Years ago, we discovered the charm of Los Olivos when it was still a hidden gem. The film, “Sideways,” and the surrounding vineyards exposed it to more people, but the authentic appeal is still there with many more culinary options. Today, it offers a perfect getaway for those seeking rustic charm and access to extraordinary wineries and restaurants.
Los Olivos, population 1,000, is one of five small communities within the Santa Ynez Valley, forty minutes north of Santa Barbara and a
few miles east of Solvang. It sits in the middle of the warmer Santa Ynez Valley AVA, east of Highway 101, but is a short drive to the cooler Santa Rita Hills AVA where pinot noir and chardonnay vineyards extend west from Buellton to the Pacific Ocean.
Historically a stagecoach and railroad stop, Los Olivos remained concealed within oak-studded foothills for decades, seen only from cars passing along Highway 154 that connects with Santa Barbara via the San Marcos Pass. Today, even with more tourists, the quaintness remains along with the old flag pole that sits in the middle of the town’s main intersection.
Where to Stay
Fess Parker’s Wine Country Inn and Spa is the only hotel in the downtown area. Actor Fess Parker, who brought Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone to life for many baby boomers, was a long-time resident, property and business
owner in the Santa Ynez Valley and purchased this luxury hotel years before his death. Pricy, but convenient, the inn is steps from everything the town has to offer.
The Ballard Inn/Restaurant is another property located minutes from town and there are ample hotel rooms in nearby Solvang. Additionally, vacation rental properties, some associated with local wineries, are readily available for large or small groups.
Where to Taste
The appellations of north Santa Barbara County are among the best in California and there are copious opportunities for wine tasting. Two of the areas finest producers of syrah, Tensley and Stolpman Vineyards, have downtown Los Olivos tastings rooms across the street from each other on Alamo Pintado Avenue.
Joey Tensley has earned accolades and recognition in recent years for his syrah and other varietals including the 2017 Colson Canyon
Vineyard Syrah ($42) and the 2017 Santa Barbara County Syrah ($28) while the Stolpman Vineyard, one of the largest in the region produces many fine wines like the co-fermented sangiovese/syrah blend, La Croce 2016 ($66) and the Hilltop Syrah 2016 ($42).
A few miles west of town, I recommend stops at Lincourt, part of Foley Family Wines specializing in pinot noir and chardonnay and Rusack Vineyards who produce pinot noir, syrah, chardonnay and other varietals in Ballard Canyon, outside of Solvang as well as on Santa Catalina Island.
East of Los Olivos, along the Foxen Canyon Wine Trail, visitors will find a plethora of tasting rooms including the Fess Parker Winery estate and one of my favorite experiences, well worth the effort to find it.
The relaxed and hospitable Demetria Estate, on a secluded mountaintop further up the trail, features fine Rhône and Burgundy style wines such as the “North Slope” Syrah ($44) with five percent viognier, the “Eighteen” Chardonnay ($49) and a grenache-based blend called “Pantheon” ($47).
Where to Eat
Although its reach was broadened, foodies discovered the Los Olivos Cafe long before it was featured in the film, “Sideways”. A diverse menu, exquisitely prepared food, great wine selections, pleasant atmosphere and perfect location make it a must when visiting.
As the local dining scene has matured, Los Olivos Cafe has been joined by restaurants like Side’s Hardware and Shoes (lunch only), the upscale casual Bear and Star, Greek cuisine in Petros and the historic Mattei’s Tavern, all located within steps of each other.
For a more casual lunch, try Pannino, in the heart of town, the landmark Los Olivos Grocery minutes
down the road or The Doggy Door, a sweet little stand that features both vegan or beef hot dogs plus gourmet sandwiches.
To work off the food and wine, I suggest a casual walk around town to enjoy the unique garden sculptures at J. Woeste, western goods at Jedlicka’s Saddlery, the labyrinth at St. Marks-in-the-Valley church or a refreshment at Corner House Coffee. They truly reveal the genuine rustic charm of Los Olivos.