham that is the pride of the town.

Walk along the alleyways in the center of town and take in the beautifully crumbling Baroque buildings. In the ‘Centro Storico’, don’t miss the Palazzo Ducale, Piazza XX Settembre, Piazza Maria Immacolata, and Basilica di San Martino, a church built in the 18th century in the Late Baroque style.

Afternoon:

Visit the I Pastini winery. Out in the rolling hills of the Valle d’Itria, I Pastini offers tours and wine tasting at reasonable prices and sells wine to take home or to be shipped. Take the tour and learn how the farming community has lived in Southern Italy for thousands of years, and how wine is made. This region is known for red-wine grapes called “Susumaniello,” which is one of the world’s rarest wine grapes. The vineyard uses the region’s iconic truli in its original capacity, as a farm shed.

Similar to the Italians, take a siesta before the evening. 

Take a passagiata, or evening stroll to Cafe Tripoli. Enjoy an ice cream, coffee, or pastry (or all three!). Cafe Tripoli is the oldest cafe in Martina Franca.  It is the most bustling, and is very popular with the locals, which is always reassuring to tourists. I visited during Easter week, and enjoyed a zeppole, fried dough Easter pastry that is filled with custard and topped with confections and jams. Get a seat outside to soak in the ambiance and watch the locals on their passagata.

End your evening wining and dining at Ristorante Torre di Angelucco. Angela the chef and owner will take pride in explaining the whole menu to tourists, and she will make recommendations based on each diner’s desires. This quaint place will not disappoint you! The wine was inexpensive and the food was fabulous and reasonably priced. All of the fish entrees are great, along with the seasonal local vegetables.