Foxen Canyon Wine Tour

Historic trail leads to fine wine and good times.

Distance-43.2 miles
Difficulty- Strenuous
Elevation Gain- Gradual climbs and drops with two 300’ elevation gains on the way out; one 300’ and one 500’ gain on the way back.

Foxen Canyon was the original route to Santa Maria and that of Colonel John C. Fremont and his battalion of soldiers who were on their way to help free Santa Barbara and California of Mexican control in the 1840s. Choosing to lead his troops over San Marcos Pass in a heavy downpour rather than taking the more predictable Gaviota route, his heavy cannons bogged down in the mud, resulting in a rather inglorious march into town. Today Foxen Canyon is explored only by those out for an afternoon ride or in search of the excellent wineries developed here since the 1970s.

This out and back ride features The Firestone, Fess Parker, Zaca Mesa, and Rancho Sisquoc Wineries. From the tavern follow Foxen Canyon Road north for several miles up over a 300’ rise and down to Zaca Station Road. Turn right and continue along Foxen Canyon through grassland and rolling hills for 3 miles then climb a second rise to a point which overlooks the upper Foxen Canyon, a land that has changed little in time.

Drop steeply downhill into the upper end of the valley and in a mile Zaca Mesa Winery (10-4 daily; (800)350-7972) is on the left. Meaning “place of tranquility” in Spanish, the winery has colorful flowers on its perimeter, delicate rows of grapes leading in, and pleasing architecture for its tasting room in the interior, as well as a nice picnic area. In sum it is truly zaca mesa.

Continuing on Foxen Canyon, the road leads gradually downhill 9.5 miles through pastoral ranchland to the historic Sisquoc Chapel and the entrance to Rancho Sisquoc Winery (10-4 daily; (805)934-4332). Once a mighty cattle ranch, Rancho Sisquoc is the only remaining Santa Barbara land grant left intact, its 30,000+ acres now providing grapes for one of the Santa Maria Valley’s finest wineries.

At the base of the chapel turn right and follow a level road for 2 miles along the banks of the Sisquoc River to the ranch headquarters, where you can sample not only the wine but step back into 19th century history.

Return via the same route. The Fess Parker or Firestone Vineyards provide convenient resting points on the way back. If you continue down to the Firestone Winery, backtrack .6 miles to Foxen Canyon, turn right, ascend the last remaining hill, and enjoy the final 3 miles of easy riding back to Mattei’s Tavern.

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