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Tour Santa Barbara Wine Country and Santa Ynez Valley, California

Travel Tips

In Vino Veritas
Santa Barbara for Oenophiles

Los Olivos Tasting Room & Wine Shop
Los Olivos Tasting Room & Wine Shop


Local farmers, winemakers and others with robust appetites frequent Ellen's Danish Pancake House in Buellton, a bit off the tourist track but with portions so huge you will be well fortified for your day ahead. Plan to spend your day exploring the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail. Pick up picnic supplies before you head out — sandwiches at Los Olivos Grocery or Panino — and don't forget to pack a corkscrew.

Foxen's Tinaquaic Vineyard in Santa Barbara County, California
Foxen's Tinaquaic Vineyard

The nineteen winery tasting rooms on the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail range from low-key (Foxen) to glitzy (Fess Parker), and each has a distinctive personality. The trail is roughly divided into two regions, or AVAs (American Viticultural Areas): the upper Santa Maria Valley AVA (known for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and other Burgundy-style wines) and the Santa Ynez Valley AVA (known for Rhône varietals).

A favorite stop is the funky, tin-roofed tasting room of Foxen Winery. A makeshift altar that includes mislabeled wine bottles, various trophies, plastic nun dolls, candles and wacky photos lets visitors know this is not your corporate winery. Bob Dylan may be blasting on the stereo. Other nearby wineries worth visiting include Zaca Mesa, Bedford and Firestone.

Rancho Sisquoc Winery, a 37,000-acre historic working cattle ranch and winery in Santa Barbara's Wine Country
Rancho Sisquoc

A nice place to picnic is Rancho Sisquoc, a 37,000-acre historic working cattle ranch and winery. Sisquoc means resting place in the language of the indigenous Chumash tribe, and we think this is one of the prettiest resting places for a picnic. The property, originally part of an 1852 land grant, includes the historic San Ramon Chapel, and the entrance is a scenic reminder of old California. Visitors enter via a country dirt lane, barely wide enough for two vehicles, that passes cattle guards, tractors and fields.

After an afternoon of tasting, you'll be in the mood for a good dinner. Make reservations well in advance for The Hitching Post II, which can be booked solid months in advance. It's basically a steak-and-potato place, but a good option. Owner Frank Ostini can often be found flipping steaks on the grill, wearing his signature pith helmet and perhaps even pouring his award-winning wines.

For more information, contact the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau and Film Commission, 800-676-1266, 805-966-9222, or the Santa Ynez Valley Visitors Association,, 800-742-2843.

Also read our guide to 72 Hours in Santa Barbara



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(Updated: 06/06/12 KK)

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