Can you believe that I’ve lived in California for over six years, and I’ve never been north of Los Angeles? I know right?! I’ve been seeing this town called Solvang on reality tv shows (another guilty pleasure) recently and I immediately wanted to check it out. It reminded me of a cute little German town called Frankenmuth, that I used to visit every year in Michigan. Buckle up because the Mazda 3 and I are ready to hit the road!
Around the Calabasas area north of LA, the drive reveals a lot of the fire devastation from the outbreak of fires last fall. It’s a heartbreaking sight to see and a visual reminder that we live in a fire-prone (and earthquake) state, which is always frightening.
To be honest, the drive north on the 101 is boring until you get past Ventura. North of Ventura, the highway runs right along the coast heading into Santa Barbara and it’s just stunning. (We are definitely not in San Diego anymore Toto!) The route also took me through Los Padres National Forest. As I drove up one side of the forest the air was misty and foggy, and then once I reached the top and descended back down the blue skies opened up and were clear as I felt the warmth of the sun shining down through the moon roof. It was soo neat to drive through two completely different climates in the same forest.
Driving into Solvang was exactly what I expected to find, a cute and quaint small town. I had three destinations on my agenda and first up was lunch at Cecco Ristorante. This was a great spot for some pizza and a cold glass of wine. The Margherita pizza was a classic version, and as delicious as you would expect. But first I started with the Proscuitto E Melon: cantaloupe, imported prosciutto, and burrata. This was a delicious spot for lunch indeed.
Next up was Dana V. Wines just down the street. This winery has a beachy feel and color scheme with seashells and an aqua decor. I started my visit with a tasting and Carmen talked me through each pour. I personally opted out of the red varietals because I haven’t had a taste for red in over a year now, so I can’t speak to those, but the three I loved the best were the Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and the Grenache Rosé. The rosé was so light and refreshing that I bought a bottle to take with me which will be perfect for a hot summer day! The owner, Dana, is super nice and I would definitely go back again!
I saved the sweetest stop for last, The Solvang Bakery. The aromas of baked goods that waft through the air will draw you in whether you were headed here or not. (When will smell-o-vision ever be a real thing?) Once you’re inside there are sweets, treats, and yummy danishes as far as the eye can see. I immediately zeroed in on a few items that I wanted to try: a slice of cake, a strawberry and cheese danish, and a Danish Waffle. The rainbow cake was perfection with its perfect layers and moist cake. But let’s talk about that Danish Waffle! It’s a puff pastry rolled in cinnamon, with house-made whipped cream, and raspberry jam and it is OUTSTANDING! I instantly regretted not getting more than one and I would honestly drive back up there just to get another!
Solvang is typically known for its Danish snacks called Æbleskivers, and although I didn’t get any on this visit, I will try them next time for sure; Solvang is a great little town to explore! But it was time for me to head to The Cliffs Hotel and Spa for my two-night stay; to say that I was excited to get here is the understatement of the year. Having never been here before, I was eager to be staying in a place that was right on the ocean.
When I walked into the Edgewater Suite, I was thoroughly speechless, which is quite unusual for me. There’s a good chance that this suite is bigger than my apartment! I was probably most excited about three things: the ocean views from my suite, the soaking tub, and the four poster bed!
The open floor plan of this suite is very inviting and comfortable whether you’re hanging out watching tv, having breakfast, or enjoying the exterior patio. This suite definitely has “your home away from home” vibes to it. Throw on a cozy robe and slippers and lounge around in between visits to the restaurant, spa, and pool and feel like a million bucks doing it.
Marisol, the on-site restaurant, has breath-taking panoramic ocean views from their al fresco dining. Chef Jaime and his team are cooking up some great dishes in the kitchen. When I was there for dinner, I was stoked to try the Grilled Peaches and Burrata from the summer stone fruits menu. The peaches had perfect grill marks on them and paired so well with the burrata cheese, scallions, and balsamic reduction. Following that delicious plate, I had the Bacon Wrapped Filet, cooked to a perfect medium temperature with goat cheese mashed potatoes, seasoned carrots, and a port reduction. Lately, it’s all about the sauce with a nice filet for me, and this one tasted amazing with everything on the plate.
The next day I popped over again to enjoy some live music during happy hour. I love a good happy hour, but even more when it also supports a good cause. On Thursdays from 4-7pm, their happy hour supports (rotating) local charities. From the happy hour menu, I tried the Lettuce Wraps full of grilled chicken, spicy peanut sauce, peanuts, bell pepper, radicchio, sesame, cucumber, rice noodles, and bibb lettuce. These were fresh and tasty with some kick from the spicy peanut sauce. Generally speaking, if there is a cheese board on the menu, I order it! This board included a house-made tomato jam and quince paste; if you’re an avid follower, then you know how much I love unique additions on a board, and these were really harmonious with the selection of cheeses and other accouterments.
The best dish without a doubt was the Sesame Seared Ahi. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it was gone before the server came back to ask how it was. The Ahi was fresh and so flavorful that I just couldn’t put down my fork. The seaweed salad and sushi rice with bits of cucumber were bright and acidic and complemented the sesame flavors. I would eat this dish again and again and AGAIN!
Staying at a beautiful resort wouldn’t be complete without a spa treatment at Dia Feliz Spa, so I was thrilled to get a manicure and pedicure booked. The spa itself is really pretty with a calming ambiance. My nail technician, Stephanie made me feel really pampered with a glass of champagne while my toes soaked with a bath bomb. The spa uses all organic products, which I love. The extra perks of booking a spa treatment include access to the hotel pool, jacuzzi, sauna, and fitness center, as well as a free foot soak prior to each treatment, and complimentary valet parking. This was a great way to decompress with some me-time. I walked out feeling relaxed with a fresh look.
Nothing beats waking up to the ocean. I was able to enjoy the sights and sounds of the ocean from my room and also from the beach access trail on the property. The property is well-groomed and green and lends itself to some back lawn games like cornhole or setting up camp to watch the sunset in an Adirondack chair.
I had the BEST sleep here and I’m soo in love with The Cliffs that I didn’t want to leave, EVER! Did I mention the turndown service yet? It comes with freshly baked COOKIES! So do you think they’ll let me move in?? In the meantime, I have two more reasons to make you swoon over this resort as much as I am: BREAKFAST IN BED and a giant BUBBLE BATH!
I can’t stop gushing about The Cliffs Hotel and Spa. Staying here truly felt like a little piece of Heaven. (Side note: if you live in the area, you should check out their Summer events.) But all good things must come to an end I suppose, and now I’m off to adventure in Santa Barbara, another new experience for me! But first another car selfie…is that a thing? Lol, the white pearl Mazda just looks soo sharp against the coastline!
The first stop caught my attention on Instagram with their pretzels! I’m a sucker for pretzels and beer cheese, especially paired with beer haha! Institution Ale Company has a lot of delicious-sounding beers. I knew ahead of time that I wanted to try their Tiki Ale because it sounded like my kind of beer. This cream ale is made with strawberries and mangoes, and I loved it with the pretzels. I also tried the Carne Asada Pizza while I was there. The Santa Barbara location has a really neat space with a front sidewalk patio, interior bar area, and a big open space in the back with picnic tables. There are cool vibes here for sure; if I lived in the area, I could see myself hanging out here often!
My second stop was to another brewery. If you recall, I am obsessed with charcuterie (and cheese) boards and I’ll admit right now that it was half the reason that I drove over to Brass Bear Brewing. Also because it was a suggestion from a follower, so thank you! This husband and wife duo run the brewery which is in The Funk Zone of Santa Barbara. While I was here I tried their Charcuterie Board (which arrived on a California state-shaped board!) along with a Chicken and Tri-Tip Skewer. I thought I might get a glass of wine but instead, I opted for the Blood Orange Summer Ale with no regrets! (Can you tell I like fruity ales yet? #predictable) This recommendation was a winner!
While looking for stop number four, stop number three happened by accident! I left the brewery and ended up in the trajectory of the Stearns Wharf, a wharf that you can drive onto and check out gift shops, restaurants, boat rides, and more. This was a bit nerve-wracking but ended up being a cool surprise. I stayed long enough to grab some postcards and say that I drove onto a wharf!
The next stop I was hugely ecstatic about! I was on a mission to find the Chromatic Gate, which to my shock, not many local people know where this is, but thankfully I found it (and hopefully they will now too)! This rainbow gate is great for photos, and installations like this just put a big smile on my face!
This visit wouldn’t be complete without some ice cream from McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams because the word on the street is that it’s gooood stuff! And another follower recommendation! They have some amazing flavors, and I tried many but settled on the Eureka Lemon with Marionberries. It’s such a refreshing flavor with the lemon and berries, and it’s no wonder they have such a good reputation.
So what did I learn about Santa Barbara while I was here? Two big things. First, when you live in San Diego you really don’t realize (in my opinion) how much hustle and bustle there is here until you get out of San Diego. I had no idea that just a short drive up the coast would bring such a sense of relaxation and zen. Santa Barbara has such a super chill vibe. And second, I get the feeling, Santa Barbara is really more of a walking, biking, skating kind of town, as opposed to driving a car everywhere. Parking can be difficult to find and parking lots seem to hide a bit, but if you like to be on foot, this is a good town to wander around.
This was a phenomenal trip and I can’t wait to plan another road trip so I can explore more of the coast and more of California. Who’s coming with me? If you’ve been to any of the places I went, or have suggestions for my next trip, let me know in the comments! For now, it’s back to reality, so here’s one last glimpse of the amazing life I live in San Diego.
Until next time, happy eating and traveling!