Peachhead™ Approved Vacations: Vacation in The Santa Ynez Valley
I love my weekend getaways, and I love my wine tastings….combine the two and you have an amazing weekend getaway in The Santa Ynez Valley. My girlfriend and I headed to the Santa Ynez Valley on a Saturday morning. On the way to the Santa Ynez Valley, we stopped in Santa Barbara for lunch. That weekend was the summer solstice festival so they were having a parade as well as a big celebration. Everyone was dressed in costumes; it was going to be a party weekend.
We checked into the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott. It is conveniently located near Solvang, in Buellton. The hotel is very quiet and the room is a nice size. They also have suites available if you are bringing the family. The room has a mini refrigerator so feel free to bring cheese and crackers for your wine tasting. The hotel offers complimentary wi-fi in your room and throughout the hotel, as well as complimentary parking. They have a nice outdoor pool, fitness room, game room with a pool table, sauna, and guest laundry facilities. They even have a tennis court and racquetball court. They have a restaurant on property, called The Starting Gate, where we ate breakfast both mornings. They offer a full menu as well as a breakfast buffet complete with fruit, bacon, potatoes, omelet bar, and more.
This trip I decided to be a bit more adventurous and experience ATV (all-terrain vehicles) Riding--also known as a quad bike or a four-wheeler--at the Nojoqui Falls ATV Tours in the Santa Ynez Valley. The Giorgi Family has owned and operated the ranch for more than 100 years, and they teach you the history as well as information on the plants and animals on the property. Toby Giorgi, who guided our tour, is the fourth generation to run this ranch. The guides start out by explaining how to safely ride the ATV. They provide you with a helmet and goggles and off you go on a guided tour into the back country located in the Santa Ynez Valley. You will have the opportunity to ride through the many terrain levels on Nojoqui Falls Ranch, from forest areas to rocky areas (those were the scariest to me but also a lot of fun). I am amazed by what these bikes can ride through without tipping over. When I had a wide road with a long path I had fun picking up speed and racing down the road. You must be 16 years old to drive the ATV; however, they have side-by-sides or a crew cab (that seats 4 people) that your children can ride in if they are 6 years old.
When I was researching restaurants for dinner, everyone recommended the same restaurant, Trattoria Grappolo. This is a small restaurant (a little loud) but obviously very popular. The tables are very close to each other. The Caesar salad was wonderful and the pasta dishes were good.
I love to go wine tasting but worry about driving, so I used a company called The Grapeline. They picked us up at our hotel in a deluxe air conditioned shuttle coach (very comfortable) and took us to 4 wineries for wine tasting as well as an olive tasting. We had a fun group of people with us. One of the advantages of going with this tour company is that you are treated like VIPs everywhere you go. At each winery that we visited, we were immediately given our glasses of wine and poured a variety of wines while we were educated about each varietal of wine. Our first stop was Zaca Mesa Winery, a family owned winery for almost 25 years. It was a beautiful setting and has a little trail you could explore. Our next stop was my favorite: Curtis Winery. They have dedicated their wines exclusively to Rhone-style wines. They had a wine and chocolate pairing for us that was incredible. After our wine tasting, Bill took us on a tour of the winery and showed us how they make the wine. They also have samples out of different dipping sauces that were fun to try. After our tour, The Grapeline had set up a picnic table with our pre-ordered lunches. The table was beautifully set with placemats and real napkins and silverware (not paper plates or plastic utensils; nice touch). The lunch was from Panino’sand it was very tasty. Our next stop was Melville Vineyards and Winery, family owned and operated. They are more about the wine and less on merchandise, specializing in chardonnay and pinot noir, as well as Rhone varietals. You can sit outside and enjoy your wine there as well. Our last winery was Huber Cellars, very warm and welcoming. You almost feel as if you are visiting them in their home. We hung out on the patio where they brought out the wines for us to try, as well as a lovely cheese plate with their homemade jellies. They even brought out a chocolate fudge desert to have with the dessert wine made from Dornfelder, called Hafen. It was incredible. Taking the Grapeline Tour was a wonderful way to experience the Santa Ynez Valley Wineries, and Tom, our guide, was very knowledgeable on every topic.
After wine tasting all day, we decided to have a light meal, so we went to Avant Tapas and Wine in Buellton (a few minutes from the hotel). Avant Tapas and Wine is also a tasting room with over 30 different wines where you can use the “wine card” to purchase wine from the electronic dispensary. You can purchase 2 oz., 4 oz., or a full glass. I was very surprised to see a much more elaborate food menu than what was on their website. Their website had not been updated so I was blown away at all of the choices they had available. I started out with the Tuna Crudo (Sesame Crusted Seared ahi, Ponzu, Green Onions, and Jalapenos). Next I had the Yuppie Crack (applewood smoked bacon wrapped dates stuffed with goat cheese, balsamic reduction, basil oil drizzle). Unbelievable. My friend had the local grass-fed beef slider tri (carmelized onion and gorgonzola, cheddar & Jalapeno, Fresh Mozzarella & Balsimic Reduction). I was really excited to see Wood Fired S’mores for dessert (house-made graham crackers, marshmallows, & chocolate ganache). It was amazing.
After dinner we went to the Solvang Festival Theatre to see a production by PCPA Theaterfest, Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps comedy. What a great place to see a show. It is a 700-seat outdoor amphitheatre. It does get cold at night, so come prepared (they rent cushions and blankets, or you can bring your own). This was a very entertaining play, consisting of 4 main actors who played a number of different characters throughout the show, changing costumes and accents within seconds. The production and direction were very clever and smart. There was a lot of play on words and the creativity used to show a scene was very imaginative. I laughed throughout the entire show.
Before leaving the Santa Ynez Valley I stopped at Pea Soup Andersons to bring home their world-famous pea soup for my husband. We then stopped in Solvang to do a little shopping. You feel like you are in Denmark as you walk around the 150 shops, art galleries, restaurants, bakeries, and wine tasting rooms. Be sure to try some ebelskivers.
The Santa Ynez Valley is a great little getaway. It is only 2 hours from Los Angeles but you feel like you are in another country. Looking forward to returning.