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Southern California Close-Up: Santa Barbara County wine country

The grapes aren't the only ones soaking up this atmosphere. Oak-dotted hills. Rugged coastline. A kitschy Danish town going chichi. A raucous stagecoach stop.

October 07, 2012|By Christopher Reynolds, Los Angeles Times

You're not going to spend this holiday retracing locations in "Sideways." But you need to know that the Hitching Post II (406 E. Highway 246, Buellton), seen prominently in that 2004 film, is just off the 101 with a long list of steaks barbecued Santa Maria style over oak. It's a logical place to pause and get your bearings among the area's several distinct wine-growing regions, including the Santa Maria Valley to the north; Los Alamos Valley; and the long Santa Ynez Valley, which includes the Santa Rita Hills to the west; and Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara to the east. (For details: http://www.sbcountywines.com.) But remember, you can also escape the wine world for a spell. Duck into Figueroa Mountain Brewery (45 Industrial Way, Buellton), where a sampler of beers goes for $6. If you're traveling with kids, do what your dad and his dad probably did — save a few bucks and bed the family at Pea Soup Andersen's Inn (51 E. Highway 246, Buellton). Yes, it's next to the goofy old Andersen's restaurant. It's got clean rooms of reasonable size, a heated pool, a little putting green and rates that often are less than $80.

5. Good life at Alisal Ranch

Alisal Ranch ( Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Then again, maybe you're better off. And maybe horses or golf courses inhabit your dreams. If so, the place for you may be Alisal Ranch (1054 Alisal Road, Solvang), tucked into the hills just outside Solvang. Born as a dude ranch in 1946, it has 73 rooms and suites set on 10,000 acres, with a 100-acre private lake, a busy corral, 50 miles of riding trails, two 18-hole golf courses, seven tennis courts, pool, spa and fitness center. Rates begin at $515 a night. The style is early California, with sepia-toned photos on the walls, Indian-patterned blankets on the beds and oak in every fireplace. Men are required to wear jackets at dinner (which is included in the rate), but for the most part, Alisal is designed to make you feel comfortable. In summer, scores of children join the guest population. Up on a nearby ridge, you can see the spot where President Reagan's helicopter used to land when he was visiting his Rancho del Cielo.

6. Tiny, mighty Los Olivos

Artisans' Gallery in downtown Los Olivos ( Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Los Olivos is tiny but mighty — full of wine, art, equestrian accessories and countrified emblems of status and wealth. Choose among more than 20 winery tasting rooms. Browse the Bin 2860 Wine Shop in the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn (2860 Grand Ave., Los Olivos). Get lunch on the patio of Los Olivos Wine Merchant & Café (2879 Grand Ave., Los Olivos), where you can peruse a 37-page wine list while eavesdropping on gossip about quarter horses and real estate. Inspect Stetsons and boots at Jedlicka's Saddlery (2883 Grand Ave., Los Olivos) or crafts and baubles at Artisans' Gallery (2432 Alamo Pintado Ave., Los Olivos). Look at outdoorsy art at the Wildling Museum (2928 San Marcos Ave., Los Olivos). Consider spending $1,595 on a set of wind chimes the size of a pipe organ. (As of late September, the chimes were hanging in front of the J. Woeste nursery and garden shop at 2356 Alamo Pintado Ave., Los Olivos). Alas, you can't visit the late Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch (which is about five miles north of town). But you can park and marvel at the miniature horses just outside town at Quicksilver Ranch (1555 Alamo Pintado Road, Solvang). Or take winding Ballard Canyon Road to do some tasting on the oak-shaded patio deck at the Rusack Vineyards (1819 Ballard Canyon Road, Solvang). While you're at it, remind yourself that the modern wine trade took root here in the 1960s and early '70s, when pioneers such as Pierre Lafond's Santa Barbara Winery, Firestone Vineyards and Zaca Mesa Winery opened. Now, for a romantic, sophisticated dinner, try the signless Sides Hardware & Shoes restaurant (2375 Alamo Pintado Ave., Los Olivos). Then turn in for the night at the charming Ballard Inn (2346 Baseline Ave., Ballard) just down the road. If it's full, ponder the neo-Victorian Santa Ynez Inn (3627 Sagunto St., Santa Ynez) or the smaller, more eccentric ForFriends Inn (1121 Edison St., Santa Ynez), which has a Water Tower suite.

7. Los Alamos Rising

Union Hotel ( Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

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