Forget Disneyland! We’re going to WINE COUNTRY!
Yes we did. My favorite part of our entire trip (besides seeing my bosom buddies in Vegas) was the very pleasant surprise of the Santa Inez Valley – aka The Central Coast – aka The Poor Man’s Napa.
Or, as I like to refer to it, the place where Sideways was filmed!
The Santa Inez valley is located 2 hours north of the LA metro-blob in beautiful Santa Barbara county.
On the way up to the rural area of the Central Coast, we stopped in the city of Santa Barbara which was deliriously lush and sunny…
We stayed the night at an extremely overpriced Motel 6 which was close to the ocean but severely short on space.
There was room for 2 cot-like beds and not much else. It was the smallest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in.
We’ve never had much luck at Motel 6′s so it was kind of a last resort for us. Friday night in balmy late SoCal March = lots of people heading up to wine country.
We left the next day for Beullton and got off the freeway at the bucolic Santa Rosa Road exit (as recommended in the movie Sideways).
We immediately hit the Lafond winery which was a small, picturesque vineyard as well as a family home and wine tasting room.
NO, we did not bring the kids inside the tasting room. Lupe and I took turns going in to buy some California wine.
As you can see in my photos, the vineyards were cut down to nothing because the summer growing season had not yet started. But even with no grapes (or vines) it was still spectacular scenery.
Our next stop was the wonderfully preserved La Purisima Mission which is now a state historic park. I absolutely adore old missions of the American southwest and could have happily spent the whole trip just perusing the old mission chain up the California coast.
The sprawling La Purisima grounds were also a great place for my kids to burn off some energy.
Once you’ve paid the park entrance fee – which is only like 5 or 6 dollars – you are free to roam around the grounds and inside any of the preserved chambers, barracks and church rooms.
Me and my little monsters…
…in my happy place.
Next stop was the Windmill Inn in Buellton where we spent the night. It was also the hotel where Miles and Jack stayed in the movie Sideways – some hilarious scenes were filmed there. (If you’ve seen the movie then you know what I mean.)
It is actually a Days Inn and the hotel was fully booked except for one smoking room which we quickly snapped up. I just had to stay in the hotel where Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church stayed! I’m a big fan of both – so even if it meant staying in a stinky, smokey room – we were there!
Even though the temperature cooled off substantially by that afternoon, Lupe and the kids went swimming in the pool at the Windmill. They even soaked in the very same hot tub where Miles and Jack hung out after Jack’s broken nose incident!
I snuck over to the lobby inside the windmill part of the hotel which looked exactly as it was depicted in the film:
And continuing on in the footsteps of Miles and Jack, we went to the Hitching Post restaurant for dinner. (The Hitching Post is where Mile’s love interest Maya worked).
Unfortunately, a lot of other people had the same idea as us – the place was packed and there was and hour and a half wait to get in!
With young kids, you can bet we didn’t stick around there very long.
Instead we went over to the famous Pea Soup Andersen’s restaurant (also in Buellton) which was a fantastic place to bring the kids.
Pea Soup Andersen’s is famous worldwide for their – what else – pea soup!
But the restaurant is so much more than just pea soup…. there is a museum upstairs, a huge sprawling gift shop, a bakery, and even a cheese station. Plus lots of fun stuff for the kiddies.
Posing with the “pea-splitter”:
The next morning we visited the gloriously charming town of Solvang – “California’s Little Denmark“.
Founded in 1911 by Danish immigrants, Solvang grew throughout the 20th century and the architecture was specifically created to reflect Danish farm-style architecture.
Solvang is FULL of Danish bakeries, so if you have a hankering for fresh authentic doughy Danishes, this town is a heavenly destination!
Inside the Solvang Bakery…
Solvang is also home to several Scandinavian style restaurants such as the Red Viking…
Solvang’s town core features authentic Danish roof-lines complete with thatch made of wood shingles and cross-beamed “bindingsvaerk“…
Another Danish tradition is to place a stork on the rooftop. The stork is thought to ward off lightning and bring good luck to the building’s inhabitants.
I felt a special affinity with the town of Solvang because – on a whim almost four years ago - I gave my daughter a Scandinavian name – Tova - which means ‘beautiful thunder’. Our Tova was just smitten with the colorful flower-lined streets in Solvang…
Also popular with the kiddos was the Hans Christian Andersen museum located on the second floor of a wonderful mom & pop bookstore….
Born in Denmark, Hans Christian Andersen was the beloved author of some of the most recognizable stories in children’s literature.
Andersen penned many world-famous fairy tales such as: The Ugly Duckling, The Little Mermaid, The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Princess and the Pea.
There was also a replica model of Hans Christian Andersen’s childhood home in Denmark…
At the eastern edge of Solvang is the exceptionally beautiful Santa Inez Mission.
The mission actually pre-dates the town, as Solvang grew up around the historic site.
Old Mission Santa Ines dates back to 1804 and is another jewel in the string of historic Catholic missions scattered throughout the California countryside.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t go inside the mission because it is still an active parish and mass was being held in the church while we were there. It is amazing to think that mass has been conducted at this mission for over 200 years!
The Santa Ines Mission has the most idyllic grounds overlooking rolling hills of oak trees and vineyards…
They also have the most beautiful outdoor Stations of the Cross that I have ever seen…
So peaceful and pastoral….
I’m not a religious person, but it was actually a moving experience.
After our stop at the Santa Ines Mission, we drove through the tiny hamlet of Ballard which is just a few miles up the road from Solvang.
The big draw in Ballard is the historic Little Red Schoolhouse which has been used as Ballard’s public school continuously since 1883!
The bell in the bell-tower still rings to call students to school.
As you can see, The Little Red Schoolhouse is impeccably maintained and is clearly the pride if this adorable village. Interestingly, the Ballard school has bragging rights as one of the top performing schools in all of Santa Barbara County!
Next stop on our tour of central coast wine country was the picture-perfect wine tasting mecca of Los Olivos which was also featured in the movie Sideways…
We sat in the very seats where Maya and Stephanie (Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh) sat during a scene filmed in the tiny town:
There were many charming little historic houses in Los Olivos that had been converted into upscale boutiques and wine tasting rooms…
And of course there were the larger Victorian era homes converted into businesses:
Our final stop in Santa Barbara county was in Los Alamos for lunch. We just happened to pass by the Victorian Mansion Bed & Breakfast which I knew about from doing research for my blog.
I had even looked into booking a room there before we left on our trip, but they were way too pricey for our shoestring budget.
The interesting thing about the Victorian Mansion is that the interior rooms aren’t Victorian at all. Rather, they are all “themed rooms” with a Gypsy themed room, Pirate themed room, Elvis themed room, and so on.
It was the perfect end to a perfect couple of days in California’s Central Coast.
Now I have a new favorite house-peeping region to lust after!
Well, that’s a wrap for the Epic Road Trip.
It was one of our best road trips ever – and we didn’t even set foot in Disneyland!