I’ve flirted with Los Olivos for years, but other than a quick drive through town, I had never stayed to sample the wares. That all changed in March when Andy and I decided that a spur-of-the-moment trip to Los Olivos needed to happen to celebrate my birthday. We jumped in the car without doing any reconnaissance (whoops) and headed north in search of wine, food and plenty of countryside.
My first tip for you is that if you are planning on going to Los Olivos (or Solvang, or Santa Barbara) from Los Angeles, do not wait until almost 10:00 am on a Saturday to do it. The traffic on the 101 is relentless until you get to Ventura. Go early in the morning if you can. As this was a spontaneous excursion, we smiled through the stop-and-go-ness of it all.
My second tip for you is to make a list of your “must sample” spots before leaving Los Angeles (or wherever your starting point is). Why? Many of you will have zero cell reception when you get there leaving your smartphone useless for looking up reviews. We did not form a game plan before departing (the downside of spontaneity), but we loved everything we tried. We either got lucky, or this place truly is an epicurean’s delight.
What is Los Olivos?
Los Olivos is a small town surrounded by vineyards and horse farms in the midst of the Santa Ynez Valley. Less known than its more famous neighbors (Solvang and Santa Barbara), Los Olivos still has the charm of a small stagecoach town out of the 1880s (but with modern amenities). Today, you can still see a sprinkling of Victorian architecture and a historical walking tour of the area is highly recommended. Of course, rather than following the stagecoach, most people come here now for the fantastic wine, unique antiques, thriving art scene and restaurants that will make foodies want to come back for more.
Our Food and Wine Finds
As I mentioned earlier, we got very lucky with our food and wine finds. We parked the car on a side street and began our explorations by walking down Grand Avenue (as most of the wine tasting rooms and restaurants are there or on side-streets, it’s the easiest way to start). Food was uppermost on our minds, and we landed at a picturesque spot called Sides Hardware and Shoes on Alamo Pintado Avenue. I’ll admit, it’s not the name I would expect for a restaurant, but as it was a hardware store in its original incarnation, it fits.
The place was packed (as most places were), but we managed to sneak into two seats at the bar. We both ordered Burgers, but Andy’s specialty burger had the thickest slabs of bacon and cheese on it that I have ever seen. While both meals were excellent, his was so surprising that I had to take a photo of it.
Overall, the food was quite good with prices running around $16 for the burgers. Given that we were in the very middle of wine country, we treated ourselves to the first glasses of local wine of the day. Uncharacteristically, I went with the Carr Sangiovese (Santa Ynez Valley). It had a dark ruby color and (I swear) a black currant flavor. I don’t know that you would normally pair this with a burger, but the somewhat robust nature of it really worked for me.
Before moving on, we took a look around the building. The photos inside seem to depict the early days of Los Olivos. The spot was originally built upon in 1901 but was later rebuilt by Milburn Sides in 1914 (he had arrived on the new train system in 1888 with his family). The tin ceiling and beams still give the two-story structure their original feel. We didn’t try to venture upstairs, but I understand it was once an event space above the old hardware store, and even was known to host a poker game now and then. Scandal!
For those of you who know me, I’m a pretty light-weight drinker. As I had already sampled a bit of wine, I knew that I was only going to be up for one more wine tasting before we had to head back home (luckily, Andy was driving). Once again, we rolled the dice and landed upon the new tasting room for Ca’Del Grevino on Grand Avenue. The estate is actually located on East Clark Avenue in Santa Maria, but it is largely used now for private events. A new tasting room and winery is under construction, but this Grand Avenue spot is the perfect place to start sampling.
You can choose from two different tastings, the Ca’ Del Grevino wines and the Element wines (which are said to be more value wines that fit more comfortably in our budget right now). For $15 you can sample six wines, or try all of the ones from both lists for $30.
Andy and I split a combination tasting which included a Chardonnay, two pinot noirs, a grenache, a syrah and a blend (if I’m not mistaken). I’m not a chardonnay fan, but I actually liked it more than I thought I would. Still, the one that really stood out for me was the Element grenache. In fact, we bought a couple of bottles (which made the tasting complimentary) as we were leaving.
Why did it capture my fancy? The grenache seemed like a very mellow/soft wine. It was less floral than some, and, to me, it tasted of black plums and vanilla (your palate could tell you something completely different). One of the tasting room assistants even brought over chocolate for us to try with it, and it was a dream. It also completely inspired us to open a wine and chocolate tasting room in the very near future – lottery win pending, of course.
There was so much in Los Olivos that we would love to try and, obviously, missed this time. There was live music playing everywhere, some lovely green spaces and many galleries that we didn’t browse. And, of course, a ton of restaurants and wine tasting rooms left to try. This was a nice sampling – it was like a sneak peek of adventures yet to come. We’ll definitely be back – and next time, we might even get a chance to try the spa and B&B we heard whispers about in the tasting room.
Have you ever been to Los Olivos? Tell me all about it in the comments!