city guide

Explore: Santa Ynez Valley

Just over the hill from the coast, the Santa Ynez Valley is the center of Santa Barbara's wine country, its agricultural heart.  From the sun-baked one-horse town of Santa Ynez, to the foggy, windy city of Lompoc, there's a lot to discover.  Leaving Santa Barbara, the old stagecoach route, now Highway 154, climbs over San Marcos Pass.  Old California is just off the highway at Cold Spring Tavern.  Above, the picturesque span of Cold Spring Bridge used to be in nearly every car commercial.  Now, it's ugly and sad, because of the anti-suicide fence clinging to its spine like a necrophiliac caterpillar.  Further on your descent, you'll see the once empty, but now rapidly-filling Lake Cachuma; source of most of the valley's water.


The poppies carpet the hill for a brief, but glorious time every spring and the views are fantastic.

There are two main tourist towns in the valley- Solvang and Los Olivos.  I really can't recommend the semi-Danish town of Solvang for its charm, but it does have some decent places to stay and eat.  Beware of tourist buses full of octogenarians wearing ugly white sneakers and baggy jeans.  Los Olivos seems to be all tasting rooms, but it can be a convenient spot to slake your thirst.  From Los Olivos, you can head up Figueroa Mt. Road, past Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch, and up toward the peak.  The poppies carpet the hill for a brief, but glorious time every spring and the views are fantastic. I like the tiny town of Santa Ynez more; it's quaint and quiet with excellent places to eat.  Los Alamos is a throwback Western town, just add tumbleweeds.  The service towns of Buellton and Lompoc have a lot of wineries nearby and tasting rooms galore.  If you have a bike, the ride from Los Olivos to Buellton on Ballard Canyon Rd. is recommended; pretty and not heavily trafficked.  Another comely country road is Foxen Canyon which will eventually lead you all the way to Santa Maria, which looks like every other crappy, sprawling, suburbanized horror in the US.  They have great strawberries, though!  Whether a hipster or a cowpoke, you will find what you're looking for in The Valley. 

EXPLORE

Figueroa Mt.- Fields of poppies and wildflowers, views of the whole valley.

Gaviota Peak- Nice view of the Channel Islands from the top of a fire road hike.

Gaviota Wind Caves- Caves scoured into the sandstone.  Imagine banditos.

Surf Beach- You can take Amtrak to this windy outlet of the Santa Ynez River.

Jalama Beach- Windswept and isolated campsite and surf spot. People like the burger stand.

Happy Cyn. Rd.- Twisty country road passes vineyards and horse ranches.  Can loop this all the way back to Figueroa Mt. Road.

Foxen Cyn. Rd.- Nice drive with plenty of wineries to visit.  See remnants of the old oil fields and the abandoned town of Sisquoc.

Ballard Cyn. Rd.- Great bike route in the heart of the valley, leads from Los Olivos to Buellton.

Jedlicka's Saddlery- Get yourself a Stetson here when you're tired of tasting wine.

 

Stay

A weekend at  Hamlet Inn  was our little birthday treat last year with baby in tow.

A weekend at Hamlet Inn was our little birthday treat last year with baby in tow.

Hamlet Inn- Updated motel in Solvang; very nice design and tidy.

Alamo Inn- Another retro turned modern motel.  Municipal Winemakers has a cool tasting "cabin" on the property.

Skyview Motel- On top of a small hill, the views of the surrounding vineyards are nice at this spot. 

 

Lunch and some Demetria rosé at  Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe .

Lunch and some Demetria rosé at Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe.

Thirsty

Firestone Walker Barrel House- Try the inventive barrel-aged beers of this larger brewery in Buellton.

Babi's Beer Emporium- Nice selection of bottled beers in LA (Los Alamos.)

1880 Union Hotel- Drinks and free shuffleboard in the saloon of this old hotel.

Casa Dumetz- Sonja is the nicest host and winemaker you'll meet.  Lovely Grenache.

Taste of Sta. Rita Hills- Ask Antonio if he has some Weatherborne to pour!

Transcendence- Sara and Joey will take care of you; nice Grenache and Sangiovese; new pizza place opening next door soon.

Lutum- Gavin Chanin makes great wines, crisp Chardonnay and spicy Pinots; appointment only.

Presqu'ile Winery- If you get up to Santa Maria, you won't want to miss this pretty winery with nice views and great wines; nice Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and zippy Syrah.

A delicious catered lunch by  Bell Street Farms  including their ever-popular rotisserie chicken.

A delicious catered lunch by Bell Street Farms including their ever-popular rotisserie chicken.

Hungry

Cold Spring Tavern- A rustic breakfast spot; they make a nice tri-tip sandwich on the weekends, too.

Trattoria Grappolo- Tasty pastas and warm atmosphere.

SY Kitchen- Delicious pizzas and inventive Italian at this tasteful spot.

Dos Carlitos- Wonderful chiles rellenos en brodo and good margaritas.

Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Cafe- Nice seasonal menu and a great local wine list, including Weatherborne.

Panino- They make nice sandwiches here; good for a quick bite.

Olsen's Danish Bakery- Best bakery in Solvang with Danish specialties.

Succulent Cafe- Nice brunch and lunch spot with outdoor seating.

Cecco Ristorante- Good pizzas.

Industrial Eats- Caterers turned brick and mortar.  Handmade salumi, good sandwiches, pizzas and fresh salads in a lively spot.  You can listen to winemakers talking shop.

Bell Street Farm- Jamie knows everyone in the valley, and their cold case and soups are fantastic.

Full of Life Flatbread- Super popular locals' spot with good pizzas. (Oh, and they catered our wedding!)

Pico- New place in Los Alamos with a creative menu.

Bob's Well Bread- Nice pastries and hearty breads in a homey setting.

Los Gorrudos- The best Mexican spot in Lompoc.

Jocko's- Legendary tri-tip done in the traditional oak-grilled Santa Maria style.  Huge portions and a good value.

Explore: Santa Barbara – The American Riviera

CITY GUIDE: Santa Barbara

 

Ahhh, Santa Barbara, my birthplace, my frequent home; it is truly the American Riviera. A great climate and gorgeous vistas make it pretty, and the relaxed pace of a small city make it enjoyable.  The Santa Ynez Mountains rise to 4000' behind town, framing this city of 100,000, and providing great hiking and mountain biking.  The Channel Islands, home to awesome cold-water diving, lie offshore with the Santa Barbara Channel in between.  The ocean is fertile here with lots of upwelling, and the fish, dolphins and whales that follow.  If you like it wet, the surfing is good at Rincon Point and Leadbetter Beach, closer to town.

They used to say, "Santa Barbara is a great place to visit, but I wouldn't want to eat there."  Well, things have changed.  There are great drinking establishments on State Street, the main drag, and in the Funk Zone.  The Funk Zone used to be the hub of the local fish industry, and then became slightly grimy light industrial. It still retains its authentic feel, but there are tasting rooms galore, and good beer and food options.  My second job in the wine industry was as a cellar hand at Santa Barbara Winery, working for the legendary Bruce McGuire.  It's still a fun place to visit.  Be sure to check out one of the awesome views on the Eastside of town, or stretch the legs for a good hike into the Los Padres National Forest.  Your choice, but regardless, you'll finish with a smile.

EXPLORE:

State Street- SB's main shopping street.
Stearns Wharf- Touristy spot, but nice to smell the sea.  Good views of the coastline.
Funk Zone- The heart of new SB.
Courthouse Tower view- Go to the top for a 360 view.  Check out the murals too.
Courthouse Sunken Gardens- Shady place to read a book.
De la Guerra Plaza- Quiet spot in downtown.
Mission Rose Garden- Great spot to picnic.
Eucalyptus Hill viewpoint
Coronada Circle view
Franceschi Park view

La Arcada Courtyard - Spanish-style courtyard with a creepy bronze statue of an old man with a balloon.
Butterfly Beach- Nice beach.
East Beach- Nice, quiet place to start a seaside walk along Cabrillo Blvd.
Cold Springs Trailhead- Nice hike to the top of Montecito Peak.
Romero Canyon Trailhead- Park here for a loop hike to the Romero Saddle.
Lotusland- Appointment-only old estate gardens.
Presidio- Oldest part of SB.
Hendry's Beach- Good place to take the dog for a walk.
El Capitan Canyon- Stay in a canvas tent or wooden cabin at our favorite glamping spot.
Santa Barbara Bowl- Great outdoor concert venue, not too big, but great sound.
Zodo's- Bowling alley and craft beer bar.
Channel Islands Surfboards- Beautiful sticks, some designed by legend Al Merrick.
Rincon Point- World famous surfing spot.

HUNGRY:

Los Agaves Restaurant- Great burritos, seafood and salsas.
Los Arroyos Montecito- The best chile relleno burrito around, and delicious margaritas.
La Super-Rica Taqueria- The first authentic taqueria in SB.  Very popular, but the tamales with epazote cream are delicious.
C'est Cheese- Great spot for lunch- soups, sandwiches and salads.
Lucky Penny- Good pizzas, al fresco.
Sama Sama Kitchen- Tasty Indonesian-ish small plates and cocktails. 
SB Farmer's Market- Every Saturday 0830-1300.
Tri-County Produce Co- Good spot for fresh veggies and fruit.  Some wine too.
Whole Foods Market- Great place to pick up stuff for a gourmet picnic.
Mesa Verde Restaurant- Great vegan/vegetarian option.

THIRSTY:

Handlebar Coffee Roasters- Best coffee in town.
The Mill- Slake your thirst at Third Window Brewing or Potek Winery.
Topa Topa taproom- Opening soon- Ventura's best brewery is opening a Santa Barbara location.
Lama Dog Taproom + Bottle Shop
Santa Barbara Winery- 
Hey, I used to work here!  Old school wine tasting spot.
Grassini Family Vineyards- Quaint tasting room with nice wines from Happy Canyon in the Santa Ynez Valley.
Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant
Margerum Wine Company- 
A nice, bright spot for wine tasting.
Three Pickles- The Pickle Room is a great spot for an unfussy cocktail.
Honor Bar- Nice martinis and good artichoke dip.  Great service.
Joe's Cafe- The strongest drinks in town.  Hell, strongest drinks I've had at a bar.  Great spot to pre-party.  Old school vibe.
The Good Lion- Nice cocktail spot before dinner at Sama Sama or a show at the Granada Theater.
Harry's Plaza Cafe- Old school place with stiff martinis.

Leaving Los Angeles

CITY GUIDE: Eastside L.A.

So, after four years in the belly of the beast, we have left Echo Park and Eastside LA.  It was so much better than I expected, and just as horrible as I feared.  I won’t miss planning my day around traffic patterns or parking hassles, but there are some awesome things that I will miss- the variety of cultures and foods, hidden watering holes and grand urban vistas.  If you’ve only ever seen Los Angeles from the freeway, know that it isn’t all flat and each neighborhood has its own character and history.  LA is an amazing, vibrant place and the only post-modern metropolis in the world.  So, while things are still fresh in my memory, I've written down a few of our favorite things.  When you visit, be sure to check out these places, but remember, as Blue Bland said, “There ain’t no love in the heart of the city.”

Views:

Victor Heights- We lived on Marview Ave, home to the best views of downtown LA in the city.
Radio Hill- Cool place to walk and see sunset over downtown and Chinatown.
Bridge Over the 110- Many, many car commercials show this view of the urban core.

Fun:

Dodger Stadium- Still pretty after all these years.  Park on Marview and walk over.
Echo Park Lake- Nice place for a walk and check out the lily pads. Chinatown scene shot here.
Angeleno Heights- Old Victorian homes overlooking downtown.
Stair Walks- All over Silver Lake and Echo Park are hidden stairs to old hilltop neighborhoods.
Chinatown- Cool courtyards and alleyways, quite sleepy off the main streets.
Baxter St.- The steepest street I’ve ever been on.  Driving it is surreal.
Old Red Car Line- Hike this abandoned tram-line.
Silver Lake Meadow- Fly a kite, picnic, whatever you want.  Neutra house across the street.
LA River Bike Path- See herons and eagles as you zip through Elysian Valley.
Grand Park- Chill out below LA’s iconic City Hall building.
The Broad Museum- New architectural highlight in downtown.
Columbia Eastern- Prettiest building in all of Los Angeles.  Art-deco icon.
Bradbury Building- Blade Runner was shot in the interior, go in.

Drink:

Little Joy- My favorite bar in Echo Park.
Sunset Beer Co.- Pick up beer here before hitting BYOB Guisado’s for tacos.
Ace Hotel Rooftop Bar- Go for lunch and it’s surprisingly chill.
Arts District Brewing- Newish craft brewer with games for the family.

Eat:

Guisado’s- Delicious tacos, get some habanero salsa on the side.  BYOB
Pok Pok LA- Sister restaurant to Portland’s Pok Pok.  Khao soi every time.
Grand Central Market- Food stalls and other delights.
Zinc Café- Nice patio and after-hour cocktail bar.
Dune- Best falafel in LA.
Al & Bea’s- Boyle Hts. legend, serving awesome bean burritos- red or green, your choice.
La Azteca- Classic East LA spot with gooey chile relleno burritos.
Lassen’s- Organic grocer.  Great to pick up some salads before a picnic at Echo Park Lake.
Whole Foods- Right downtown and stocked with good drinks and prepared foods.