Santa Barbara Sojourn

We celebrated the advent of the New Year with a relaxing week in an area of California we had never been: Santa Barbara and environs.  Weather, scenery, accommodations, food, people and wines were all delightful.

Beach.  Our explorations included walking on the beach at Montecito:

This lovely stretch of beach was only a couple of miles from the gorgeous house in which we stayed, complete with a backyard pool and mountain backdrop.

We visited two farmer’s markets, where we feasted visually and a little bit culinarily on superb vegetables, fruits and nuts.  The shopping was so engaging, I didn’t bother with photos.  Of particular note were local walnuts and rosemary-flavored almonds, fresh onion and other leafy sprouts, olive oils, and stinging nettles (one of my new favorite–though scarce–vegetables).

Whales.  On Sunday we did our first ever whale watching trip, just off the Channel Islands, about 25 miles offshore from Santa Barbara.  The trip was very rewarding: saw a pod of three Gray Whales, a large group of an unusual dolphins (Risso’s Dolphin), plus California sea lions and enough pelicans to provide pictures for our grandsons to complement the books they are reading.

Antiques.  Of course, no holiday would be complete without a little antiquing, so we visited Summerland, a few miles down the coast, and found some attractive items there.  The locals do maintain a sense of humor, as evidenced by the sign on the burger joint we passed along the way:

As usual, I was able to stumble on a facade I wanted to capture for color and design:

Wines.  The last day there we drove 2 1/2 hours up the coast to Paso Robles, in search of an outstanding Rhone-style wine from Villa Creek Winery.  I had some of their 2009 Willow Creek Cuvee a few nights earlier at dinner at San Ysidro Ranch (probably one of the finest resorts in the country).  Though Villa Creek is open for tastings only on the weekend, they were most gracious and allowed us to make an appointment there for a private session.  All the wines we tried were marvelous, so we joined the club and became instant enthusiasts.  Their place is actually in Templeton, near Paso Robles, and we found out there are nearly 200 little wineries in the area.  Needless to say, we had time to visit only 3, so with 197 to go, I shall return for an extended stay.

The other two locations were almost as good: old vine Zinfandels at Turley, and Mourvedre, a Rousanne blend, and a Syrah at the tasting room at Denner:

The wines and the views vied for top prizes all afternoon.

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