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Santa Barbara Wine Country City Trip

Los Olivos Tasting Room & Wine Shop in California

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Where to Stay Where to Eat What to See & Do Wineries


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 and sandwiches at El Rancho Market or Panino, because there are no restaurants or stops along the this trail.

The 19 wine tasting rooms on the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail range from low-key (Foxen), to glitzy (Fess Parker) to reservation-only (Demetria), 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 more for Rhône varietals).

Cottonwood Canyon Vineyard & Winery in Santa Maria, California, is situated along the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail

A favorite stop is the funky, tin-roofed tasting room of the family-owned 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 Cambria, Riverbench (with it's pretty picnic grounds) and Kenneth Volk for fun and oddball wines that no one else makes!

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 and recently restored 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.

The exterior of San Ramon Chapel in Santa Maria, California

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, made famous from Sideways, which can be booked on weekends. 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. Other options include Avant Tapas and Wine Bar and Industrial Eats, both in Buellton, and both with a focus on local ingredients and non-traditional offerings.

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