We flew into LAX, picked up our rental car, and headed out into the dreariness for a drive up the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) for Santa Barbara. We drove through Marina del Ray and Venice Beach, neither of which I was a huge fan of. Passing through Santa Monica reminded me a lot of Miami Beach. Everything on PCH was so sleek and you had swanky restaurants, a park, and of course the ocean. I determined that if we were to ever visit and stay in the LA area, I wouldn't like to stay south of Santa Monica. We passed through Malibu which was probably the prettiest part of the drive, even with all of the gray skies and drizzle. Unfortunately the weather prevented us from getting any great photos which I was bummed about.
We stopped for lunch in Summerland, CA, which is an adorable little beach town and at at Starky's - chock full of nautical decor that I loved. Summerland is also full of cute little antique shops. I could have spent hours there. Hence a reason we needed more time in CA!
Pretty much the whole purpose for this trip was that I had won a two night stay at the Four Seasons Santa Barbara - The Biltmore, months ago at a work function. I had been to the Four Seasons for work in 2006 and had 2 programs there. It's always been one of my favorite properties and cities. I absolutely love it and if I grew a money tree I would live there in a heartbeat. We spent our afternoon lounging at the Coral Casino Club, which is a private beach club for local residents that choose to belong, as well as for Four Seasons guests. We cat napped on our lounge chairs, watched the surfers, and enjoyed a glass of wine.
That evening, we headed into Santa Barbara for dinner at Sandbar, a Mexican restaurant. The food was so-so, but it was fun to just walk around the State Street area. I was a little sad to see that it seemed like some restaurants had gone out of business and there were more vacant storefronts than I remembered in 2006. Such is the times, but still disheartening to see.
I kid you not that we were home and asleep by 10 pm and didn't even care! I, personally, went into this vacation pretty wiped out physically and mentally from work, and certainly needed to catch up on some rest.
The next day we enjoyed breakfast compliments of the hotel on a beautiful patio overlooking the ocean. Eggs, Bacon, Toast, Strawberry Smoothie, Milk, and Omelet will set you back $70 with tip at the Four Seasons. Needless to say, we enjoyed our lovely breakfast, thankful that it was not coming out of our pocket, and headed for wine country. Most notable was the dreary Santa Barbara weather and the drastic change once we reached the mountains. 80s and sunny, perfection!
Without a guide and without too much of a plan, we headed for Santa Ynez and our first stop at Gainey. Gainey wines weren't anything we ended up liking and I was actually a little discouraged by the impersonal wine tasting. I thought it was very "stock" and began to fear that all of my "dreams" of a wine country experience would be crushed (no pun intended). The day began to turnaround a bit for me when we decided to take the winery tour. It wasn't so much a tour, as we didn't actually go very far, but we were allowed to eat the grapes (Mmmmm!!), we ended up with some photos I really love from our trip (that's important to me!), and learned something interesting things about the process. We also decided that the two of us could share a tasting wherever we went. A) we drove ourselves and wanted to visit multiple places and B) they give you more than enough wine and seconds of things you liked and wanted to try again!
From there, we headed onto Bridlewood Estates, which had been recommended by a friend. Jackpot! Gabe was pouring our wines and he actually knew the guy who had sent us over, and was extremely personable and friendly. He latched on to my inquiry regarding a dessert wine, then was happy I really liked a red wine (I'm not much of a red wine drinker), and that's when the extra samples and special tastings started coming out. Of course, I may have already stated that we'd take two $35+ bottles of wine and re-named my dog Syrah (just kidding), but who's keeping track? We walked out of there with three bottles, because of course they also get you with the whole "refund your tasting" and "special pricing" scheme they have going on. But, when it comes down to it, this was my favorite place of the day and will always be on my list of places to stop when we return. Granted, it was crowded and busy, and maybe we got lucky with someone like Gabe and because we struck up a conversation, but it was great. Hope renewed!
From there we continued on to Los Olivos to the Consilience and Tre Anelli tasting room. Again, recommended by a friend and when we asked Gabe where we should head next, without telling him what our recommendation was, he suggested the same thing. Away we went to first enjoy some lunch and then have another great experience. This would be the locale where I was more drawn to their curtains than their wine. It was a tasting heavy on the reds and Brian enjoyed some "bonus" pours from their "upgraded" tasting list. We bought two bottles of white, again that whole "refund your tasting" thing.
Our last stop of the day was to Artiste. A place that I am extremely familiar with, as I've used their wine blending workshop and wine services for three programs. They have a unique method of pairing a local artist's piece of work as the wine label to their blended wines. My contact was not there, as he is now running his family's winery (Sunstone) full time, but we hit it off with the guy who was in there and had a good time taking a look at their library of blends/labels. Brian and he spent some time bonding over Phish too, which automatically is a good thing to him.
On our way back into Santa Barbara we walked down the pier and did some people watching and photo taking. After that, we headed into downtown Montecito (can you say Oprah!?), which is actually around the block from our hotel and closer than downtown Santa Barbara. I love downtown Montecito even though every shop is for the rich and famous. We had dinner and listened to some music at a local pub. Bad food... I wish I remembered the name so I could recommend that someone reading this does not go there. Hot Chocolate from Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf capped off another early night where we borrowed a DVD from the concierge desk and we were both asleep about 15 minutes into it.
Of course we wake up and the sun is shining and I'm sad that we don't have another full day in Santa Barbara. I would have loved to walk the beach, relax by the pool, etc. We had a fantastic brunch at Jeannie's Cafe (actually ranked #1 on Trip Advisor). We sat outside the place is just charming. I also wanted another night because I had wanted to try Trattoria Mollie for lunch or dinner and we weren't able to.
On our way to Ojai we stopped to visit the Santa Barbara Mission. I was interested in seeing it and of course we missed the docent tour. We did a self-guided one but probably missed out on a lot of history that we would have enjoyed. We then headed to the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa. Again, fantastic warm weather up there in the mountains. We had a beautiful room and spent a few hours relaxing at the pool overlooking the mountains. I love Ojai, it's charming and quaint and really laid back. Brian liked Ojai Valley Inn and Spa better than the Four Seasons and I have to say, it's a close one. On some days I might agree with him. Even though it's equally as pricey, the clientele was just a little more laid back and not so stuffy. You get a lot of "hippy artist types" in Ojai.
Last time I was there I had picked up a bottle of Ojai Vineyards Viognier from Ojai Beverage Company, so we headed there so I could grab another bottle and I had read that they have Ojai's best wine/beer/happy hour menu. It was all locals and just a blast. I think we could have stayed there all night! But, on the recommendation of our bartender we headed for dinner at Boccali's (ranked #3 in Ojai on Trip Advisor- we were getting lucky with our meal pics!). We ate on a charming patio and the service and food was fantastic. By and far our best meal of the trip. On our way home we made another stop into the Ojai Beverage Company to pick-up a bottle of wine to enjoy back in our room. We had a great balcony and fireplace and it was a perfect evening. Unfortunately, we probably could have used another night here too - are you catching on to the recurring theme? That's what happens when you don't plan enough in advance and just sort of "wing it" and don't give much thought to what you'll want to do with each of your days and more importantly what you don't want to have to do so you can actually have some downtime. We felt a little pressure to fit in a lot of stuff that we "had" to see.
We were LA bound on this day, taking the Pacific Coast Highway again. This time it was sunny and brilliant! For some reason we didn't stop at any overlooks to take pictures. I have no idea why and I'm kicking myself. I love the beach and the ocean and we tried to stop for lunch at Paradise Cove but the wait was almost an hour and we had to be in LA by 2:30. So, we stopped at Duke's in Malibu which was great for the sole reason that it is RIGHT on the ocean. I love a good water view.
Something to note, on our way down the PCH, right before you get to Malibu, there is a campground on the ocean. I wrote down the name somewhere because on our next trip we want to camp for a night. How cool would that be? Camping right on the ocean with a fire to cook over and make smores. Incredible!
We arrived at The Beverly Hilton and met two industry people that were playing host to us for the day and night. Our room at the Beverly Hilton was certainly Hollywood VIP style. We had this entire living room that we never used because we weren't in the room long enough, and a balcony overlooking the pool and LA that was large enough for me and 20 of my closest friends. Extremely nice! We headed out and did a Hollywood tour which was interesting and nice to be able to see the stars and hand prints and all of that. We took a great drive through the Hollywood Hills on Mulholland Drive, saw some amazing houses, took in some great views, and headed back to the hotel for some cocktail and apps before heading out for our night of fun.
And FUN did we ever have! The four of us (Brian, I, and our 2 contacts) headed out with a driver (who does that?!)... safety first, you know! First stop was a place called Eveleigh. Being the design fanatic that I am, I was practically drooling over the entire atmosphere and their interior design. Unique cocktails blended by their mixologists and a really great vibe. Bonus, Eveleigh's garden is dog friendly so you can bring your pooch along for cocktails.
We headed to Rose for our dinner reservation. Apparently it's the hot new place in Hollywood. I guess that these restaurants/nightclubs are re-concepted so frequently by the same firms just to offer everyone a new and exciting experience. Rose is based on the champagne, of course. I have no idea what we started with, but it was an amazing watermelon drink. I'm also not sure of the cost of said beverages but in taking a look at the champagne by the glass list it could have easily been a $20+ cocktail. Again, talk about living in LaLa Land. WHO does this? And the place was PACKED and you had to be on the list. It was allll about the people watching and neat to just say we've done something like that. The food was good, the music was great, and then all of a sudden around 11pm it turned into a club. The french doors to the patio we were seated on were closed and the curtains were drawn. This drummer was on this "cat walk table" pounding his drum to the beat of the music, people were dancing everywhere, and we were stuck outside unable to see any of the action. Apparently this not only keeps the neighbors happy (noise), but also keeps the exclusivity factor high because people walking down the street can't see what's going on.
After we finished dinner we headed in to take in the scene and have a glass of champagne. Every time someone in the bar orders bottle service, it comes out with this huge sparkler being waved around in the air. Well, let me tell you there were sparklers everywhere. Again, no clue how these people afford to do this. I heard that a lot of the girls were probably brought in by a promo company, to lure in the male customers who would then proceed with buying bottle service for their tables and girls tables. The nightclub industry is smart, let me tell you.
We left there after awhile and headed to The Foundation Room at House of Blues for our last stop of the night, and perhaps our strangest stop. The Foundation Room is a members only club but we somehow made it all the way inside without so much as one person stopping to check us in. I think someone was not doing their job! There was a concert there tonight and we hung out on the deck and members of whatever this group was were hanging out as well. It was a strange, head shaking experience in that we were just there without so much of a second glance. After a drink we called it a night and headed back to the hotel around 2 am. We aren't "going out" people like that, but it was an extremely fun night and I'm so glad we had such guide people to take us around. They were a blast.
We were meeting some friends that used to live in Colorado for lunch at a place in Venice. We were early so we sat at the beach for awhile... I could have stayed there all day. I kicked myself that we didn't bring a beach blanket or our swim suits so we could just hang out all day. I don't know what we were thinking. After our lunch we headed to walk down Third Street in Santa Monica. Parts of it are Pedestrian only and it reminded me a bit of Pearl Street in Boulder but with real talent and better stores. We had some ice cream, thought about walking the Santa Monica pier but didn't have enough time, and finally headed for the airport that evening.
It was a fantastic vacation, probably one of my favorites, and I'm not kidding you when I say I was (am?) ready to pack it in and move there for a year. I could use a year of sunshine, warm weather, and beaches. We have the sort of jobs where we could do something like that and I'm a big proponent of taking advantage of it while we have such great flexibility in our work. As Brian reminds me, oh, yes, there's the whole "being an adult" thing and we happen to have a house here. Darn. And it happens to be ridiculously expensive to rent something we would consider acceptable in California. Boo.... guess we'll just have to go back for a longer visit next time.
*Pardon the ugly white borders around the pictures, when I'm lazy and pull my pics from Shutterfly that's what happens, unfortunately.