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Very quick solo wine tasting afternoon/evening in Santa Barbara/Los Olivos

I am flying into LAX at 11am next Thursday, zipping up PCH to Santa Barbara for one evening, and then driving to OC the following afternoon. I have read a ton about the various options for wine tasting in the area, but given that I won't be there until 3pm or so, I was hoping for some feedback on my projected plan, which is to leave my SB hotel and head straight up to Los Olivos, stopping at Gainey and/or Beckman on the way, and then hoping to hit at least one or two tasting rooms (especially Andrew Murray) in Los Olivos proper before they close (most at 5pm, some at 6pm). Possibly also stopping at the Hitching Post on my way back for dinner. Am I crazy to try to fit all this in? Is the Hitching Post worth it, or has it gotten tainted by Sideways popularity? I also have the following day, but I am wary of tasting during the day and then driving the several hours back down the coast. If I tried to do a tour in the morning and held back somewhat on the tasting volume, would I be ok, do you think? I love wine and I am fairly knowledgeable, but have not done any official tasting outside of one day trip in Missouri (don't ask).

Also, any recs for nightspots in SB for a lady on her own (but married and not looking to score or anything)? I would probably take friendly over trendy, bar over nightclub...

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Hitching Post
3325 Point Sal Rd, Casmalia, CA 93429

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  1. Others will come along and give you different perspectives. Personally I would either look at the hotel package at Ballard Inn and Restaurant for your overnight instead of Santa Barbara and do any wine tasting close by and not try to "drink and drive".

    These are treacherous roads at best both day and night and even more so because you share them with too many "drinking and driving" visitors as well. So if you can change your hotel reservations, take a look at this just down the road from Los Olivos - very wonderful dinner and pleasant happy hour with breakfast included for your next early morning start: http://www.ballardinn.com/

    I also don't think the Hitching Post is worth a drive out of your way. There are places in Santa Barbara where you can wine taste and also walk to from a hotel/motel. Hotel Canary might be a good choice downtown that puts you directly into the restaurant zone and has the most delightful and tasteful roof top bar for its guests. Great place to linger on your own over a glass of wine.

    There are a number of side-walk cafe restaurants in SB and I always find those more interesting places when dining solo because it is easier to do your people watching. Lots of picks that put you close to the Hotel Canary just walking around. Hungry Cat is a good solo dining choice as well because you get to sit at the bar to eat and watch all the food prep and bar prep action. There are a few stool tables at CaDario and Julienne too for solos if you don't want the formality of a table for one. Both lively and very good dining choices.

    So yes, I think you might be trying to do so much but appreciate what you are trying to accomplish. Others who know their wine boutiques here better than I do can tell you about the wine tasting opportunities just staying in town. Trying to visit the wineries in the Santa Ynez Valley means some extensive driving from place to place and these are pretty country drives but better for a longer visit.

    However, what you are trying to do if you decide on fewer winery visits is do-able. It is about 45 minute more drive to Buellton or Solvang from Santa Barbara which puts you inbetween where you want to be. ((All these places mentioned will have websites is some of the alternatives make more sense than your original plan.

    )

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    The Hungry Cat
    1134 Chapala St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101

    The Ballard Inn & Restaurant
    2436 Baseline Ave, Solvang, CA 93463

    6 Replies
    1. re: glbtrtr

      Thank you, glbtrtr. I had gone back and forth between staying in Solvang or in SB, and I chose the latter because I am more of a night person and I know that things close up early in Solvang. Your thoughtful post made me reconsider, and I canceled my reservation in SB and am now staying at the Hadsten House in Solvang. The Ballard looked lovely, but I just can't swing it on my budget. So now I can walk to various tasting rooms in town, and I think I will still try to hit one or two of the tasting rooms on the way up, which will be safer with only a short drive to my hotel. There are several just off 154 and just outside of Solvang.

      There is a restaurant in the hotel which looks good, if not exactly inspired. Do you happen to be familiar with it? I have also heard good things about Root 246, which I could walk to as well, have you ever dined there? Anywhere else in Solvang you might recommend?

      Again, thank you so much for the help, I feel much better about my choice to play it safe and not drive as extensively. I also used to go to Solvang with my family every year as a kid, and I look forward to reviving some memories while I am there!

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      Root 246
      420 Alisal Road, Solvang, CA 93463

      1. re: kstaigs

        Solvang still has a lot of charm and I am glad you are staying close to where you want to be. Yes, Root 246 which is associated with the Chumash Casino operation is a celebrity chef restaurant and will be the one "lively" place in town later at night, along with the Casino itself which may be a worthy stop if you want some late evening activity place to be. I am not a particular friend of Root 246 but we chose a NewsYears PrixFixe for our introduction and were very disappointed. Regular ala carte dining reports have been far better.

        However other Solvang spots like Mirabelle get better reviews in town. Or going out to the local places in Santa Ynez. The Maverick Saloon in Santa Ynez is the favorite local watering hole which should provide a friendly welcome and popcorn at the bar later in the evening. I think you will have a good time. http://www.mavericksaloon.org/

        Plus there is a great shoe store in Solvang too on one of the two main shopping streets - lots of good comfort but stylish shoe brands, close to Mirabelle restaurant. And don't overlook the Danish abelskivers (pancakes) for breakfast before you leave town. You probably remember those from your childhood visits. I hope you give us a report when you get back - you posed an interesting challenge so it will be fun to learn how much of your wish list you got to finally enjoy.

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        Root 246
        420 Alisal Road, Solvang, CA 93463

        Maverick Saloon
        3687 Sagunto St, Santa Ynez, CA 93460

        1. re: glbtrtr

          Tasting rooms open later in Solvang include Tastes of the Valley, Wandering Dog & Sort this out Cellars.
          Gainey is a great choice for a well rounded tasting- Beckman as well.
          Hadsten House is a lovely place to stay- with a awesome restauratn attatched- take advantage of their free breakfast!

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          Tastes of the Valleys
          1672 Mission Dr, Solvang, CA

          1. re: OldJalamaMama

            Jalama, How would you compare the choice between the Mirabelle and the Hadsten House - both look very nice and I can see what potential both have to be great destination choices for this area.

            1. re: glbtrtr

              well- never having stayed at either, though having been to both to eat and check out...
              Hadsten House is on the main street, with at least 35-40 rooms and a good sized restaurant- a pool and spa services.
              Mirabelle has 6-8 rooms and is on a quiet street- though directly in line with not only the fire dept, but also the PCPA Theaterfest- which is night time performances.. they have a smallsmall restaurant.
              Food- Mirabelle hands down- the chefs amazing. Hasten House is great, and alot of choices- but Norbert is divine.

              1. re: OldJalamaMama

                Sounds like Mirabelle could be a good dining and overnight get away, even for us locals and take in the Theaterfest as well. Just like thoroughly enjoying our recent overnight get away at the Ballard Inn with the most wonderful dinner. I can still taste it - just delicious and a serene joy to experience. Thanks for the tips.

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                The Ballard Inn & Restaurant
                2436 Baseline Ave, Solvang, CA 93463

    2. I went ahead and got a reservation for dinner at Mirabelle, given the excellent reviews both here and on tripadvisor. The Hadsten House offers coupons for several wineries, so I am going to tailor my tastings around those...they list them on their website and there are several in which I was interested, most in Los Olivos (Andrew Murray, Kaena, Scott Cellars, Epiphany). I will try to stop at at least one tasting room at an actual vineyard, I am thinking Brander? It looks unique at least, and it would be a free tasting. There is no coupon for Beckman, but I do like their wines and it is on the way, so it might be worth it as well. Thank you both again (and again) for all of the help, please feel free to throw as many more tips my way as you have! I will be sure to report back after the trip.

      1 Reply
      1. re: kstaigs

        Brander is nice and they have been working feverishly to upgrade the look of the property...they have a good handle on the sauvignon blanc- and they have some very interesting reds- its one of the wineries that people love or hate. There is an olive oil tasting across the street that can be fun, if you are into that- as well Global Gardens in Los Olivos does tastings till 4 or 5 as well...

      2. I just wanted to write a quick note about my evening in Solvang, which was truly the highlight of my whole trip. I arrived at around 3:30pm, and instantly loved the Hadsten House. Lovely decor, and warm inviting staff who made great recommendations upon check-in. I headed straight out towards Los Olivos, stopping at Rideau on the way (pleasant atmosphere, wines were too sweet for my taste). Once in Los Olivos, I stopped first at Cocoliquot, which was disappointing...the woman behind the counter all but ignored me and only told me the varietal with each pour, gave no information about what I was tasting at all, and I found the wines lifeless. I went to Andrew Murray next, which was a big destination for me as I have loved everything of his I have tasted, and the wines were every bit as good as I could have hoped. The woman pouring gave lots of good information but wasn't very friendly..no big deal, but as a solo traveler I realized I wanted someone to talk to about the wines. So at this point I decided to cut my losses as I was enjoying the wine but not having exactly a great time, and still very confident in driving the few miles back.

        I made it to the hotel in time for the end of the complimentary wine and cheese happy hour, and had a great time chatting with guests and the bartender. I had a few hours before dinner, so I went to Wandering Dog, where they were doing a blind tasting. This was great for me, as it fostered a lot of conversation among the people in the bar, and I did really well on guessing the wines, which caused the owner of the bar to take a personal interest in recommending a bottle for me to take home. Everyone there seemed to be local and in the industry, so it was really fun to talk about wine. Finally off to dinner...wow. I had been snacking on cheese and what not throughout the day so I didn't feel up to ordering several courses, which was kind of sad as everything looked amazing. The halibut I had for my entree was perfect, flavorful and tender and wonderful. Then a warm chocolate cake with chocolate ice cream for dessert, which was typical but just what I wanted. I wish I could be more detailed, but by this time I was a wee bit tipsy, and I have forgotten some of the finer details of the dishes. I do remember that they were wonderful, and that the service was impeccable.

        When I went to pay the bill, they told me that a couple at the other end of the restaurant had paid for my dinner. They had already left and I never got to thank them, and I hadn't even spoken to them during dinner. I did notice them seeming to enjoy the conversation I had with the couple next to me, so...I guess I was just that charming! Or maybe I seemed that tipsy and they were afraid I would forget to pay...whatever the reason, it was kind of a magical end to a terrific day. The next morning I decided to forgo drinking (I had a 6 hour drive ahead of me) and just check out the shops. I had a tasty full breakfast at the hotel (included with my stay), and wandered for a bit, and then made my way back to OC. And that was it! I was so glad to have stayed in Solvang, thank you so much for all your help in making decisions. Cheers!