ROAD TRIP: Los Olivos & the Santa Ynez Valley

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Everyone loves a road trip. In my college years, the words alone (Road Trip!) were a devilish challenge, setting my friends and I off on a spontaneous, late-night car trip to some other college town an hour or so away… or once I moved to California, to Vegas. As I got older, my road trips evolved into romantic weekends in Big Sur, solo getaways to Cambria, and family adventures in La Jolla.

The one thing weaving them all together – aside from the car – was food. I’m not talking about the Pringles or Corn-Nuts we munched during the road trip, but the destination meal, the one you look forward to at your journey’s end. Even back in Oklahoma, those midnight jaunts to Norman always culminated with a “Denco Darling,” a (rather vile, if memory serves) hangover concoction of eggs, Green Goddess dressing, chips and pasta, served at a landmark diner by a famously surly waitress named Pat.

Thankfully, my road trips and taste buds evolved, and the adventures began to involve cuisine that was actually worth driving for… La Super Rica Taqueria’s Taco de Rajas that melted in our mouths in Santa Barbara, the best veggie burger in the world in La Jolla, or the melt-in-your-mouth scone and Mexican Hot Chocolate at the French Corner Bakery in Cambria. For what is a road trip without food?

When Publisher/Editor Karen Young suggested I write something for, I agreed, only if I could combine my two loves: travel and food. The road trips I will write about in this column may be minutes or hours away, but they will always involve something delicious. My motto? Will drive for food. I hope you will come along…


It had been a while since my husband Paul and I were away on our own. My son’s fifth grade “field trip” to Washington, D.C. just happened to coincide with our wedding anniversary, so Paul took it upon himself to book us into an inn in Los Olivos. I was so shocked that he had actually made the arrangements himself, that I didn’t dare change a thing… well almost. I did suggest one thing: a restaurant called Trattoria Grappolo in nearby Santa Ynez, which I had heard good things about.

La Super Rica, a taco stand in Santa Barbara, made famous by Julia Child.

La Super Rica, a taco stand in Santa Barbara, made famous by Julia Child.

From the San Fernando Valley, the Santa Ynez Valley is about two hours away, but if you are wise, you’ll build in some time for a quick lunch at La Super Rica Taqueria, my favorite taco stand in Santa Barbara (the same one Julia Child made famous years ago with a single recommendation). You haven’t lived until you’ve tasted their Taco de Rajas, two paper-thin, hand-made corn tortillas piled with creamy caramelized onions and roasted chile strips… or the fresh tamale with fresh corn, zucchini and warm Mexican crema… all washed down with an icy Horchata or cold beer. But I digress. We are headed to the wine country.



A little farther toward Los Olivos, we can’t help making a quick pit stop in the Danish town of Solvang to check out the cheesy souvenirs and those puffy pancakes everyone is eating on the street. We pass on the pancakes, but I consider a pair of cute clogs that just don’t fit the way they should for the price.

I wish I could tell you about the curious miniature horses that graze at the Quicksilver Horse Farm just outside of Solvang, but Paul is driving and he’s making no more stops. For the record, if you are up here with your kids, there is no way you are not stopping to at least check out these adorable creatures, which from the highway, look a little larger than our Irish Setter.

Fess Parker

Special packages at Fess Parker's Inn & Spa often include breakfast at Petros downstairs. Photo: Karen Young

The town of Los Olivos is small and charming, though a closer look reveals that there is not much to do here but taste wine and go to art galleries. Poor us. We check into our lovely room at Fess Parker’s Inn & Spa before heading out to check out our surroundings. As this trip wasn’t so much about wine tasting as it was about us having a day away, we only went to a few tasting rooms, both included in the price of our room. Our first stop was the Epiphany Cellars, owned by Eli Parker in town, where the Rodney’s Vineyard Petite Sirah and dark chocolate combination took the prize (how could it not?), but where the wine consultant was not nearly as chummy as Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh in “Sideways” (sorry, guys).


Over 60 vineyards cover the run across the Santa Ynez Valley. Photo: Karen Young

I much preferred venturing out into the golden hills of the wine route, past old oaks, to the picturesque Fess Parker’s Winery. The Pommard Clone Pinot Noir took my taste buds straight back to Burgundy, but the wine consultant snatched away our would-be keepsake glasses when he realized we were guests of the hotel… free wine, sure, but free glasses, no way.  We could have continued down the road to over 60 wineries, but we opted for a before-dinner nap instead, dozing lazily as we listen to laughter floating up from Petros, the chic Greek restaurant below us.

Trattoria Grappolo owners

Trattoria Grappolo owners (L-R) Leonardo Curti and Daniele Serra Photo: Trattoria Grappolo

We get lost on the way to Trattoria Grappolo, but the casual Italian restaurant isn’t the kind of place that is going to give away your reservation… it’s very relaxed here. The waiter brings us some bread and olive oil, explaining that he made the olive oil himself. You can still see little flecks of olive flesh in the oil, and it is delicious. This is the kind of thing that puts me over the edge, and I am happy. We order a few glasses of wine and order what our waiter proclaims to be the best choices… in fact, he tells us, “you are about to taste the best pizza of your life.”

In the end, it’s not the best pizza we’ve ever had (that would still have to be that little place outside of Siena we still talk about), but it is wonderful, thin and crispy, and covered with molten hot mozzarella cheese, among other things. My linguini with clams is also a hit, and we end our meal with a delicious Panna Cotta with caramel and chocolate sauce before calling it a night.

The smell of lavendar rolls through the Santa Ynez countryside. Photo: Karen Young

The smell of lavender breezes through the Santa Ynez countryside. Photo: Karen Young

The next morning, we indulge in the perfect chaser breakfast at Petros downstairs from our room – an omelet for Paul and homemade yogurt with local honey for me, all included in our rate at the Fess Parker’s Inn and Spa. Before heading home the next day, we stop at a local Lavender Farm where I buy some lavender sea salt, lavender honey and some soap. On our way back to LA, we fantasize about someday retiring with our own lavender farm… We used to talk about retiring in Italy, but with such good wine and olive oil so close, why bother?


622 N. Milpas Street
Santa Barbara, CA 93103
805) 963-4940

1663 Copenhagen Dr.
Solvang, CA 93463.
(805) 688-4065

1555 Alamo Pintado Rd
Solvang, CA 93463
(805) 686-4002

2860 Grand Avenue
Los Olivos, CA 93441
(805) 688-7887

3687 Sagunto Street
Santa Ynez, CA
(805) 688-6899

2480 Roblar Ave
Santa Ynez, CA 93460
(805) 688-7505

Jennifer Evans Gardner is a food and travel writer, cookbook author, and owner of the Little Feet in the Kitchen cooking school. Formerly Editor-in-Chief for, Jennifer has also written for ePregnancy, Eating, Santa Barbara, and Kiwi, among other publications.

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About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

  • barbara

    Love this article

  • Wilma

    Karen: Good choice for your website: This writer supplies good information about nearby destinations while sharing her personal experience in a charming manner. The photos added the final “punch” to the piece – I think you have a winner!

  • Jackie Houchin

    What a wonderful road (and food) trip, Jennifer! I’ve been to many of the places you mentioned and your story brought back some fond memories. But… I really MUST try the La Super Rica taco stand. How could I have missed that one? Even Julia Childs went there! And the lavender farm… now there’s a new adventure too. Thanks for the tour.

  • Laurie Lyons

    You made a big mistake by not stopping at the Quicksilver Ranch to spend time with the miniature horses, perfect creatures that could only have come from heaven. Although children would enjoy seeing them, they are a cathartic experience for adults. I was told that individuals with “emotional” issues come to view these wonderful animals and become spiritually soothed just by spending a short time watching them. I am just an ordinarily stressed person, but I can say that it had that effect upon me and my husband. We were lucky enough to visit the ranch when the foals were about 4 months old. Seeing mother and child was enough to set my month ahead alright. These animals are gentle and come right over to you for some petting. Don’t miss this experience the next time.

  • marc

    hey this is cool! La Super Rica RULES!! nicely done…..

  • Dottie

    Oh, yeah! La Super Rica is fantastic — and the road trip sounds like a wonderful getaway. I would love to do a trip like that, and look forward to other articles like this. Love the combination of food and travel. Add shopping to the mix and I’m in travel heaven!

  • Dawn

    I may have to marry that cute Fess Parker. In the meantime,I’ll just dream of that yummy thin, crispy pizza. Love it all, want to do it all. Thanks!

  • alan

    But you forgot the best part about eating at Denco’s. If you finished the “Darlin,” you were then allowed to buy the t-shirt that said “I ate my ‘Darlin’ at Dencos.”

    • Jennifer

      Alan, I completely forgot about that! How do you know about Denco’s?

      • jeff

        He also forgot about the over easy egg on top of it all!! Always hit the spot on certain nights!!

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