7+ stops on a Santa Ynez Valley and Solvang road trip – Los Angeles Times

Good morning, Escapists. The choice of this week’s destination — the pastoral, sprawling Santa Ynez Valley and all its delights — was inspired by a fellow traveler, retired winemaker Iris Rideau.

I interviewed Rideau, widely celebrated as the first Black woman to own a winery in the U.S., for a Times story published earlier this month. In addition to sharing the twists and turns of her trailblazing life and career, Rideau took me to a few of her favorite wineries and tasting rooms in the Santa Ynez Valley during our afternoon together.

In this edition of Escapes, you’ll find Rideau’s recommendations, along with a few other treasures in the Santa Ynez Valley. What are your go-to spots along the Central Coast? Let me know and I may share them in a future edition.

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Spend a day in the life of a winemaking legend

When Rideau first ventured north from Los Angeles to the Santa Ynez Valley, the sun-soaked region spoke to her soul.

“When I turned into this valley, I went: ‘This is it. This is where I want to spend the rest of my life,’” Rideau said.

Over the course of more than 30 years, Rideau created her own vineyard and helped popularize the refined yet friendly and down-to-earth sensibility that pervades the valley’s wine-tasting experiences. Now, as a retiree and resident of the valley, she’s an expert at navigating the region’s rich wine-tasting offerings.

Care to experience a day in the life of Iris Rideau? Consider stopping by these spots on your next trip to Central Coast wine country:

  • Rideau Vineyard: Don’t leave without trying the Stainless Steel Estate Viognier, which Rideau calls her “absolute favorite white wine.”
  • Vincent Vineyards: The back terrace, with views of Los Padres National Forest peeking over the vines, is a breathtaking place to kick back and relax. It’s run by Tony and Tanya Vincent, whom Rideau considers her “best friends in the valley.”
  • Beckmen Vineyards: The Santa Ynez Valley is known for its Rhone varietals — and Beckmen Vineyards makes some of the best, Rideau said.
  • Refugio Ranch tasting room: “It represents the valley. It’s laid-back; it’s country,” said Rideau as we walked through its wooden doors. “This is the locals’ hangout.”
A collage of photos from Iris Rideau, including a photo of her home and a photo of Iris with her friend Tom Bradley.

Iris Rideau, shown with former L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley, turned the historic Alamo Pintado Adobe into the Rideau Vineyard tasting room.

(Illustration by Ross May / Los Angeles Times; photos from Iris Rideau)

Ditch your car in favor of a bike — or a horse

Taking it easy is, well, easy in the Santa Ynez Valley, where leisurely wine-tasting outings are usually the main event for travelers. But the region also offers a number of stunning cycling routes for those who want to get some exercise and take a closer look at the winding country roads that connect the valley.

The Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition is a great free resource for anyone interested in exploring the area by bike, with more than a dozen cycling routes covering Los Alamos, Los Olivos, Solvang and beyond listed online. Great for families and also more serious cyclists, they range from short two-mile jaunts to 10-mile treks around the region.

Need a bicycle, or don’t feel like lugging yours all the way to the valley? Full-day rentals at Solvang’s Wheel Fun Rentals start at $32.

Travelers interested in elevating their bike tour of the Santa Ynez Valley might consider booking an experience with SB Wine Country Cycling Tours. Their Decadent Cupcakes & Wine Bike Tour ($135 per person, with a two-rider minimum) includes a stop at Saarloos + Sons vineyards, Clairmont Lavender Farm and Enjoy Cupcakes for a wine-infused dessert.

The tour company also offers a “Blazing Saddles” tour, where travelers spend part of their time on a bicycle and part on horseback, with an olive oil tasting and farm-to-table lunch included along the way. Wine tasting follows the horseback-riding portion of the tour, which leads me to an important point: When in wine country, make sure to bike, ride and drive responsibly. The tour costs $295 per person, with a two-rider minimum.

Young people in bike helmets ride bikes along a path bordered by palm trees.

Students from Santa Barbara Middle School peddle their way along Santa Barbara Beach on Sept. 2, 2021.

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

Museum-hop across the valley

Even if you enjoy traveling up and down the California coast, you may not know the details of Solvang’s Scandinavian roots. A brief history: In 1911, three Danish immigrants founded the town after purchasing land in the Santa Ynez Valley. Residents began building their homes in the Danish medieval style in the 1930s, and by 1939 the town received its first visit from Danish royalty.

Want to delve a little deeper into the “The Danish Capital of America” beyond taking a selfie with the town’s iconic windmill? Set aside some time to visit the Elverhøj Museum of History & Art and the Hans Christian Andersen Museum, both in downtown Solvang.

The Elverhøj Museum, devoted to sharing Solvang’s history with visitors, is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Monday. A $5 donation is suggested.

The diminutive Hans Christian Andersen Museum, on the upper floor of neighborhood bookstore the Book Loft, provides a look at the life of the beloved Danish writer, remembered best for fairy tales such as “The Little Mermaid” and “The Ugly Duckling.” The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

One last museum recommendation, especially for any road-trip-obsessed travelers: Mendenhall’s Museum of Gasoline Pumps & Petroliana in nearby Buellton. The museum boasts an enormous collection of retro gas pumps, road signs, license plates and more. The private museum schedules tours for individuals and groups; the cost is $15 per person.

People walk past a building with a windmill.

Tourists visit Solvang.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times; Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

📰 What I’m reading

  • Believe it or not, there’s an “AR mushroom cloud” exploding over the Santa Monica Pier. Times arts and culture writer Deborah Vankin explains how to see the public art installation, part of the Frieze Los Angeles art fair.
  • Why are so many people heading to California’s newest national park? Times travel writer Christopher Reynolds describes the appeal of Pinnacles National Park, a “strange little realm of pointy peaks, rocky caves and soaring condors.”
  • After nearly two years apart, poet Ada Limón reunited with her two best friends on Moon Mountain. Warning: This short essay in Condé Nast Traveler will leave you craving a weekend in Sonoma Valley with your closest pals.
  • What’s it like to eat like Frank Sinatra in Palm Springs? Julie Tremaine dined at Melvyn’s — “the most Rat Pack restaurant” in town — to find out.
  • Thru-hikers, people intent on hiking the entire length of a long-distance trail, often post before-and-after photos of their bodies on social media, evidence of the physical transformation some experience on their treks. In Outside, Rebecca Booroojian explains how thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail messed with her body image.
A graphic combines three photos of rock formations and blue sky.

Views from Pinnacles National Park.

(Illustration by Ross May / Los Angeles Times; photos by Christopher Reynolds)

📸 Photo of the week

Two women and a windmill are reflected in a storefront window that has a display of a large ice cream cone.

Local residents Jusyna Zimkowski, left, and Alicja Clarke pause before a shop on Alisal Road in Solvang in April 2020.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

🎸 Road song

Song:Outta Time by Orville Peck

Where to play it: California 154, as you pass Cachuma Lake

A photo made to look like a Polaroid shows a person biking past a body of water, with the words

A visitor rides a bike along Cachuma Lake.

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times; photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)