Help needed planning a wine tasting trip -- Santa Barbara/Solvang/Pasa Robles
I've lived in the SF bay area for 4 years and have not been anywhere in the Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo stretch. The husband and I are planning on driving down in August for three nights. We'll likely stay in Solvang. I'm willing to look past some of the hokey-ness of it since it seems fairly central, cheap, and dog friendly (our little happy 14 pound chihuahua corgi mix is coming along).
Our thought is to hit the San Luis Obispo/Pasa Robles area on the way down and back, and then spend the middle two days in the stretch between Santa Barbara and Los Olivos/Santa Ynez etc.
Any suggestions for wineries and/or restaurants?
We've done Napa and Sonoma a million times, and we're fairly particular about what we like. We like small, off the beaten path type wineries, particularly those that don't need to woo you with a dizzying array of 12 different chardonnays, 8 other white blends, 6 pinots, 18 different reserve cabs, and 3 mediocre "ports." I like simple, focused wineries that know how to stand on just a couple of good grape varietals, like Elyse in Napa or Freeman and Bella in Sonoma. I don't mind more commercial, well known places if they are good and focused - eg I adore Ridge, but not, say, Mondavi.
I appreciate your help!
Solvang is actually tasteful and well-done "hokiness" and it is getting to be a destination for more serious dining and tasting than in the past.
There are some well-informed wine people who will be along to help, but for dining (not sure about any dog-friendly policies though) you can explore many in town and close by spots: Mirabelle and Root 246 in town, and Ballard Hotel and Restaurant a little out of town, as well as Grapolo in Santa Ynez just to get started here. We love the drive out to Rancho Sisquoc winery and the have a lovely picnic area if you want to stock up at Los Olivos Store off Highway 246.
To complete your "hokie" tour of this area, it almost begs for a stop at the Madonna Inn for their Toffee Crunch Cake at least just south of San Luis Obispo though I don't think dining inside here will be "dog-friendly". However, more and more places are catering to these four-legged companions.
For a very pretty drive, be sure to look at the "Far Out Wineries" (website) heading west off Peachy Canyon Road from Paso Robles.
You had me at Toffee Crunch Cake.
Admittedly, my only knowledge of Solvang comes from Sideways and my husband's childhood trip there 30 years ago.
I've looked up Root 246 and it looks amazing.
Happy to have found so many dog friendly hotels. I think we'll be able to leave her in the room at night for a good dinner, and then we just have to worry about finding lunch outside - shouldn't be too hard with all the patios in the summer. We've taken her to Sonoma before and she gets so exhausted from everyone petting and playing with her in all the wineries that she's comatose by 6 pm.
Yes, 30 years ago Solvang was far more plastic tulips and kitsch, not quite figuring out the difference between Danish, Dutch and Deutsch. I think you will find it has taken their basic theme and really developed it as nicely as they could in the past decade or so. It is what it is, and it is getting pretty darn good for a themed town. They attend to it fairly well.
The number of serious eateries is the best improvement, but it will still have a mind-numbing array of Danish/European kitsch but chosen with some love and attention to at least decent quality. Place to stock up for Christmas supplies and imported goodies, linens, kitchen items etc. I am not sure the Chinese have discovered the market for fake Danish kitsch yet.
The two biggest additions to this area in the past 30 years are of course the Santa Ynez Valley wine industry and the Chumash Casino. No longer a struggling little farm/ranch town but a destination in its own right. And if you dig deep enough you can still find authentic Danish heritage at the Elderhoy Museum and the local church with upside down ship on the ceiling.
PS: between Root 246 and the Ballard Inn Restaurant, I would put my money on the Ballard Inn. http://www.ballardinn.com/restaurant.htm
I did a trip to Paso Robles in April. Overall, it's very dog-friendly, wineries, hotels, and lots of restaurants with outside tables.
We chose to stay at the La Quinta, which welcomes dogs with no extra fees, and even has a dog lawn on the grounds. It's a nice property but not particularly fancy, reasonably priced. Hotel Le Cheval, downtown, near the square is also dog friendly, but pricey.
My full report is here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/847872
There are loads of great wineries, tasting rooms, and restaurants to explore in the Santa Ynez Valley, and now is certainly a great time to do so.
As others have mentioned, we now boast quite a few great restaurants to eat at. A few others not mentioned yet, but that I really like, are Sides in Los Olivos (from the Nichols brothers who owned Brothers which closed down not too long ago) and the Succulent Cafe in Solvang. There is also Cecco, for great Italian food and wood oven pizzas, and Full of Life Flatbread up in Los Alamos for GREAT flatbread pizzas and more.
Tasting rooms? Plenty of smaller, off the beaten track ones, but many are tasting rooms and not at physical winery settings. Don't let that scare you - there are some great ones.
In Los Oliovs proper, I would plan on an entire day eating and wine tasting - park your car and stay for the day. Some of my fave tasting rooms include Alta Maria, Refugio Ranch (just opened), Daniel Gehrs (for ports especially), Stolpman, and if you'd like, you can stop by mine - tercero wines (I know, shameless plug . . .).
For something a little different, head out to the Lompoc Ghetto - some great tasting rooms about 30 minutes west of the Santa Ynez Valley. Try Palmina (great cal-ital wines), Jalama, Piegrassassi, and many others . . .
And feel free to contact me directly if you have any further questions - would be happy to help out - firstname.lastname@example.org
In the Paso area you might consider Le Cuvier. They are making some great wines following their own rules. The Owner, John, is also a piece of work that is a lot of fun to ttalk to. His chardonay last year drove Robert Parker nuts. It was a wine he hated to admit he really liked because it didn't follow the rules on how a chrad was supposed to look or taste.
In Paso, Villa Creek makes great rich wines - their tasting room is just a tasting shed (not at the restaurant).
Terry Hoage is also a simple tasting counter at their vineyard and make great reds as well.
Our favorite tasting rooms in Paso are Anglim (downtown at the train station, Steve and Steffanie are so warm and down to earth, wonderful wines, would probably let your pup in), Chronic Cellars (great wine, ususual blends, quirky labels and don't take themselves too seriously, ditto on the pup I'd think) and Tablas Creek (terrific wine, our last dog was allowed in the tasting room on a hot day while their 3 dogs roamed the property). We also like the Baileyana/Tangent/etc. tasting room in Edna Valley, beautiful setting, interesting wines (Gruner Vetliner in California?), great views and picnic spot. Dog wecome outside, maybe even inside. Calcareous in Paso had a dog water bowl in the old tasting room so imagine they'd be cool in the new room with spectacular views (women owned, gotta love it). In Solvang Wandering Dog wine bar is dog friendly, and we found a few places for breakfast that were too (names escape me). Not sure if Root 246 is as good as before, now that Bradley Ogden is gone. Have fun!