San Diego To Santa Barbara And Solvang — Car Free

Pictured at left is a windmill in Solvang, Calif.

We departed San Diego on Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner traveling five hours along the coast to the town of Solvang where everything is centered in the Danish tradition — replicating true Danish architecture and customs. Then we’ll return to Santa Barbara, sometimes called the “American Riviera” with its seaside location, old missions, Spanish architecture, vineyards and endless things to do for visitors.

Traffic? What traffic? On board, relax in spacious seats and enjoy the scenery. Hugging the coast by train affords beautiful ocean vistas from windows on one side and mountain views on the other side of the train. Amtrak provides snacks with coffee, tea or wine. There is true luxury in being able to relax and not worry about driving a car in traffic. All this convenience for a ticket that costs far less than renting a car for even a day.

Our first stop is the world-famous “Little Denmark” town of Solvang in the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley, the heart of Santa Barbara wine country. Solvang offers some 18 hotels, numerous restaurants, boutique shops and other attractions for visitors. Amtrak offers daily connecting Thruway motor coach service to downtown Solvang. There is a walking trip with all hotels and restaurants conveniently located within a few minutes’ stroll from the historic railroad stations. Solvang also was the location for filming of the movie “Sideways,” a feature that brings many visitors to this unique town.

Founded in 1911 by a group of Danish immigrants, the settlers were looking for a suitable place to build a school for their children. You would definitely think you were in Copenhagen with the European influence expressed in local architecture, decorative windmills, Danish restaurants, and all manner of foods including sausages & luscious pastries.

Our first morning breakfast was at The Solvang restaurant. We couldn’t wait to try the ever-popular “aebleskivers.” No one leaves Solvang without digging into a plate of the delicate sweet diet-busting puff pancakes that can be topped with raspberry jam and or/ whipped cream, then dusted with powdered sugar.

A perfect Danish pastry called Aebleskivers.

The restaurant has been in the Paaske family for several generations and the owner, Jeff Paaske, told us a humorous story of how his grandparents met. His grandfather had passed by the house on his train route and noticed this attractive young woman hanging out the wash. After several days of waving, when he saw her, he stopped to meet her. Paaske spoke only English and she spoke only Danish but the rest is a history of a long happy marriage.

We stayed at The Landsby hotel, a newly remodeled modern Danish haven located conveniently in the center of town and an easy ten minute walk from the rail station. We enjoyed an authentic wine tasting across the street at the Wandering Dog Wine Bar. This wine bar has been voted the “Best Tasting Room in Santa Ynez Valley.”

We proceeded to The Landsby for a delicious Danish dinner preceded by a daily Happy Hour where you are bound to meet the locals.

The next evening we walked to the First & Oak restaurant for their locals’ night four — course dinner that is held every Thursday. Farm to table fresh food was paired with local wines.

Our next stop featured Ingeborg’s Danish Chocolate Shop where free candy tastings are shared. This was a delicious and much photographed visit of the many tempting chocolates. Within a few blocks is the not-to-be-missed, free, Hans Christian Andersen museum with hundreds of volumes of his tales. Hans Christian Andersen wrote more than 160 fairy tales which have been translated into more than 100 languages. Next door is The Book Loft where you could spend hours searching through their many volumes.

Moving on, the Stagecoach Wine Company picked us up in a luxury Mercedes van for a wine tour that included tastings at four custom-selected locations with a balance of wineries,vineyards, cellars and tasting rooms. Included were Pence, Roark Barrels where grapes are collected for wineries, Rusack and Bella Cavalli Farms and Winery where they also raise thoroughbred horses. We stopped for a delicious picnic lunch overlooking the lovely Rusacks vineyards provided by New Frontiers Marketplace

An excellent wine was the 2014 Estate Chardonnay from Pence winery. The grapes enjoy the daily bright sunshine throughout the growing season while being cooled by Pacific Ocean winds. It is this dichotomy that creates a beautiful Chardonnay.

A late dinner was enjoyed at the Landsby’s Mad & Vin restaurant with the usual sustainable farm-to-table in season fresh fare, paired with local wines.

Leaving for Santa Barbara the next day, pulling our bags to the station, we stopped for lunch at the ever popular Bacon & Brine for their special pork sandwiches. This is a true farm-to-table experience where the owners raise the animals that end up in your pulled pork sandwich.

Again, a wonderful train ride to Santa Barbara with a two minute walk from the rail station to Hotel Indigo, two blocks from the ocean. After dropping off our luggage, we walked four blocks to the Visitor Center and boarded the Santa Barbara Trolley for a 90-minute narrated tour of the zoo, Montecito mansions, the Harbor and Old Mission. Twenty-one missions were built across California by Spanish Franciscans with a one-mile walk between them. Highlights of the tour included the Old Mission church known as Queen of the Missions, Santa Barbara waterfront and Montecito with the famous Butterfly Beach and homes of famous stars.

Leaving the trolley tour, we walked to the Urban Wine Trail in the “Funk Zone” and visited different tasting rooms to sample the local wines. This is a twelve block area near Santa Barbara’s waterfront that has a flourishing subculture of artist studios, wine-tasting rooms and craft breweries. Murals and street art abound. Taste some of the finest wines produced in Santa Barbara County at more than two dozen tasting rooms, all within blocks of downtown and the beach.

With its abundance of seafood, sustainable farming, and nearby wineries, Santa Barbara has many excellent restaurants. Moving on to dinner at the ethnic Spanish restaurant, Loquita, conveniently located across the street from our hotel where truly delicious Spanish tapas were enjoyed.

The Santa Barbara wine country stretches some 50 miles from the Santa Ynez Valley to Lompoc in a wide band from the San Rafael Mountains in the east to the ocean in the west. Today the Santa Ynez Valley boasts more wineries than any other within its borders. As vintner Brooks Firestone said in a 1983 interview, “It’s hard to describe our new region because different wineries are going in their own directions.” His Firestone Vineyard began making wine in 1975.

The Hotel Indigo is all about reaching beyond hospitality to become a cornerstone of the local arts scene. Each year within their walls, visitors will encounter contemporary art exhibitions.

After an exciting four-day whirlwind trip, we hopped back on Amtrak and headed for San Diego and the flight home.

The return train ride gave me time to reflect on the extraordinary adventures that were revealed to me each of these four days. I began planning my next trip to this wondrous area.

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