As my time in Southern and Central California’s wine countries continues to grow, I’m learning that there’s more than just a couple of ways to master wine tasting. Sure, you can pick up a map and visit a few favorites or locally famous wineries. You can go on a guided tour ensuring that you never lift a finger or get behind the wheel. Or, you can just show up to a winery and hope that an employee willingly offers you a tour. When it comes to wine tasting in Solvang, patrons have quite a number of options.
The city of Solvang is surrounded by river beds, mountains and rolling hills where some pretty serious varietals are growing. Wine tasting in Solvang has been on America’s radar for several years and the movie Sideways continues to attract fans and movie buffs to the region. On my recent trip to this Danish town, I got an insider’s look at all of the different ways to wine taste. Here are my picks for the best options for wine tasting in Solvang.
Walk to a tasting room in Solvang
While Solvang may be small in size, this city really packs a punch in terms of the quality restaurants, hotels and entertainment offerings. You’ll find 18 wine tasting rooms in town alone so you’ll definitely find a place that meets your needs. (And did I forget to mention that there are 120+ wineries in the neighboring Santa Ynez wine country?)
Louis Lucas and Royce Lewellen of the regionally famous Lucas & Lewellen Vineyards kindly invited our International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association group into their lovely tasting room in Solvang. The two families joined forces and have been growing delicious grapes on the 400 estate acre vineyard. Can’t decide between a French Pinot Noir and an Italian Sangiovese? Not only does Lucas & Lewellen grow 25 varietals from both countries, but they also have two distinct, regionally-based tasting rooms just a half block away from each other in Solvang.
We spent the evening at the Lucas & Lewellen tasting room and were treated to an enormous platter of gourmet cheeses, crackers, fruit and paté. While the gentlemen shared their stories, history and vast knowledge of their varietals, we sipped on an amazing 2011 Blanc de Noirs Brut Sparkling wine, 2013 Viognier, 2013 Goodchild High 9 Pinot Noir and so much more. All of the wines had their own special qualities and I highly recommend visiting the tasting room if you can’t make it to the vineyard.
Pick a few favorites and drive through Wine Country
Driving through any wine country makes for a beautiful day regardless. Solvang and its neighboring towns offer scenic views at every turn. Santa Barbara Vintners is your one-stop shop for details about all of the wineries and vineyards in town so make sure you do some research on their site before your trip.
We drove through the hillsides and visited Andrew Murray Vineyards, which specializes in rhône-style wines. Their tasting room is sleek and modern and you’ll definitely want to spend some time on premises. We also drove to Rusack vineyards, which offered views of the valley with their delicious wines. From Sauvignon Blanc to Zinfandel, everything I tasted at Rusack was superb so make sure they’re on your go-to list.
Stagecoach Co. guided wine tours with a wine expert
If you really want to hit the pavement, or lack thereof in wine country, sometimes the best way to see the wineries is with a tour guide. Since 2001, Stagecoach Co. has offered wine tours for small and large groups while giving an insider’s look into the valley. Kurt was our driver for the day and I was blown away by his wealth of wine knowledge. For the best experience, Stagecoach Co. selects the wineries you’ll visit based on the size of your group and winery availability.
One of the benefits of touring wine country with Stagecoach Co. is the intimate relationship the tour company has with local winegrowers. That being said, Kurt was able to take us to a private boutique winery not open to the general public. In order to visit Bella Cavalli Vineyards, you must be on a Stagecoach Co. tour or an existing member of the Bella Cavalli Vineyard Club.
Owner Jeff Lockwood poured his Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Tempranillo, Pinot Noir and so much more while also sampling some of the salsas, sauces and olive oil produced at the winery. The winery also butts up against Bella Cavalli Farms where horses graze on a 50-acre ranch while rehabbing or rehabilitating. I bet you won’t find too many wineries where you’re not only greeted by vineyard dogs but, also neighing horses.
Solvang is an outstanding destination if you’re an experienced oenophile, traveling with friends, or simply looking for a weekend trip with all of the attractions of a quaint and cozy town. For more information, visit www.SolvangUSA.com.
I’m a huge proponent of staying in an independent boutique hotel, a revamped bed and breakfast, or a unique resort set among massive acreage with amenities a chain hotel could never offer. You’ll find one hotel chain in Solvang, but the rest of your accommodation options will range in a variety of forms. During my recent stay, as a guest of the Solvang Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, I had some time to check out a few different hotel accommodations in town. If you’re researching where to stay in Solvang, here are a few hotels and resorts that will surely pique your interest.
Hotel Corque offers convenience and excellent service
Solvang is an extremely walkable town so Hotel Corque was the perfect hotel for our trip because of its close proximity to the main streets. (Not to mention, the lush amenities were welcomed after long days of sightseeing and wine tasting.) The luxury, AAA Four Diamond boutique hotel has more than 120 guest rooms and suites and guests can take in the landscapes of the Santa Ynez Mountains from nearly everywhere they stand. And because of its high accolades, the service is impeccable and spot on.
In need of room service, or looking for a place for Happy Hour or an incredible meal? Walk over to Root 246 for a farm-to-table inspired dinner. The lounge is a great place to watch the game or take a date. Read all about our stellar meal at Root 246 here.
Hotel Corque is owned by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians and guests can take the complimentary 24-hour shuttle to the Chumash Casino Resort located just four miles away. If you’re looking for nightly entertainment, spa services and a variety of dining options, I highly recommend taking advantage of the shuttle service. The casino has a live music venue along with a pretty impressive list of performers and shows. Promotions are regular occurrence at the casino and you might just find yourself with some extra gambling money if you sign up for the Chumash player’s club.
If you want to be uber close to the casino excitement, check out the Hotel at Chumash Casino Resort. The recently remodeled resort hotel offers 123 guest rooms and luxury suites. In addition to slots, table games, bingo and poker, the resort offers a fine dining restaurant, The Willows, The Creekside buffet and the Chumash Café for a quick bite.
The Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort reinvents Old Western living
Ever wondered what it would be like to stay in a working cattle ranch set among 10,500 acres of picturesque countryside views? The Alisal Guest Ranch and Resort offers 73 suites and studios at the private ranch where you’ll find 100 horses and grazing cattle. The resort also boasts 50 miles of horseback riding trails, a massive spring-fed lake, two championship golf courses, fine dining and some of the best views in town.
Depending on what you’re interested in, The Alisal offers a number of packages to suit all of your needs. Take for instance the Round-Up Vacation Package, which includes golf, a two-hour horseback ride, tennis, fishing and access to the gym and spa. The BBQ Bootcamp is another popular choice where guests are treated to grilling workshops and tips from the resort’s executive chef Pascal Godé and Hitching Post II owner Frank Ostini. All meals are included with this package and you’ll surely be treated to some amazing Santa Maria barbecue.
If you want to spend a single day at The Alisal, the public golf course is inviting and the River Grill Restaurant offers an extensive menu. I dropped by for lunch and highly recommend the Alisal Tortilla Soup and any of the salads or sandwiches.
If you’re lucky enough to spend a weekend or a few days in Solvang, you’ll definitely have your fair share of hotel options. Solvang offers 14 different types of hotels, resorts and inns so it’s just a matter of finding the right fit. Bring your friends, your family or your significant other and go out and explore Solvang! For more information on where to stay in Solvang, visit www.SolvangUSA.com.
Throughout the years I’ve heard that the city of Solvang, CA is a place every resident must visit at least once in their lives. Located in Santa Barbara County, I always thought this little Danish town had just a few offerings: traditional Danish souvenirs, pastries and just enough things to do for a single day trip. But I was totally wrong. Yes, you can visit Solvang for the day and get your fill of aebleskiver, delicious pastries and outfit your entire family in a traditional Danish ensemble. But this small town has a ton to offer and is best digested over span of a few days. I had the absolute pleasure of visiting Solvang as a guest of the Solvang Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. Our itinerary promised wine tasting, museum visits, strolls around town, fine dining in casual atmospheres, and of course all of the danishes we could get our paws on. If you’re a SoCal resident or an out-of-towner simply looking for things to do in Solvang, here are my picks for the Solvang restaurants you must check out while you’re in town.
Go all out at Root 246
There is an amazing amount of global cuisine found within this small town. From pho and sushi, to pub grub and German food, you can truly get a taste of the world when you visit Solvang. By far, my favorite place for a meal in Solvang has to be Root 246, which is mere steps from Hotel Corque and named after the highway which leads into town. Our group was treated like royalty at this elegant, fine dining restaurant set among a casual atmosphere.
At any given time, you can treat yourself to a local wine, whiskey or craft beer at the restaurant or lounge. Locally foraged salads are plentiful on the menu, along with cheese and house made sausage boards, flatbreads and nearly every cut of meat under the sun. Executive Chef Seth Nelson treated us to an unforgettable four-course meal and Morgen McLaughlin, Executive Director of the Santa Barbara Vintners, paired each course with a bottle from a local winemaker.
We started our meal with a Pinot Noir from Sandhi which grows in the Santa Rita Hills. Our charcuterie board housed a smorgasbord of candied bacon, country ham, Canadian bacon, capicola, and tri-tip with sharp cheddars, Gorgonzola, roasted garlic, pickles, dried fruit and mustard.
I would have been perfectly content with the charcuterie and homemade bread, but it was a great course before our salad, which came with red wine poached pears, pickled grapes and walnut vinaigrette.
The pièce de résistance was an entire board of Texas Style Wagyu Brisket (which, by the way, brines for eight days and a smokes for two days). Accouterments included mustard, house made pickles, caramelized onions and BBQ sauce.
If that wasn’t enough, chef also served up Chicken 2 Ways. The pan roasted chicken breast and bacon braised chicken thigh definitely added to the meat sweats. And for our veggie part of the evening, there was a side of broccolini, and a mixture of spinach, mushroom, pancetta and pickled onions. The main course was served with an Estate Syrah from Rusack Vineyards and a Foxen Pinot Noir from Bien Nacido Vineyards. The meal thus far was absolutely spectacular and probably one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time.
Lastly, our dessert course was a rich s’mores tart with hickory smoked marshmallows and a “Rock & Roll” doughnut filled with vanilla custard and topped with pop rocks and dehydrated boysenberry. A late harvest Dornfelder from Huber Cellars added even more decadence. Root 246 barrels its own Negroni and bourbon and you can even opt for an after-meal night cap and cigar if your heart desires.
Danishes, Butterings, Gingerbread, oh my!
Your trip to Solvang wouldn’t be complete without a few pastries or a traditional Danish breakfast. In a span of just a few blocks, you’ll find five traditional Danish bakeries offering cookies, kringles, croissants, pastries and dozens of other baked goods.
One of my favorite bakeries in town is The Solvang Bakery. The family owned and operated bakery has been a staple in Solvang for more than 30 years and offers cookies, cupcakes, pastries, breads and gingerbread. We had the absolute pleasure of spending a morning with founder Susan Halme and her daughter Melissa as they showed off the artistry skills behind their incredibly intricate gingerbread houses, which have received quite the amount of national media attention.
You must drop by The Solvang Bakery when you’re in town, whether picking up a delicious Almond Buttering or spending an afternoon decorating your own gingerbread man with your family. Stop by for an espresso and you’ll surely want to spend an entire day inside marveling at the gingerbread houses and the contents of their bakery cases.
Eat one of the thousands of aebleskivers made daily at The Solvang Restaurant
If you’re looking for a quick pick-me-up, head over to The Solvang Restaurant for Arne’s famous aebleskiver. These pancake balls are perfectly formed in a traditional Danish iron and are covered with powdered sugar and raspberry sauce. Have a seat in the restaurant or order a few aebleskivers from the window outside as these delicious treats are totally portable. Owner Jeff Paaske recommends that you order medisterpolse along with these pancake balls as the savory, yet mild Danish sausage pairs perfectly. On any given day, Jeff says the restaurant can make upward of 3,000 aebleskivers so hop in line and make some friends. Of course, if you have the time, The Solvang Restaurant has an extensive menu and you might even spot a familiar banquette from the movie, Sideways.
If you just haven’t had enough sweets during your trip to Solvang, drop by Ingeborg’s Danish Chocolates across the street from The Solvang Restaurant. This soda fountain, ice cream parlor and candy shop makes all of its chocolates on premises. They offer a little bit of something for everyone and if you’re lucky enough, they might let you take a peek where all of the magic happens.
Pasta and wood fired pizza at Cecco Ristorante
If pasta, pizza and a bottle of local Pinot Noir sounds more your speed, drop by Cecco Ristorante. I highly recommend any of their wood fired pizzas and the Spaghetti Bolognese with a braised ragu of ground wild boar, short rib, tomato and basil. The caramel and espresso budino is a great way to end the meal and the marshmallow fluff and hazelnut chocolate biscotti bits are perfect with an evening cappuccino.
Bacon and Brine: Food Network darling and Solvang’s newest restaurant
Because of Solvang’s close proximity to vineyards and rich agriculture, it’s no wonder that chefs are foraging ingredients from the weekly farmer’s market, local ranches and farms. As of lately, I’ve become totally enthralled by the Food Network’s breakout hit, Cutthroat Kitchen. Chef Pink aka Crystal DeLongpre and her partner and expert fermenter/probiotic enthusiast Courtney Rae have opened Bacon & Brine in Atterdag Square, one of the many nooks of Solvang. Not only will you find an herb and veggie garden in front of the restaurant, but Chef Pink is also raising and butchering her own pork, which is the most sustainable and accessible meat in Santa Ynez Valley. She sources the pigs from four different farmers and gets all of their produce within 60 miles of Solvang. The restaurant is just a few months old and is garnering popularity among locals and tourists. The restaurant specializes in pork sandwiches and fermented and pickled veggies all served on handmade, local artisan ciabatta. The BLTK is a mouth-watering behemoth of thick cut house bacon, farm greens, tomatoes and kimchi. The Saigon Piggy contains Vietnamese spiced braised shoulder, Asian pear kimchi and sweet chili pickled onion. The sandwich menu changes often so it’s one of those things where you just have to go in often and try them all. Because of our super-packed itinerary, I didn’t have a chance to try and of these pork-elicious sandwiches but I did have a chance to chat with both chefs. These ladies are bringing some serious attention to Solvang in the form of Food Network fans, fermented and probiotic aficionados, and essentially anyone else who appreciates farm-toface cuisine. Watch out for these girls as they’ll surely become a local culinary stars.
Restaurants in Solvang are plentiful and vast. It’s not one of those tourist destinations where you’ll only ever experience one cuisine from one part of the world. But rather, Solvang has put its culture and heritage in the limelight while also seamlessly integrating other smaller mom and pop restaurants to complement the town’s cuisine. From pork sandwiches and Texas style brisket to traditional Danish fare, dining in Solvang is limitless. After spending a few days in Solvang, I realized that this is a town that should be revisited frequently with friends and family. It’s just hours from San Diego and Los Angeles and should stay on the radar of anyone looking to make weekend trips within Southern and Central California. For more information, visit www.SolvangUSA.com.
As I sit here writing this on the official First Day of Autumn, it pains me to have to rummage through my closet seeking winter sweaters, or admit to myself that the season is changing. While I’d rather spend my every waking moment at the beach and writing under the sun, the one great thing about the changing season is all of the delicious Autumn harvests that will be showing up at our local farmer’s markets and restaurants. I’ve already picked through the first crops of apples and spaghetti squash and now it’s time to praise a city that’s emphasizing local and seasonal food and wine for the entire month of October: Santa Barbara’s epicure.SB.
I’m no stranger to all that is wonderful within Santa Barbara but I had no idea that this beach town offered 90 different ways visitors and locals can experience local food, wine, lifestyle and culture. In its sixth year, epicure.SB attracts food lovers from across the state for a month long festivity highlighting the town’s food and libations. Restaurants, tasting rooms, museums, hotels and locals will convene to promote 54 events, 26 special menus, VIP events, behind-the-scene experiences, secret menus, and so much more. Here are just a few of the notable events happening during Santa Barbara’s epicure.sb.
An Evening with Cat Cora (Oct. 1): Insanely talented chef Cat Cora will discuss her life as a chef and love for Santa Barbara at the Santa Barbara Wine Collective. The discussion will be followed by a reception with seasonal canapés and Notary Public wine.
2014 California Avocado Festival (Oct. 3-5): This free, three-day festival highlights this delicious fruit with live entertainment, arts and crafts, contests, kids block party, and more.
Sideways10 Screening (Oct. 5): This Oscar-winning film continues to bring fans to Santa Barbara wine country. Come down to the Arlington Theater for a free screening and special guest appearance by Director, Alexander Payne.
Health & Wellness Yoga Series: Full Moon Yoga (Oct. 8): How could you say no to yoga underneath the moon and stars, with the sounds of the ocean no less, at Ambassador Park?
Cardinal Sin (Oct. 9): Visit the Santa Barbara Public Market as chefs bring a recipe to life in a live performance and pay homage to Julia Child’s passion for fine dining.
2014 Celebration of Harvest Weekend (Oct. 10-13): The annual celebration of the year’s bounty will be held at Mission Santa Ines during the Grand Tasting event. Over 100 wineries will be pouring their wines and select wineries will be hosting their own events throughout the weekend.
Funktober Festival (Oct. 11): The Funk Zone in Santa Barbara is ever-expanding and this event promises an afternoon of art, food and culture.
If you’re looking to spend a few days in town, hotel and resorts like the Bacara, Hotel Santa Barbara, Belmond El Encanto and The Fess Parker are offering special epicurean hotel packages for your enjoyment. For the full lineup and more information, visit www.santabarbaraca.com/epicuresb.