California Dreamin





By Wendy Wood-Prince 



California has faced both devastating fires and floods in the past few months and though the headlines have focused on disaster, California continues to be a beautiful destination. The Santa Ynez Valley is one of the most striking areas, nestled between the San Rafael and Santa Ynez mountains. With the Santa Ynez River flowing through it, this valley is home to renowned wineries and a large equine trade.


The beautiful Santa Ynez Valley.


I recently had a lovely visit with a friend who lives on a bucolic storybook farm in Los Olivos, one of the five towns that comprises the Santa Ynez Valley (the others being Ballard, Buellton, Solvang and Santa Ynez).  Jane raises emus (anyone know what this is? ) and keeps a few donkeys who bray for their supper (and breakfast and lunch…). Her little red farm house looks out over lush hills and though she is 15 minutes from town, it feels far removed from any kind of civilization. In the cool mornings we sat on her deck and warmed ourselves in the winter sun while her dogs wove around our legs and bugged us for scratches and jerky treats. The climate of the valley is Mediterranean with dry, hot summers and mild, wet winters, which just happens to be perfect for growing grapes. So obviously, wine tasting was high on our priority list.


The emus hanging out.


Wineries and Viticulture are the primary industry in the area and the town of Santa Ynez was featured in the movie “Sideways”. There is even a “Sideways” wine tour called, surprise, The “Sideways” Wine Trail with maps of wineries featured in the movie and suggested places to stay and eat along the way. Los Olivos is also located at the southern end of the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail and you cannot visit this area without visiting a few wineries.


The amazing view from Jane’s deck.


Jane’s husband kindly offered to be the designated driver for our improvised wine tour. The settings of the wineries are theatrical and the buildings unique, from large open barn like structures, to intimate vintage farmhouses every stop feels like a different stage upon which the wines are presented as precious jewels from each Vintner. We stopped at a few wineries and although the mammoth amount of information was somewhat lost on my novice palette and “influence” grey matter, we nonetheless enjoyed the wine and the atmosphere as the wineries are great to wander around inside and out.


Wineries abound in the Santa Ynez Valley.


As we headed back to her farm, we stopped at The Shoreline Beach Cafe in Santa Barbara. This is a place that is mandatory to visit. Located right on the beach, some chairs and tables are right in the sand, the Cafe serves delicious Mexican fare and seafood that you can enjoy while looking out at the gorgeous sparkling Pacific. It’s the perfect stop for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a sunset cocktail. Try the grilled seafood burrito, full of fresh shrimp, spinach and two salsas, salsa fresco and mango salsa, so spicy and delicious.


The donkeys milling about.


The donkeys await our arrival back at Jane’s right by the entrance gate, where one of us has to get out of the car to open the gate and stand guard as the donkeys all want to escape and run around the neighborhood, which creates silly chaos as neighbors help to catch and corral the fugitives back into their own domain. It is thorough fun on her idyllic farm and I can’t wait to go back.


The Shoreline Beach Cafe.


California could use a little love right now and the best way to show it is to visit!

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