Secrets to Broke Wine Tasting– Los Olivos, CA

Last weekend my girlfriends and I (including the intrepid travellingmo!) descended on the Los Olivos/Solvang/Buellton area for our annual girl’s getaway weekend. We tasted excellent wine (and beer!), we dined on gourmet cheeses, salami, and quinoa salad, we lounged in sulfur mineral springs and swam in the beautiful blue Pacific! And the entire weekend cost each of us less than $150. Great broke minds think alike!

We be dorks! (clockwise from bottom left– Sara, Mo, Mel, Diana, Ashton, and me. Photo courtesy of Sara.)

The annual girls camping trip began in 2008. In 2006 Le Quad went to New York. In 2007 Le Quad went to Europe. In 2008 Le Quad was broke, but we still wanted to go somewhere. Mel and Mo had never been camping before so I suggested Sara and I indoctrinate them by taking a camping trip to the Kern River over Labor Day weekend. We made fires, cooked frankfurters on sticks, got sunburned and drank Budweiser in the river at 9am when it was too hot to stay in our tents. It was an absolute blast and we’ve continued the tradition every Labor Day weekend since. Diana joined our posse the second year when we upgraded to Paso Robles and over the years we’ve had different friends jump along for the ride. This year we got to meet Diana’s friend Ashton, who was awesome at feeding ostriches!

Ashton displaying her ostrich-feeding skills.
Ashton displaying her ostrich-feeding skills. Those buggers are mean!!
Waaaay Back Machine: Mo waking up with the King at the Kern. Nothing like a Budweiser in the wilderness.
Waaaay Back Machine: Mo waking up with the King at the Kern. Nothing like a Budweiser in the wilderness!

I love our approach to camping, although I’m not sure there’s a good word to define it. It definitely isn’t roughing it– we always pick a campsite with flush toilets and usually book the site right next to them for midnight calls of nature. We do a little hiking, but we also like to enjoy whatever fun local sites happen to be around. And it isn’t ‘glamping’. Although we have slowly upgraded through the years from one tent to two and are slowly accumulating air mattresses as our hips get older, we have an unspoken rule about showering during the weekend and love finding some place very upscale to walk into at the end of the weekend when we all look a little homeless. We buy a huge bottle of Costco Vodka, raid our liquor cabinets and merrily play Loaded Questions and Cards Against Humanity until we stumble off to bed. Whatever you want to call it, I call it the only way to camp.

This year Diana booked us a campsite at Los Prietos in the Los Padres National Forest. Unfortunately because of the drought we weren’t allowed to make a fire or light charcoal so we made do with propane stoves. The only sad part was that we didn’t have a fire to sit around in the evenings so we all went to bed ridiculously early feeling ridiculously old. After a number of stops at Costco for supplies, we found our campsite to be nicely shady and, after checking in with our groovy camp master who lived in a big blue converted bus, we set up shop and had a lovely evening of Vodka cocktails, fajitas and 14-avacado guacamole (because there is never enough guacamole).

On Saturday we decided to dedicate the day to the serious task of wine tasting– so we started at a brewery and an ostrich farm. Figueroa Mountain Brewery is great brewery located in an unimaginative warehouse district just outside of Buellton. They sell beer in growlers, which can be taken home and refilled. Because of the holiday weekend they were running low on selection, but we were able to try a few flights ($8-ish for a flight. $24 for a growler, $12-ish for a growler refill.)

The growler I bought for my beer-nerd husband.
The growler I bought for my beer-nerd husband.

Ostrichland is an ostrich and emu farm that has found a way to make their lives easier– let other people do the ostrich and emu feeding for them! Buy your ticket at the front counter and collect your bucket of food (a dog dish of pellets nailed to a metal dust pan) on the way in. From there you can ramble alongside pens of big ostriches, baby ostriches and emus who all eye you hungrily, waiting for you to extend your offering so they can gobble a few greedy mouthfuls. I don’t think I had ever actually seen an ostrich in person– those things are ugly and mean! Even their big tennis ball eyes don’t make up for their perpetual want-to-peck-you-to-death expression. When you extend your tray they push and shove to gobble at it, trying to grab the bowl with their incredibly strong beaks. The emus were a little bit better, and tended to stretch their necks to follow you down the route when you began walking away.

Cute ostrich kidlets!
Cute ostrich kidlets!

After the ostrich farm we decided we would indeed begin wine tasting in earnest. We started at Ken Brown, a winery founded by a man of the same name who was very influential in developing the Santa Inez Valley wine region. Unfortunately he wasn’t in when we stopped by, but our taster was a nice lady who suggested several other wineries in the area that we should try. From there we drove to Rusack winery which is owned by the Wrigley gum family and has a beautiful patio for a picnic, which we took full advantage of. We got a few funny looks while we were hauling our massive cooler to and from the car, but it was worth it. Salami, tuna, a selection of cheese, crackers, potato salad, and veggies all made by the fabulous Mel. We sat on the patio for a while, enjoying the breeze and admiring the view. We all decided that if we ever had a gagillion dollars we would love to buy a winery like Rusack.

Rusack patio
Rusack patio

From Rusack we decided to explore the town of Los Olivos, which has exploded from a dusty stage coach stop to a boutique winery hub in the past few decades. There were indeed many, many tasting rooms to choose from but at $15 a tasting for most of them, we were too cheap to try more than a few. Our favorite had to be Carhatt winery where we were served by barefoot surfer dudes and the winemakers, a mother and son team. We listened to the mother tell us how she stomped all the grapes for the desert wine herself. The desert wine was a little sugary for me, but all the rest of the wines were excellent and we all particularly liked their Grenache Blanc, although only Sara is a dedicated fan of white wine.

Barefoot server dude at Carhartt winery.
Barefoot server dude at Carhartt winery. Best winery ever!

We also popped across the street from Carhatt to visit Saarloos and Sons, which brand themselves by offering a cupcake pairing with their wine tasting. We decided to pass on the cupcakes but the wine was very good, especially their Grenache. Go figure– it was $50 a bottle!

On Sunday we decided to do a little hiking and, after bumbling around the trail in a few different directions and getting some skeptical looks from professional hikers we found a secluded sulfur hot springs that were more warm than hot, but feel very soothing and healthy if you can get over the smell. One man we met there who was hiking with his son said that the springs used to be completely canopied in poison oak! I’m so glad some considerate forest ranger or volunteer had cut the bushes back!

Slightly befuddled hikers.
Slightly befuddled hikers.
Stinky 'hot' springs.
Stinky ‘hot’ springs.

After the hot springs we piled back into the cars (thank goodness the smell didn’t seem to stick!) and drove to Goleta State Beach, which our Siri GPS had been trying to guide us to all afternoon. She defiantly had the right idea– tucked away underneath a rail road bridge between a raised pier and a bluff, Goleta State Beach is a tiny strip of beautiful sand and mild surf. Although there were plenty of people there the little beach felt private and a bit secluded. The water was cold but refreshing and the shape of the coastline made it very easy to swim past the breakers and bob in the ocean for a while.

Back at camp we dined on Angus beef burgers from Costco, corn on the cob, macaroni and cheese and split a bottle of Carhartt Grenache Blanc. A little luxury, a little budget, but all fun and a very lovely weekend!



3 thoughts on “Secrets to Broke Wine Tasting– Los Olivos, CA

  1. Reblogged this on travelsofmo and commented:
    Hey y’all!

    Pardon me for my long absence. As usual real life has swallowed me up, and left far to little time for blogging life. I do mean to finish my travels in Eastern Europe, but in the meantime here’s a post from Jill over at Jill’s Awesome Week. A few weeks ago, Jill and I, along with other dear friends, had our annual Labor Day camping trip. This year was near Lake Cachuma in California, and Jill did a marvelous job of writing it down! There is even a slightly embarrassing flashback photo of yours truly. Enjoy!

    Good Day and Happy Travels,

  2. Looks like a fun trip, Mo, ostriches and all. Kim and I just came back from a stop in Los Olivos, too! We stopped on the drive to Cambria for a long weekend. I’d not been to Los Olivos before and wish we had spent more time looking around–it’s surprising to find it out all by itself. We’ll look around more next time. Happy Travels!

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