Weekender’s Guide to Los Olivos in Santa Ynez

  • 72 Hours In
  • by HANA-LEE SEDGWICK
  • on FEBRUARY 11, 2019
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Lunch at The Bear and Star, Courtesy of Fess Parker Wine Country Inn
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Located in the Santa Ynez Valley about 40 minutes Northwest from Santa Barbara is the charming town of Los Olivos. With barely over 1,000 residents within its three square miles, Los Olivos is the definition of a small town, but what it lacks in area, it certainly makes up for in wine. In fact, what was once a sleepy western town has since transformed into a wine mecca with over 30 tasting rooms, many of which occupy historic, pastel-colored Victorian buildings from the 1800s. Add in quality restaurants and accommodations and Los Olivos has everything needed for a fun weekend getaway. Here’s our guide to where to sleep, eat, and play in Los Olivos, CA.

Where to Taste

Story of Soil Tasting Room, Courtesy of Hana-Lee Sedgwick

Given the number of wine tasting rooms in downtown Los Olivos, you could easily spend a whole weekend (or even a week!) sampling local wines. Needless to say, there’s no shortage of options for wine lovers, whether looking for small production, obscure varietals or old standbys like pinot noir and chardonnay. The best part? The majority of Los Olivos’ wine tasting establishments are family-owned and operated, so it’s not uncommon to find the owners and winemakers pouring the wines themselves.

Don’t miss a visit to the minimalist tasting room of Solminer, where owners Anna and David DeLaski experiment with varietals from her native Austria, like blaufränkisch and grüner veltliner, as well as still and sparkling syrah. Much of the fruit comes from their own Certified Organic and Biodynamic vineyard they planted in 2012. Just down the street is Zinke Wine Co., where lawn games and regular live music can accompany your glass of small-lot, single vineyard Rhône wine. Next door, at Story of Soil, you’ll likely find winemaker Jessica Gasca and her husband Brady Fiechter behind the bar of their casual, inviting tasting room, pouring their small-production, single vineyard and single varietal bottlings, including pinot noir, grenache, and gamay. The black and white mural displaying the Santa Barbara County wine region makes for a nice way to get better acquainted with the lay of the land.

You’re just as likely to meet the winemaker visiting Blair Fox Cellars, where husband and wife duo Blair and Sarah Fox specialize in premium, small-lot wines from Rhône varieties. When not producing wine for his boutique personal label, Blair crafts wine for nearby Epiphany and The Bubble Shack, owned by the Parker Family, the latter of which serves up several different styles of sparkling wine from a tiny, renovated “shack.” The comfy lounge chairs outside make for an especially relaxing place to taste.

The Bubble Shack, Courtesy of Fess Parker Winery

At Dragonette Cellars, expect to find acclaimed pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, and syrah worth seeking out, produced from fruit sourced from high quality, cool climate vineyards throughout Santa Barbara County. Or, drop by Larner Vineyard & Winery, where owner and winemaker Michael Larner crafts expressive wine from his family’s estate vineyard in Ballard Canyon. Also representing the Ballard Canyon AVA is Stolpman Vineyards, offering several styles of wine made from Rhône and Italian varietals, served inside their “little red cottage” in Los Olivos. For something a little different, don’t miss their carbonically fermented sangiovese, Love You Bunches, which is best served chilled.

For those looking for a more lively atmosphere, head to the popular Saarloos + Sons, where you’ll find a casual, unpretentious space in which to sip. Snap a pic in the photo booth or try a flight of mini cupcakes with your wine (which can be purchased from Enjoy Cupcakes inside), but don’t expect to find any tasting notes as the Saarloos crew doesn’t believe in them. Also taking a light-hearted approach to wine tasting is Carhartt Vineyard, which recently moved into new digs. At the Carhartt Cabin, you’ll find the Carhartt Family mingling and pouring wine in the casual atmosphere — reminiscent of being at a friend’s place — but with a tad more space than their previous location. Over 20 different wines are poured throughout the year (364 days a year, to be exact), and since the tasting room is open daily until 6pm, you can count on a jovial atmosphere after many of the tasting rooms have closed for the day.

Where to Eat

Chef’s Room at The Bear and Star, Courtesy of Grey Crawford / Fess Parker Wine Country Inn

The Bear and Star, located inside the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn, is the epitome of farm-to-table dining — most of the restaurant’s offerings are sourced from the Fess Parker ranch just a few miles from the restaurant. The menu features refined, ranch-style comfort cuisine that changes depending on what’s in season, from huevos rancheros with house-made chorizo at breakfast to Wagyu burgers and meatloaf at dinner. Be on the lookout for their Chef’s Dinner series, when Chef John Cox teams up with other renowned chefs for an intimate gourmet dinner in the private Chef’s Room.

Across the street at Los Olivos Wine Merchant Café, founded in 1995, you’ll find rustic Wine Country fare served in a welcoming space. The restaurant sources much of their produce from their nearby certified organic farm for the lunch and dinner menus, accompanied by an extensive wine list worth noting. There are over 500 wines offered, many of which are showcased on the “wall of wines.” If it looks familiar, it’s probably because the restaurant made a cameo in the 2004 movie, SIDEWAYS — the comedy drama that helped put Santa Ynez on the map.

Occupying the space of a former hardware store built in 1901, Sides Hardware & Shoes welcomes locals and tourists daily for tasty, scratch-made offerings served within the elegant, inviting ambiance. Fans of bacon won’t want to miss trying the bacon steak, a thick cut piece of roasted, smoked, and maple glazed bacon. Order it on its own as an appetizer or try it with your burger or grilled cheese to kick things up a notch.

For a casual bite on the go, stop by The Doggy Door on weekends for a satisfying, gourmet hot dog. Opt for a classic style or try one of the more adventurous dogs, like the Nacho that comes with queso, black bean salsa, and crushed tortilla chips.

What to Do

Wendy Foster Boutique, Courtesy of Wendy Foster

Even though the majority of people visit Los Olivos for the wine tasting, naturally, be sure to take advantage of the locally-owned shops in between sips. Head to the quaint Los Olivos General Store for artisan food, cookbooks, handcrafted soaps, and unique items for the kitchen and home. Pick up a few gifts or something for yourself before wandering over to Honey Paper to peruse the selection of luxe papers, stationery, and gifts from around the world, including owner and illustrator Michelle Castle’s own line of stationery and designs. Shop the eclectic mix of women’s and children’s contemporary fashions at Wildflower Women’s Boutique or stop into Wendy Foster to peruse the collection of designer duds from brands like Current Elliott, Sundry, and The Great. When you’re ready to channel your inner cowboy, head to Jedlicka’s, where you’ll find an extensive selection of cowboy boots and hats, authentic western wear, and accessories for men, women, and kids.

Succulents and garden art at J. Woeste, Courtesy of J. Woeste

Between boutiques and tasting rooms, pop into the magical space that is J. Woeste, a home and garden shop filled with succulents, garden art, and unique accessories for the home. Or, for a bigger change of scenery, rent electric bikes from Pedego and cruise along country roads, stopping by Global Gardens for an olive oil tasting as you explore the wineries on the outskirts of town. Pay a visit to Beckmen Vineyards for estate-grown Rhône-style wines or admire the beautiful grounds at Bridlewood Estate Winery while you sip. The Spanish-style winery, reminiscent of California’s historic missions, is set amongst 105 acres of gardens and vineyards, which makes for an especially picturesque place to taste.

Where to Stay

Courtesy of Fess Parker Wine Country Inn

Los Olivos is a small, walkable community, so if you plan to partake in wine tasting (inarguably Los Olivos’ number one activity), you’ll likely want to stay in town. Though the lodging options may be limited, don’t expect to sacrifice when it comes to comfort and amenities.

Right in the heart of downtown is the renovated Fess Parker Wine Country Inn, established by the late actor turned vintner, Fess Parker, which offers a welcoming, sophisticated place to rest your head. Each of the 19 rooms boasts in-room Keurig coffee makers, gas fireplaces, and King-sized, pillow top beds, accompanied by tasteful décor and free Wi-Fi. A stay here means you’ll get access to the outdoor, heated pool (warmed to the low 80s), as well as complimentary breakfast at the The Bear and Star restaurant and wine tasting for two at nearby Epiphany tasting room. Located right behind Epiphany are the rustic-chic Wine Country Cabins, also owned by the Parker family. The spacious, one and two-bedroom cabins are not only centrally located, but also provide guests with access to the amenities at the Fess Parker Inn down the street.

A few blocks away is the iconic Mattei’s Tavern, a former 19th century stagecoach stop turned popular social destination in the 1900s. While the restaurant and bar may no longer be operating, visitors can still experience the property’s timeless heritage by staying in The Bungalows at Mattei’s Tavern. Rent one of the charming, renovated one, two, three, or six-bedroom cottages for a relaxing stay away from the main drag. All six of the cottages can be rented out for events and weddings, too.


Traveler’s Guide to Santa Ynez Valley

Santa Ynez Valley Wineries: A Tasting Guide


Author

Hana-Lee Sedgwick

Hana-Lee Sedgwick is a writer and editor based in her hometown of Santa Barbara, California. Specializing in all things wine, food, and travel, her work regularly appears in publications such as Santa Barbara Magazine, The Tasting Panel, and Edible. Whether for work or play, she never tires of exploring California wine country. Follow her on Instagram at @wanderandwine or visit her blog, wanderandwine.com.

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