Touring around in Santa Barbara wine country

Forget Disneyland! We’re going to WINE COUNTRY!

Santa Barnara County 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!

Sideways film

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…

Santa Barbara, CA

We stayed the night at an extremely overpriced Motel 6 which was close to the ocean but severely short on space.

Motel 6 Santa Barbara

There was room for 2 cot-like beds and not much else. It was the smallest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in.

tiny room at Motel 6 Santa Barbara

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.

Sideways map

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).

Santa Rosa Road

vineyards on Santa Rosa Road

We immediately hit the Lafond winery which was a small, picturesque vineyard as well as a family home and wine tasting room.

Lafond winery on Santa Rosa Road

NO, we did not bring the kids inside the tasting room. Lupe and I took turns going in to buy some California wine.

Next we hit the famous Sanford winery which I believe is the location in the movie Sideways where Miles teaches Jack the finer points of wine tasting.

Sanford winery on santa Rosa Road

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.

Sanford Winery

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.

La Purisima Mission, CA

La Pusisima Mission, Lompoc, California

The sprawling La Purisima grounds were also a great place for my kids to burn off some energy.

My kids and I at La Purisima Mission

La Purisima Mission

Mission peeping in California

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.

inside the La Purisima Mission

inside the barracks at La Purisima

Inside La Purisima

inside La Purisima

Me and my little monsters…

Me and my kids at the La Purisima Mission

…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.)

The Windmill Inn, Buellton, CA

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!

Days Inn, Buellton, CA

Days Inn, Buellton, CA

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!

In the hot tub at the Windmill Inn, Buellton, CA

I snuck over to the lobby inside the windmill part of the hotel which looked exactly as it was depicted in the film:

Inside the lobby/breakfast area at the Days Inn Windmill

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).

The Hitching Post 2 in Buellton, CA

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 Anderson's

Pea Soup Andersen’s is famous worldwide for their – what else – pea soup!

pea soup at Pea Soup Andersen's

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”:

at Pea Soup Andersen's

The next morning we visited the gloriously charming town of Solvang – “California’s Little Denmark“.

Solvang, California

Founded in 1911 by Danish immigrants, Solvang grew throughout the 20th century and the architecture was specifically created to reflect Danish farm-style architecture.

Danish chalet in Solvang

windmill in Solvang, CA

Solvang is FULL of Danish bakeries, so if you have a hankering for fresh authentic doughy Danishes, this town is a heavenly destination!

bakeries in Solvang, CA

The Solvang Bakery

Inside the Solvang Bakery

inside the Solbang Bakery

inside the Solvang Bakery

Solvang is also home to several Scandinavian style restaurants such as the Red Viking

Red Viking Restaurant

Solvang’s town core features authentic Danish roof-lines complete with thatch made of wood shingles and cross-beamed “bindingsvaerk“…

Danish roof lines in solvang, CA

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.

stork on roof

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…

Tova admiring flowers in Solvang, CA

Also popular with the kiddos was the Hans Christian Andersen museum located on the second floor of a wonderful mom & pop bookstore….

Hans Christian Andersen museum

Born in Denmark, Hans Christian Andersen was the beloved author of some of the most recognizable stories in children’s literature.

Hans Christian Andersen bust

Andersen penned many world-famous fairy tales such as: The Ugly Duckling, The Little MermaidThe 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…

Hans Christian Andersen's home in Denmark

At the eastern edge of Solvang is the exceptionally beautiful Santa Inez Mission.

Santa Inez Mission in Solvang, CA

The mission actually pre-dates the town, as Solvang grew up around the historic site.

Me and the kids at the Santa Inez Mission

Old Mission Santa Ines dates back to 1804 and is another jewel in the string of historic Catholic missions scattered throughout the California countryside.

Mission Santa Ines

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!

Santa Ines Mission

The Santa Ines Mission has the most idyllic grounds overlooking rolling hills of oak trees and vineyards…

Cross at Mission Santa Ines, Solvang, CA

They also have the most beautiful outdoor Stations of the Cross that I have ever seen…

stations of the cross

a station of the cross

So peaceful and pastoral….

stations of the cross

I’m not a religious person, but it was actually a moving experience.

stations of the cross

the grounds of the Mission Santa Ines

Mission Santa Ines, CA

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!

Ballard's historic little red school house

The bell in the bell-tower still rings to call students to school.

Ballard school 1882

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!

Old Ballard school house, 1882

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

Los Olivos General Store

Chairs in front of Los Olivos Garage/General Store

We sat in the very seats where Maya and Stephanie (Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh) sat during a scene filmed in the tiny town:

sitting in front of the Los Olivos Garage

There were many charming little historic houses in Los Olivos that had been converted into upscale boutiques and wine tasting rooms…

wine tasting shop in Los Olivos, CA

Los Olivos, CA

Los Olivos wine shop

Los Olivos wine tasting room

And of course there were the larger Victorian era homes converted into businesses:

old house in Los Olivos, CA

Sotheby's in Los Olivos, CA

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.

Victorian Mansion Bed & Breakfast

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.

Victorian Mansion Bed & Breakfast

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.

Victorian Mansion B&B in Los Alomos, CA

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.

Mupe and the kids in Solvang, California

It was one of our best road trips ever – and we didn’t even set foot in Disneyland!







Leave a Reply