A Road Trip to Santa Barbara County Wine Country

If you happened to see the 2004 Academy Award nominated comedy-drama Sideways, you have already taken a road trip to Santa Barbara County wine country–the perfect climate for producing the red varietal, Pinot Noir.


We visited this beautiful region just a couple of weeks ago and I’m ready to return. This time I’ll take you with me.

You may remember that first we stopped to give Zena a Pacific Ocean splash at a wonderfully hospitable dog beach in Santa Barbara.


Do you recognize this tunnel?


Thirty-three miles northwest of Santa Barbara, the Gaviota Tunnel takes the northbound lanes of U.S. Route 101–El Camino Real–through a narrow canyon of the Gaviota Pass. This is where I would ordinarily begin to fill in how the Pass is a California Historical Landmark because of actions associated with the Mexican-American War on Christmas Day 1846–but I’ll hold back in favor of some popular culture.

Instead I’ll share the tunnel’s connection to the movie The Graduate. Dustin Hoffman, in his role as Benjamin Braddock, drives his Alfa Romeo Spider south through this tunnel to Santa Barbara; however, it is really going the wrong direction, since the tunnel only takes traffic from Santa Barbara north.

I always look forward to sharing vistas of beautiful open countryside, so while Jay drove, I snapped photos through a dirty windshield.

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I think we’ll spend a little time enjoying the view. We can stop at the wineries later.

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We spent our long weekend in the city of Lompoc, pronounced LOM-POKE, named from a Chumash word “Lum Poc,” which means “stagnant waters” or “lagoon”–oh dear. Here I go again.

But I can’t resist just one more interesting bit of historical trivia.

After the United States gained control of California, portions of Rancho Lompoc were sold to the Lompoc Valley Land Company and the present-day Lompoc was established as a temperance colony.

How’s that for irony?

Santa Barbara County, with its patchwork of microclimates and rolling hills, is now home to over 100 wineries and tasting rooms.

The beautiful belt of fog is in part responsible for the perfect Pinot Noir growing conditions.


But I’m getting ahead of myself. We’ll follow the wine trail next time. And for me, there will be many more “next times.” I love the bucolic scenery, and Zena needs another romp in the Pacific.


68 thoughts on “A Road Trip to Santa Barbara County Wine Country

    1. There is something so fresh about watching a playful dog just bounding through the waves! Sheer abandon! If only we could access that joy as readily, we’d all be so much lighter, wouldn’t we? ox

  1. I just loved that movie. It was so funny! As well as being funny, I totally fell in love with the scenery and have, ever since, wanted to visit the region. I hope you survived the recent earthquake xx

    1. Sideways really was a funny movie, Charlie. I have been wanting to see it again. You’ll have to perhaps see if your sister has spent any time up that way. It’s only a couple of hours north of Los Angeles. It would give her some relief when the city gets to be too much! Yes, the earthquake was a good little shaker. I was just about ready to go to work and then BOOM! Thank you for asking, my friend. ox

    1. Oh you could do some fabulous biking there, Colleen. It would be worth the effort. There are long stretches of open road and the climate is just about perfect. Now that’s an idea! (for you, not me). LOL!

  2. I love this area! Not only did I watch the movie, Sideways, but I downloaded a guide called, “the Sideways tour” which took us to every winery they hit! Gorgeous area and fantastic wines!

    1. Ah, the Sideways tour! I’ve heard of that. How fun is that. We went to the winery that opens the movie, but the Sanford family sold their name and opened another winery in that original winery. I remembered the bookcase and a window. LOL! I am so glad you know the region and can attest to how special it is. Maybe next time I’ll access that guide. That would be a hoot. 🙂

      1. It’s basically a self-guided tour. You just download a guide that points out the various stops (wineries, restaurants, the place with the miniature horses :-), etc.). It was a hoot! And yes, even when I did it 7.5 years ago, the Sanford’s had already sold. So much fun!

    1. I enjoy comparing the climates of the different wine regions and visiting the wineries to see how each chooses to market their wines. California is so large there are at least four specific wine regions, and each is very different. I’m not at all knowledgeable about the wines, but I do enjoy learning about the regions themselves. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Kathy. All is well! I had never heard of a temperance colony either. In fact, when I read this fact I immediately thought I must learn more. But the irony of it now being a well-respected wine region really makes me smile. I am eager to return to the dog beach just to watch Zena play. She was so happy it was completely infectious! Hope you’re doing well, too. 🙂

    1. Some cold winter perhaps you can find a way to spend a couple of weeks in this beautiful part of California.:-) It is nice and warm, but right now, we don’t have as much green as some years. But I’m not complaining. LOL!

    1. Thank you for the compliment, Lori. I hope to be sharing more from the wineries themselves. We enjoyed Lompoc so much, and that’s a town I had never really known much about! You know, all of my family, including my parents, live so close that it’s a little hard for me to envision moving north, but I must say we’ve talked about it. You never know… 🙂

  3. Looks like a wonderful trip, and I particularly enjoy the pictures of Zena. I’m sure my dogs would love to be at that dog beach now, while I wouldn’t mind touring the wineries! Karen

    1. The coastal wineries are really fun to visit, Karen. Each is unique and has its own character. We are hoping to get back up to the dog beach soon, even if it’s just for a little dog-play and a return home. It’s worth the drive. Zena had fun, and I was buoyed by watching her run and play with such abandonment! Thank you for stopping by. 🙂

  4. I suspect that the Pacific is somewhat cleaner than the Vale of Health pond on Hampstead Heath that the dogs love to romp in 😉 You have such wonderful countryside close by! As for Santa Barbara County Wine, I have tried some at a wine show in England and they were very pleasant. I really like some of the wines that come from Oregon but they are rare and somewhat expensive over here.

    1. I will admit I’m not very knowledgeable about wine, but I really enjoy learning about the different regions and what is involved in growing the grapes. With our changing climate, and of course, the current drought, there is so much to learn about how vintners are adapting their process. I can’t say that I’ve tried Oregon wine, but I would suspect the very favorable climate would produce good grapes. Great suggestion–I’m going to find some and give it a try. 🙂 Thank you, Martin.

  5. Hello, Cheerio

    I loved everything about wine country and that movie Sideways. I also really enjoyed this write up, the photos are great. Makes me want to head out to CA very soon. 🙂

    1. How nice to have you stop by and share, Cheerio! I hope at some point you will find a way to visit California. The wine country regions are really worth seeing. Thank you for the compliment. 🙂

  6. Ironic “fer sure” Debra.
    What wonderful scenery and photos we are treated to via your windshield. Hehehe Tom and I do the same thing; whoever rides shotgun has a camera in hand. I did not know that Pinot Noir needs fog as a part of its growing. A nice little tidbit to bring to a dinner party.
    Now, I need to see “The Graduate” – again. The first time I saw it was summer; my sister, cousin Ted, and I went to the Mercury Theater to watch it together. Gosh, how old memories flood back.

    1. The fog is instrumental in keeping the right temperature for the pinot grapes, Penny. I am far from really “informed” about how it all works together, but I picked up on that much while talking to people at the wineries. There is a very specific microclimate to that part of the county. And it really is a particularly peaceful and beautiful place. More than half the world’s flower seeds are grown in the fields around Lompoc. I’ll need to go back later in the spring and see what I can find there. 🙂 Fun memories of seeing the Graduate with your sister and cousin! We won’t mention how long ago that was, will we! LOL!

  7. California is such a jaw-dropping place. I’ve never been to this area, Debra, and I know I would love it – for the hiking and scenery as much as for the wine. Pinot Noir is one of the few reds MTM and I can agree upon. He’s more of a white man, and I like big reds.

    1. You really honor me with reading this while you’re so involved in your big effort, my friend. I know you’ll find a way to enjoy these coastal wine regions at some point. I like Pinot Noir, too, but must admit I hadn’t paid much attention to the varietal until I saw Sideways. Until then I don’t think I knew what it was. I think that’s funny. 🙂

  8. Such beautiful countryside, Debra. You did well snapping shots through the windshield of a moving car. Very well. I bet that area saw a big influx of tourists once “Sideways” was shown. Love seeing Zena at the beach. Max, too, loves going into the water and doggy beach is a favorite place for me to take him.

    1. There are very few beach areas where we can take Zena off leash. I think that’s one reason we were so thrilled with the Santa Barbara trip. We’re definitely committing to finding her more opportunities, though, even if not convenient. I honestly think watching the dogs play in the water is a delightful way to refresh ourselves, too. Such abandon! I hope it won’t be too long before you and Max can begin your Saturday Farmer’s Market trips, too! I heard the Chicago area had more snow today! My gosh! The winter that will not end, huh? This is a winter for the record books, I think. I hope you have a good weekend, whatever the weather, John. 🙂

    1. Aren’t we glad we live so close to these wonderful spots, Janine? I think we are going to try to travel up that way more often,even if it’s just for the day! It definitely gives me a boost! 🙂 Hope you’re doing well…you haven’t posted recently, which hopefully just means you’ve been very busy! ox

    1. The entirety of Santa Barbara County would really be worth your travel effort, Meg. You would find it very enjoyable from the vineyards to the coastal Pacific. If you ever get serious about visiting, do let me know. I’d be glad to give a few “hints” at the areas I think are must-sees. 🙂 Plan to come in winter…it never gets too cold or too hot there.

  9. dandyknife

    Have just read through the comments to see if anyone had the same question I did and whether you’d answered it, so…
    HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!! Wishing you showers of blessings and a good inch of rain.

    Now for the question: What are those trees whose trunks look like bare legs in slippers?

    1. Thank ou for the birthday wish. I really appreciate it. 🙂 And the trees! I’m so amused that you asked…no one else did, as you can see. And I have been trying for two weeks to get that answer. I think that next time we visit Lompoc, and we will fairly soon, I’m going to find someone local who can help me! It’s likely the trees will be leafed out, and that may help me identify them. I’m so intrigued that you asked, since I really wanted to know, too. I am thinking of posting about a few little things I need answers to, and see if someone else can fill in the blanks! I’ve done that before and it’s wonderful to get responses and find that others hold the key to my questions. 🙂 I like you’re description, trunks “like bare legs in slippers.” That’s a great observation.

  10. Nice observation on the South and North thing. Ow the name Cachuma is also water related, Aquitsumu meaning water sign.;) I didn’t like Sideway. I just didn’t get the story, or perhaps just can’t relate. Gorgeous pics esp. of the fog. It does have some of the best mountain-fog views there.

    1. Sideways wasn’t a movie that everyone appreciated. I enjoyed it, but I haven’t seen it in years. We are now big Lompoc fans. I’ve been to Solvang and Buellton since I was a child, but Lompoc is a whole new area for us to explore. 🙂

    1. I’m so glad you stopped by and caught the beauty of Santa Barbara County, Kate. It’s close to “home” yet a world away. One of those really wonderful spots. I hope to post soon about the wineries. They were such a fun destination! 🙂

  11. Isn’t it nice how a couple of days away can seem lot a much longer vacation when it is all about relaxation, good food and the being with the one you love.

  12. Dear Debra, California is so big and that, I think, explains part of its allure for tourists from near and far. I so enjoy your “history” postings about California but I feel equally at home when you simply take us meandering through the mountains and valleys and along the roadways of the state. Thank you. Peace.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind thoughts, Dee. I’m really so pleased that you enjoy “tagging along” with my travel meanderings. I don’t travel too far from home, but I always enjoy wherever I go. And that I can share my enthusiasm with you pleases me so much. I always enjoy hearing from you. ox

  13. I think we were on that highway with the beautiful vistas on our way to the Santa Barbara airport from to the north … and of course I look forward to your post about wine country, so it appears I’ve returned in the nick of time. …. well, trying to get myself back into the swing. Thanks for dropping for the Exploring series during my absence.

    1. I am glad you didn’t miss the road trip to Lompoc and Santa Barbara County, Frank. As soon as I can find some breathing room I’ll add in a little bit more about the wineries we visited. I’m sure you’re in a blur of activity getting settled into your new home. That you’ve managed to keep up with any of the blogging at all is pretty impressive! 🙂

  14. Pingback: The Sta. Rita Hills– a special part of Santa Barbara County Wine Country | breathelighter

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