The long holiday weekend is over, the turkey’s been picked clean, and the visitors are gone. Now it’s time to get out of the house for some fresh air.
How about a drive through the gorgeous Santa Ynez Valley? Only about 45 minutes or so from Santa Barbara. If you get up early enough you can join the cowboys, ranchers, cowbabes, and resident celebrities who gather for breakfast at the bustling Longhorn Café in the town of Santa Ynez.
I suggest an early lunch at Sam Marmorstein’s Los Olivos Café, where scenes from the hit movie Sideways were filmed and where Jack, Miles, Maya, and Stephanie had a wine-soaked meal. Try Sam’s own chardonnay or pinot. Or put on the feedbag at the nearby Patrick’s Side Street Café. Hit an art gallery or two.
When you mention the Santa Ynez Valley, most people think wine tasting. And indeed you can wander around Los Olivos sipping the nectar of the gods. Or grab one of the wine country maps and drive from winery to winery (there are 70 of them), tasting and no doubt buying. But tasting means just that. You take a sip, roll it around in your mouth, savor it, then spit it into a container. You do not want to drive the curving lanes of the valley with a brain full of alcohol, do you? You can find a list of the wineries at the Santa Ynez Valley Visitors Association Web site and lots of other info on what to do. Even many Santa Barbarans don’t realize that the valley is apple country. This time of the year you’re liable to find Granny Smith’s on roadside tables along Alamo Pintado. Take the road south from Los Olivos.
To really get the country feel, take a drive along Happy Canyon Road, off Highway 154, as horses frolic in the meadows and red-tailed hawks circle above. Get out your cameras. Don’t miss the Ballard School, still in use and dating to 1882, in the little hamlet of Ballard. If you’re lucky you might be able to get a dinner reservation at the Ballard Inn and Restaurant, a high-end B&B. Owner-chef Budi Kazali specializes in French-Asian dishes.
And it would really be a last-minute coup this weekend to get a room at Alisal Ranch. There you can ride over hill and dale across the 10,000-acre ranch, swim, golf, go boating in the lake, or just laze around and listen for the dinner bell. No hunting is allowed at Alisal, so deer will gaze at you, unafraid as you ride by. Opt for the breakfast ride. (Alisal is not a cheap stay. But what a stay it is.) Easier on the budget is Rancho Oso, where you can ride your horse or theirs, and rent a bunk or a covered wagon. The ranch is on Paradise Road, off San Marcos Pass.
If you’re really on a Sideways kick, try, and I mean try, to get a table at the Hitching Post, on Highway 246, owned by winemaker Frank Ostini. That’s where Jack and Miles spent some time sipping his Highliner pinot. Sirloin and ostrich are on the menu. Or there’s the Brothers’ Restaurant at the old Mattei’s Tavern, owned by vintner and county supervisor Brooks Firestone. It’s been a Los Olivos fixture since Felix Mattei and his wife Lucy arrived in town in 1886 and built a small hotel/restaurant.
I promise, you won’t drive back home hungry after your day (or days) in the Santa Ynez Valley.