As I have previously mentioned Vandenberg, AFB is a great launching point for many California Central Coast adventures. If you’re not looking to drive 100 miles up the coast there is plenty to do right outside the Vandenberg gates.
The second day of our Central Coast Summer Adventure was dedicated to wine tasting. Santa Barbara County has some amazing wineries that offer a more casual atmosphere then its northern neighbors. Most of the tastings in this area will run you between $5-$10/person and typically includes your glass. There are maps of the wine tasting region available at Vandenberg, virtually any hotel and at every winery – so find your way to one and have them point you to the next one. If you are a “Sideways” fan (or just like organized fun) there is a wine map featuring just the wineries from the movie.
We got an early start on Saturday, a bit too early to start the wine tasting; luckily there are plenty of non-wine related activities in the area. Our pre-wine tasting activity of choice – Blueberry Picking! Don’t expect those fat blueberries you see in the stores – these are wild blueberries and they come in a variety of varietals. On this particular trip we were all given a bucket – 15min in I had barely covered the bottom of the basket. Mom was set on filling our bucket (A $15 value or a fraction of that if you failed to fill the bucket) while Dad and Jeff were set on sampling berries from each bush. After an hour our bucket (and Jeff & Dad’s tummies) were full and we headed to our next adventure. There are several U-Pick locations in the area, with a variety of seasonal crops– we chose one we had seen on our drive in the day before. (If you happen to be there not during a picking season there are some other alternatives such as visiting a lavender farm or an Ostrich Farm.)
Right down the road from the Blueberry farm is Nojoqui Falls Park. Nojoqui falls is a 160+ foot waterfall that is actually growing out due to mineral deposits in the water. An easy, albeit uphill, 10 min walk leads to the falls. This was our second visit to this little hike – A summer visit meant much less water coming over the falls, but allowed us to get much closer than in our previous spring visit. There are also plenty of picnic spots here - including one right by the falls!
Finally, a respectable hour had been reached and we headed out on our wine tasting adventure. We found a little “shack” on the way to our first winery and picked up lunch. Mom was hesitant to pick-up any food from this place, Jeff thought it looked like a piece of “Americana” but it’s really not even worth mentioning since lunch was nothing special – if I had it to do again I would have grabbed something from a grocery store in town.
You really can't go wrong stopping into any of the vineyards in this area, but I will list a few of our favorites as a jumping off point. (We didn't visit all of these on this particular visit, but have been in this area a few times before.) Riverbench Vineyards & Winery features outdoor seating & wine tasting, a lovely little shop and even a full scale bocce court! Cottonwood Canyon is where we chose to have lunch as they have a beautiful picnic area right out front with umbrella covered tables. We purchased a Chardonnay that went well with our blueberry lunch! Rancho Sisquoc Winery also has great picnic and outdoor seating. There outdoor tables are limited but there are plenty of benches and rails to perch on and complete your tasting outside. Foxen Winery is always much to crowded for us and thus we have never done a tasting here. Foxen has opened a second tasting room to try to alleviate the overcrowding but we missed the turn on this last trip and decided to continue down the road. Its clearly very popular so is probably worth the wait.
Before we knew it the afternoon had passed and we were almost back in Solvang. We decided to stop at Old Mission Santa Inez for Saturday Evening Mass. During Mass I couldn't help but admire the hand painted walls and ceiling of the church. Don't miss the gardens which are accessible through the church or the mission visitors center/gift shop.
We had the best meal of the trip at Root 246 in Solvang and is run by the Santa Ynez Band of the Chumash Indians. Root 246 has some outdoor seating, some funky tables with seating in high back couches in front of floor to ceiling windows and some intimate booths. The menu focuses on seasonal and local produce. The meal was excellent and they, of course, have an extensive wine menu. I ordered two appetizers for my meal and it was more then enough.
After dinner we took a stroll through Solvang. Don't miss the Hans Christian Anderson Museum, which is easy to miss as it is on the top floor of a bookstore in downtown Solvang. Every April 2nd they host a birthday bash for Mr. Anderson complete with birthday cake. If Hans Christian Anderson is your thing then you wont want to miss the Little Mermaid Statue or Hans Christian Anderson Park (which has a great looking playground.) If you are there during the day we saw a Surry Rental place (475 1st Street) with four person surry bikes that looked like a good time. There are also tons of bakery serving up Danish pastries if you want to pick one up for the morning. Personally, I just enjoyed walking through Solvang taking in the dutch influence - windmills, copper roofs with exposed wooden beams and the smell of pastries. I'm already looking forward to our next visit!