The California Wine Region near Los Angeles: Buellton and Solvang
It’s so easy to get caught up in California’s larger, more famous wine regions that people often overlook the lesser-known areas with just as much hospitality and personality. The towns of Buellton and Solvang, just four miles apart, are like that—quirky, historic, flowing with wine, yet close enough for a getaway from Los Angeles. They're only about 130 miles northwest of the city's downtown area, or 45 miles north of Santa Barbara.
Back in the day, Buellton’s half-mile stretch of Industrial Way was filled with mundane businesses and light manufacturing, but in recent years it has upgraded into a hotspot of winery showplaces, trendy restaurants, breweries, distilleries, and a sweets shop. There are more than 10 tasting rooms, but Loring Wine Company offers a cookie-and-wine pairing, so that should move it to the top of your to-do list. From lemon fennel pistachio to Montmorency cherry vanilla, each cookie perfectly complements the flavors of the different wines. Meanwhile, Alma Rosa, known as the pioneer of Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara County, goes for a more Zen atmosphere. Down the street, Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. is a father-and-son team that specializes in handcrafted beer with hand-drawn labels depicting the local landscape.
Some knew him as “Pack Rat Jack,” others as “the original American picker.” Jack Mendenhall road-tripped around the country for five decades, and at Mendenhall’s Museum of Gasoline Pumps & Petroliana (24 Zaca St.), you’ll find the fruits of his travels: antique cars, old gasoline pumps, license plates from all 50 states, plus bizarre antiques such as a symphonium music box from the 1800s. The museum, crammed with some 3,300 arcane items, is now carried on by his son and daughter-in-law, Mark and Vickie, who are still adding to the collection. Seek out the "bar car"—this 1963 Chevy Wagon is equipped with stairs to an open-air second deck with a picnic table. To tour the museum, you’ll need to make advance reservations by calling 805/689-2402.
Bottlest (35 Industrial Way) is an add-on to the largest winery production facility in the Santa Ynez Valley. The winery, bar, and bistro offers tours that describe how vintages are produced, the ways to determine where a wine came from, and odd items that have been sifted out in the destemming process. The tour begins at a blending tool where visitors craft their personalized wine, mixing their preferences in oakiness, sweetness, body, and herbaceousness. That goes into a souvenir bottle bearing a label made with their own photos or designs. After the tour, guests dine while sampling selections from the Wine Wall—it has 52 varieties that can be dispensed as a taste, half glass, or full glass at the push of a button.
The eclectic Industrial Eats (181 Industrial Way), located in a repurposed warehouse, is said to have put Buellton cuisine on the map with a menu of ingredients that were sourced from sustainable farms. The choices are cheekily sectioned into pizzas and "not pizzas" (sandwiches and salads) and are handwritten on brown kraft paper clipped to the ceiling. Popular dishes include the wild mushroom pizza, smoked pheasant salad, and beef tongue pastrami reuben.
You can say you almost roughed it by sleeping in an upscale safari tent. At Flying Flags RV Resort and Campground (180 Avenue Of The Flags), that includes a real bed, television, and mountain views. There's also a renovated Airstream, a vintage trailer, or a cabin. Each type of accommodation has its own backyard and a grill or fire pit.
Check off something from your bucket list—feed an ostrich. You can do it at OstrichLand USA (610 E Highway 246). The overgrown birds are rare in this part of the world (in fact, they only live on farms here), so it’s pretty cool to be able to get up close. Once in the pen, you’re given a pan with a bowl of food. Be sure to hold on with both hands and keep some distance, because the birds can be aggressive and nip at you—if that happens, get some revenge by buying some ostrich jerky later. If you’re too scared to feed an ostrich, the emus are still huge, but much nicer.
Consider this a vital stop while on your cultural heritage route in Solvang: Olsen’s Danish Village Bakery (1529 Mission Dr.) was established in 1970, but the family behind it has been making pastries since 1890 in Denmark. The place is owned by fourth-generation bakers—so you know that you’re getting the real deal when you come here. A selection of authentic pastries includes strudels, waffles, coffee cakes, cookies, and, most popular of all, flaky, almond-filled Danish kringle.
Solvang’s history didn’t begin with the Danes. The town also has an 1804 Catholic mission, built by Chumash Indians and founded by a Spanish missionary, that is still an active parish church. The Old Mission Santa Inés (1760 Mission Dr.) is part of the chain of 21 missions built along California’s coast to spread Christianity in what was then Spanish territory. Exhibits include Spanish artifacts and items used by the area’s native residents. Take note of the 10 arches closest to the adobe church—they are original, from 1807.