SEEKING PERFECT VALENTINE’S GETAWAY
YOU: Romantic, mellow. Old-world influenced, yet hip and stylish. Can indulge my kooky, kitschy side, but also show me panoramic vistas of rolling hills, gnarled oaks and lush green vineyards. Must hate wine snobs.
ME: Easygoing, fun-loving. Enjoy relaxing with a glass of wine. I live for blue skies, good food, rambling rural roads. And the occasional Danish pancake ball.
Yes, chicas y chicos. Valentine’s Day is in the air. And at the mall. Escape the hype (and chalky candy hearts) and get your romance on in the Santa Ynez Valley. World-class wineries, cozy B&Bs and a pastry-laden, Danish-themed village are just a three-hour drive north of Los Angeles. Go for a weekend or day-trip it. Either way, here are four things to love about it.
1. Foxen Canyon Wine Trail
Costa de Oro. Tres Hermanas. Sierra Madre. No, these are not plot points from a 1940s Mexican charro movie. They’re three of more than a dozen wineries along scenic Foxen Canyon Road. Easy to navigate and not overrun by traffic, you can make like the cast of Sideways and meander along gorgeous country roads. Just don’t let your friend get behind the wheel of your Saab. Visit the various tasting rooms and sip some of California’s best wines. My personal favorites are Koehler, Foxen and Zaca Mesa. Tasting rooms generally are open from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., so plan accordingly, especially if you’re coming up for the day. I recommend grabbing a picnic lunch in Solvang or Los Olivos and getting an early start at the wineries. Peak tasting time tends to be around 2 p.m., so if you want to avoid crowded tasting rooms and loud, happy tasters, plan to be finished by 2.
2. Good Eats
If you and your Valentine are watching the waistlines, there’s more to nibble on in the Santa Ynez Valley than cheese Danishes and almond tortes. Not that there’s anything wrong with that (see #4 below), but if you’re looking for a genuine foodie experience, the Santa Ynez Valley boasts some gourmet gems. Among them, the Los Olivos Cafe, whose menu is bursting with food words I adore: truffle butter, chanterelle, coulis, house-made, puff pastry, artisan cheese plate. Hungry yet? Other fit-for-romantic-foodie spots: Root 246 and Mirabelle Inn Restaurant, both in Solvang.
3. Cozy Digs
There’s nothing like a roaring fireplace and a jacuzzi bubble bath after a long, hard day of wine tasting. If you and your sweetie decide to make a weekend out of it, I recommend the Mirabelle Inn, a European-style bed and breakfast. Complimentary afternoon wine and appetizers are served daily for guests. Some rooms have whirlpool tubs, and most have fireplaces. A less expensive option is the Hadsten House Inn & Spa. Don’t be fooled by the motor hotel layout – the Hadsten recently underwent a renovation and now rocks a hip, Hollywood Regency style. A generous buffet breakfast is included. Both hotels are located in Solvang, which brings us to…
4. Everything’s Coming up Danish
A trip to the Santa Ynez Valley without a stop in Solvang is like going to Anaheim and skipping the Granddaddy of all Theme Parks. El Full Disclosure: Señorita Vino happens to be married to a man of Danish descent, which, in addition to being a character-building experience, makes Solvang a required annual pilgrimage. Take that, Huell Howser. Unlike the aforementioned Theme Park, Solvang is an entire village. So you can run rampant through quaint city blocks, lacy Danish apron and matching cap optional. What is not optional is a plate of aebelskiver, or Danish pancake balls. Throw dietary caution to the wind and dig into this sugary, doughy, raspberry-jam-coated little love orb. Messy? Yes, but just remember, love is blind.
GETTING THERE FROM LOS ANGELES:
Head North on the 101 toward Ventura. Merge onto CA-154/Cachuma Lake. Hang a left on State Street then right onto San Marcos Pass Road/CA-154. Wave to Solvang! Don’t worry – you’ll be back. Take a right on Foxen Canyon Road, et voila! You’re on the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail.
FROM THE WINE TRAIL TO SOLVANG:
Get back on CA-154. Merge onto the 101 South. Exit on CA-246 toward Solvang/Lompoc. Take a left on CA-246 East, which turns into Mission Road, the main road that goes through Solvang.