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Santa Barbara

Called the Armerican Riviera, Santa Barbara is beautifully nestled along the coast. With mountains behind it and an ocean harbor out front, it offers recreation, blocks of shopping on it's quintessential main street, dining, and best yet, a gateway to the wineries of California's central coast
We arrived about lunch time, and walked out on Stearn's Wharf for soup (the sea breeze was cool) and fresh fish at Moby Dick's. Sure, a hoky name, but good meals, nice views of the harbor, and a mood-setting nautical atmosphere.

There may have been no fishing off the wharf, but there was eating, drinking, shopping, strolling, and views of sandy beaches, boats, and mountains, or, turning the other direction, a limitless horizon of blue water below and blue skies above. With the wind in our hair and sunglasses firmly planted on our noses, we were ready to try the shopping and an after-dinner cup of coffee on State Street

On to Solvang, the Danish Capital of California

Oh heck, shopping is shopping in America, so after walking up and down State Street in Santa Barbara, we hopped back in the car and headed to Solvang. Now this is a town that takes you out of America and into the heart of Europe, with its windmills, towers, town squares, and half-timbered buildings.

You may have seen it in the movie "Sideways," the story of a couple of guys who decide to have one last fling before settling down in marriage. They drive up from LA to take in the wine tastings in Santa Ynez. Solvang is at the entrance to the Santa Ynez wine country.

We got there pretty late in the afternoon, took a nap at our motel, and by the time we awoke, darned if the town hadn't rolled up the sidewalks. But we had a pleasant evening of window shopping, sightseeing, and licking ice cream cones. If you got a postcard from us while we were in California, it came from there. That was the only night we had time to sit down and write.

Christmas, Anyone?

At night the whole town looks like a giant Christmas present, twinkling shops windows wrapped in lights, colorful flowers everywhere, alluring nooks and alleyways to explore

Roadmap to Adventure

This was our roadmap—not exactly AAA, but heck, it showed the local vineyards and wineries, which was about all we were looking for. This was literally how we navigated California. We'd start out at the beginning of the day circling the wineries we wanted to visit, then drove down back country roads to find them. It was like a road rally and treasure hunt all in one. If we took a wrong turn, oh well, there was probably a winery somewhere down that road too.

Brander was the winery we visited first, since Pam had an excellent glass of their Sauvignon Blanc at the Water Grill in Los Angeles.
Their old yellow dog greeted us with his wagging tail, and the tasting guide poured a few glasses of their white wines. Not a bad start to the day.
Photo from the http://www.brander.com website

Next we nosed out the Firestone Winery, founded by the grandson of the Firestone tire clan. I took the tour of the vineyard and winery, seeing a cork tree and learning about cork harvesting in Portugal, finding out about the unique geography of the valley (the mountain chain faces the ocean sideways, allowing moist breezes into the grape fields. Hence the movie name "Sideways.") Saw the presses and barrel storages rooms, learning the difference between French and American oak barrels and charring techniques, and deciphering the markings on the barrels. We did a more extensive tasting here, but didn't buy much wine—savings our trunk space for Napa Valley, doncha know.

And finally, as we headed back to the coast, we stopped at a mediocre, but attractive, winery we found on the side of the highway, Laetitia. "Stop for the view, but pass on the wine" would be my advice.

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