Have you ever heard about a place via television, whether it be a tv show, movie, or the news, and formulate a picture in your head that you believe to be the reality of the landscape, community, and personality of a place? And then one day you arrive there only to find your image was WAY off, not even close, so far from reality you don’t even know where you could have come up with such a errant perception. I feel as though, we enter each city that we have any pre-knowledge of, with a set of expectations. Prejudice, if you will. Santa Barbara was one of those places I expected to be hoity-toity and unwelcoming. I also expected the landscape to look more like, well, Malibu did. Maybe I got these two places mixed up some how! They couldn’t be more different from each other, but yet in such close proximity. The quick drive to Santa Barbara was under two hours, and we had to by-pass the city to get to our campground, Rancho Oso. I didn’t know a lick about this place until the night before, and Matt purposely avoided learning anything so as to inhibit any unrealistic expectations. What I read the night before via another blog Gone With the Wynn’s, sang the praises of the beauty of this particular campground, high in the mountains and with bragging rights to a proper horse farm and a specTACular view.
The drive up the mountain to Rancho Oso seemed like forever the first time we made it, but a gorgeous ride it was. After that, the half hour to and fro downtown Santa Barbara was so delightful it felt like only 5 minutes. Once you enter the “campground” driveway, it takes a full five minute drive, around the mountainside to arrive at the gate. Since this is a Thousand Trails campground, the M.O. is to go and pick your own site! We made a couple of rounds before deciding on a spot on the third tier. This is also a well-appointed campground with two pools, hot tub, mini-golf, playground, pickle ball courts (don’t ask me, Matt knew what they were. They just looked like tennis courts to me!), and acres of farm and miles of hiking trails to explore. We immediately thought of extending our stay once we saw how awesome Rancho Oso was, and that was before we even made it downtown! When we made the trip back down the mountain to Santa Barbara, we parked a block away from the farmer’s market going on smack-dab in the middle of town on a Tuesday
The downtown is definitely new-ish in contrast to the architecture we might find in Old City (Philadelphia), but I found it very charming and appealing. We also got a very good vibe from the folks in town. Everyone was youthful, despite age disparities, healthy, smiling and friendly. WOAH! Our subsequent trip to Whole Foods proved to be my most chatty and social grocery shopping experience in my entire life. I swear to you, EVERYone talked to me or commented on Marcella’s antics or smiled. NOT what I was expecting after a week in Malibu. The positivity was contagious, and we felt immediately at ease and ready to have some fun!
There were really only two major drawbacks to our stay in Rancho Oso that are worth mentioning. First, there was Wi-Fi, but it really didn’t work. At all. We could deal with that if our mobile service functioned in the mountains. It did not. So everyday when we had to do our blogging work, we had to drive into town to do it. Mind you, this was not a terrible thing. I enjoyed my outtings, and it gave us both an opportunity to get away on our own, even if it was business related. The second drawback was more of a plight that has followed us ever since. Silverfish. Everywhere. And those gross little suckers no how to hide and hide well. We still find them when we park the RV in a new location and have to unload things that haven’t been moved in some time. Except now, they’re babies. Which means, they’re procreating somewhere in our trailer and will probably continue to do so. Yep. So, that kind of sucks.
Putting that one strike against our experience behind us, we spent the week, running, biking, shopping, and just exploring the town. The highlight for me? Wine tasting. Santa Barbara is legit wine country, boasting proximity to Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, Buellton and Solvang (where the movie Sideways takes place for the most part), town all within a half hour of the next. We only visited Los Olivos and Solvang, two very cute, yet very different towns. Los Olivos is tiny, but brimming with tasting rooms. Coquelicot winery made the coolest tasting room/yard I’ve ever seen, but then again, I didn’t make it to more than two! We were the only patrons there at 3:30 in the afternoon, but apparently, we were late. The standard hours of operation for wine country is 9-5. We didn’t know that we came so close to closing time. But we enjoyed a lovely tasting flight while Marcella ran free in the fenced in garden and played in the water fountain, while we listened to heavenly wind chimes and sipped our wine. When five o’clock rolled around we headed down the street to find another tasting room open until 6. Carhartt (Yes, the clothing company! I guess they make wine too!) tasting room was just that room, and it had a tiny back patio lit with lights and packed to the gills with other tasters. Though we spent less time here, we were already feeling warm and fuzzy from Coquelicot and had no problem striking up conversation with the other patrons. One lady was SO sweet with Marcella I kinda wanted to invite her on the road trip with us as a stand-in grandma. The whole, tiny, little town was so charming and relaxing for a moment it didn’t seem insane to want to settle down in such a sleepy, albeit oenophilic town!
Solvang, on the other hand was more touristy. There were a lot of people walking the streets snapping pictures. I had work to do, so Daddy took Cella on a walkabout while I sat in a coffee shop typing away. When it was time for me to have some fun, we headed right over to a tasting room set up in a mill kind of like the one above. Again, we were the only folks there, which I secretly love because then I can hoard the wine steward! We chatted it up with our bartender who told us his backstory and gave us the skinny on the area. He moved to Solvang from Santa Cruz a few years prior and was renting a house with his family. He confirmed that, yes, indeed, Santa Barbara and its wine villages were much friendlier than points South, but it certainly isn’t any cheaper. As much as we love it here, it isn’t really a feasible option in the near future. But maybe one day when we’re rich and famous we’ll buy a little bungalow in wine country!
Our last few days we decided to take it easy and just live life. One afternoon, while Daddy worked, Cella and I walked around downtown, spending an inordinate amount of time in a few toy stores and explored the
sites. We were a little sad to see our week end here, but ultimately decided it was time to move on. Our next stop? Marina Dunes, just north of Monterey. We had visited Monterey and Carmel on our California trip several years ago so we didn’t feel the need to over-do our visit. Just a few days by the beach would do and a nice visit to the world-famous Aquarium to give Cella something to dig her tiny little toddler feet into!