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Santa Ynez Valley Staycation
updated: Sep 01, 2012, 10:00 AM
By Lauren Bray
This summer I didn't have much of a chance to take a vacation. My friends have been blowing up
Facebook with their photos of Mexico, Hawaii and Australia and it gave me the itch to explore
something new. Then it dawned on me, people come here for their vacation. There are parts of this
county that I haven't fully discovered yet, so why not a stay-cation? The Santa Ynez Valley is the perfect
locale to get away from some of the Santa Barbara congestion without going too far. I also had an
ulterior motive to use my wine and beer tasting Groupons in the area, thankfully they were impulse buys
that worked to my advantage.
I've been to the Santa Ynez Valley a few times, did some wine tasting, walked around Solvang enough to
get the "Danish" experience with buildings like this.
Yet I never made it out of the faux Euro village. I figured that if I cram as many activities as I can into 1.5
days then it would feel like a decently long vacation.
Here we go!
First stop was Split Pea Andersen's in Buellton. They have signs all over Highway 101 and it's nearly
impossible to miss. With all the hoopla surrounding it, I figured it was a necessary stop on our journey
so we went in for lunch. Now, I'm going to be blatantly honest because, unfortunately, it was how I was
raised. This place reminded me of the time warp that was my grandmother's house: full of unnecessary
trinkets and clutter overpowered by an old newspaper and mothball stench. It creeped me out a bit. I
ordered a turkey sandwich with potato salad. The sandwich was decent, but the potato salad was
lukewarm and thankfully I listened to my Jiminy Cricket conscience that said, mmm... better not eat that.
I get that this place is a staple in Buellton and full of history, but it's better off being the tourist trap that
it is. For the locals, I'd advise to keep on moving.
Next stop: Figueroa Mountain Brewery in Buellton
Now this is what I'm talking about. A relaxed tasting room filled with locals and handcrafted beers,
complete with patrons wearing cowboy hats and spurs. Our handy Groupon gave us a 2 for 1 beer
sampler and tour. Dave, the Tap Room Manager, was more than accommodating with his beer wisdom.
He gave us the run down on our tastings and a little local beer history to go along with it.
Next up was our tour. Reno, the designated brewer, showed us around the vats, hops and kegs.
Apparently some ingredients need to be stored in a cool protected area as they can be explosive. Good
tip to know for all you home brewers and moonshiners out there.
We tasted a freshly brewed Hoppy Poppy straight from the vat that was smooth and delicious without
the bite. The Stagecoach Stout was by far my favorite and reminded me of an alcoholic milkshake. It's
creamy with an espresso aftertaste but not too thick. The Brown and Red Ale were also notable for the
lighter'ish beer drinkers. Figueroa Mountain is a new local company that opened up about 2
years ago. They are already spreading their wings through the SB County with taste and quality easily
rivaling (and in my opinion far surpassing) the local Firestone heavyweights.
Driving back from the brewery we stumbled upon the Ostrich Farm. I've never seen an ostrich or heard
much about them so in my quirky Edhat spirit, we pulled over to take a look. These creatures are HUGE
and aggressive. I would not let small children near them as the sign states: "Yes, we bite!" It was oddly
entertaining to see these prehistoric creatures squawk and attack the food bowls. Although it somewhat resembled nightmares I had as a kid from watching
Jurassic Park so I won't be running wild with ostriches anytime soon.
With a little inspiration from the well known movie Sideways, we had dinner at the Hitching Post. This was
hands down the best filet I have ever eaten. There's no wonder this place is always crowded and
bustling. Sitting in the back room I half expected to see Virginia Madsen carrying food trays and Paul
Giamatti scream at the bar, "I'm not drinking @$%#*$! merlot!" Unfortunately there were just a few tipsy locals guzzling bottles of wine. Tip: Make a
reservation ahead of time as there is almost always a wait list.
The next morning we went somewhere that I might have been a little too excited for. A magical land
called Quicksilver Farms, home of mini horses. I know what you're thinking. "No Lauren, that can't
possibly be. A farm filled with miniature horses? It's too cute to be true." Well my friends, not only is it
true, it's wonderful. At zero cost, you get to watch these little critters frolic in their grassy knolls and run
through sprinklers like jovial children. These handsome things are the size of large dogs and can be
somewhat temperamental, but are definitely worth the drive.
Our last coupon was for Solvang's new and hip wine bar, Valley Vino, located in the heart of Solvang's
"Danish" Village. Walking into the bar we were immediately greeted with ice cold air conditioning.
Coming from the outside 105 degree heat it
was more than welcomed. They offer a variety of wines from all over California, featuring some local
brands we all know and love. Josh was our friendly and knowledgeable wine pourer (see him below
behind a wall of wine that I desperately want in my apartment) who chatted us up about the inner
workings of the wine business. Our flight of tastings included a 2010 Curran Grenache Blanc and a
2009 Pinot Noir Ken Brown, just to name a few favorites. As a new establishment that opened in late
2011, this is a fun local hot spot comfortably sample beer and wine while people watching tourists. Plus they're open until
10 pm on weekends when most of Solvang is fast asleep.
The last and final stop is no stranger to the Edhat Boards, the Blueberry Farm of Buellton. From the
photos I've seen submitted by Edhatters, it looked like a fun and interesting way to spend an afternoon.
Plus you come away with blueberries and the satisfaction of picking them yourself. Win-Win. We pull up
in the sweltering heat and I immediately regret my decision. Heat and sweat coupled with manual labor
isn't my ideal vacation. In theory, it was a great idea, but hey we came away with approximately 35
blueberries for under a dollar. From now on I will graciously eat my fruit and thank those who picked it.
For anyone who hasn't ventured into our neighboring towns, I strongly urge you to test it out. The best
thing about the Santa Ynez Valley are the people. Everyone we encountered was friendly and talkative.
Maybe it's the scenery or the vast amounts of open space and parking. Either way, I'll definitely be
making another weekend trip. Next time it won't be in August during a heat wave.
Do you have an event you'd like Lauren to attend? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lauren is a member of the Dedicated Staff and is currently working on her first novel.
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