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Trip Report Los Olivos/Santa Ynez Valley

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What: a three-night mini-vacation
When: early July 2013
Where: Los Olivos, Fess Parker Wine Country Inn

Our home for the three nights was the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn ($345/room/night, mid-week, Triple A rate, including breakfast and 4 complimentary wine tastings). This trip was in celebration of younger son’s completion of his doctorate, hence the splurge. We drove up from the OC, opting for the more direct route over Route 154, the San Marcos Pass out of Santa Barbara. Wonderful vistas of the mountains, gold in summer, dotted with oaks. We’ve been driving up and down the California coast for thirty odd years now and had stopped but never stayed in Los Olivos. I’d remembered it as a pretty little town and so it is. Palm trees and oleander, a nearby lavender farm, and an authentic store for all your riding needs --saddles, bridles, riding garb--amidst the wine boutiques. This, after all, was horse country before Sideways put it on the map. We had adjoining rooms, one with two queens, shared by my two sons, and the other with a king.

In addition to being a relatively short drive, what attracted me to the area was the ease of getting to several cute towns from a central hub and its appealing historical roots. A few examples: The site of Mattei’s Tavern in Los Olivos, part of which is now under development as a hotel, was a stagecoach stop. The Parks-Janeway carriage house in Santa Ynez—I’d been there on a prior trip and would have enjoyed a return visit but it wasn’t open during our stay. Ballard’s lovely little red schoolhouse, in operation since 1883. Old Mission Santa Ynes. Note: Our off-peak stay Sunday-Tuesday meant a better hotel rate but also a more limited menu of activities as some places are open only over extended weekends. Also, it can get warm in the summer when you get a few miles inland. We missed the mega heat wave of the previous week but still saw high 90s.

Food: We all like good food. For my husband, a bad meal is an opportunity gone forever. These were our dinner choices:

First night, Full of Life Flatbread in Los Alamos: open for dinner only, four nights/week, Thursday through Sunday. Much hyped on the web, I’d read that folks travel up from LA for dinner here. Excellent vibe, very good service, food was good but not superlative. We shared the roasted baby artichoke & prosciutto and tomato bruschetta appetizers, three flatbreads, the goat cheese/kalamata olive, sausage and fennel (my favorite), and roasted tomato, one sea bass dinner, and two desserts, the s’more and the brownie. Flatbread, for us, did not a dinner make.

Second night, the Hitching Post in Buellton: After the previous night’s dinner, we were ready for some meat and had solid meals (grilled artichokes, sautéed mushrooms, Angus rib steak, pork chop) at the Hitching Post. We’ve been here before and find it reliable.

Third night, Trattoria Grappolo in Santa Ynez: our favorite for this trip. After chocolate sodas in mid-afternoon at Ingeborg’s in Solvang, no one was starving for dinner. Dinner included Caesar salads, eggplant parmesan, a seafood entry. We were all pleased with the atmosphere and the food.

The Fess Parker: Our rooms were both of good size, well-appointed and tasteful, nice baths (especially ours, which had both tub and shower). Loved the Moulton Brown bath products. Immaculate housekeeping. The front desk staff were friendly, courteous, and helpful. Breakfast was the weak point. Choices were limited, preparations lackluster, best item was the homemade yogurt which was excellent. By the third morning, we were ready for a change and ate at Paula’s Pancake House in Solvang.

Shopping: I enjoy buying products I can use at home and prefer to buy straight from the source whenever possible. We tasted and purchased olive oil from Rancho Olivos located off Route 154, www.ranchoolivos.com, and bought lavender sachets and travel-sized lotion from Clairmont Farms, www.clairmontfarms.com. The lavender was in bloom while we were there and made a pretty picture against the olive tree canopied drive and mountains in the distance. I also found olive oil from Figueroa Farms at the Los Olivos Grocery and well-priced lavender body lotion from the Santa Ynez Lavender Company, www.santaynezlavender.com, at the New Frontier market outside Solvang. I’m always on the lookout for honey —sage and wildflower were the popular choices in the Santa Ynez Valley. We’re more into food than wine but a wine tasting at an actual vineyard seemed de riguer in Sideways country. Rancho Olivos recommended nearby Beckmen Vineyards. Decided the more expensive “estate” tasting was the better of the two offered, purchased a bottle of Syrah. We had an excellent experience shopping for leather jackets at First Street Leather in Solvang, www.firststreetleather.com. Chocolate from Ingeborg’s was also a hit.

Bottom line: I like this area and could have spent more time exploring.

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