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California vacation

View from the Pacific Coast Highway (Photo: California Travel & Tourism Commission)

By Ari Bendersky

I’ve been taking you on a virtual California vacation, with articles about wine country in various parts of the state. I started in the north (Beyond Napa … ); then moved to central California (Monterey, Paso Robles … ). Now, in this third and final story, I offer tips for wine tasting on a Southern California vacation.

As you head south along Pacific Coast Highway, you’ll notice things start to get a little lighter. The air feels warmer and you’ll notice a change in the overall vibe. Southern California is a different world from the north — and you’ll see this in the wine as much as in the people.

Santa Barbara County
As soon as you enter Santa Barbara you’ll notice the style of architecture brings this city together. Spanish style is the norm throughout the area, and you’ll fall in love with the Colonial architecture.

Santa Barbara is quaint and reserved compared to Los Angeles, and you’ll appreciate being able to walk around on a California vacation here in relative quiet. Many of the Santa Barbara hotel offerings are mid- to high-end, especially if you wish to luxuriate at the Bacara Resort & Spa, north of the city en route to wine country. Or stay in town at either the Inn of the Spanish Garden or the Canary Hotel, both boutique-style Santa Barbara hotels with modern amenities and access to fabulous local restaurants and shops.

California vacation

Vineyards at Cambria Winery (Photo: Cambria Winery)

But when you’re ready to explore wine country, know that there are a handful of areas to look into, including Lompoc, Santa Ynez, Los Olivos and Solvang. The area produces a range of grapes and is known for robust Chardonnay and crisp Sauvignon Blanc, not to mention some fruit-filled Pinot Noir. To get a good cross section during your California vacation, map out a trip that includes stops at Au Bon Climat, Cambria,Fess Parker and Gainey. One of my favorites is Beckmen Vineyards, which produces many Rhone varietals (like Syrah, Grenache and Marsanne), and does so 100 percent biodynamically. For a real treat, call ahead and schedule a private tasting on Friday or Saturday with Pali Wine Co. This unique winery was started by a group of friends and only produces Pinot Noir, where grapes are sourced from vineyards throughout the West Coast.


California vacation

Callaway Vineyards (Photo by Robert Holmes/California Travel & Tourism Commission)

Plan enough time during your California vacation to visit Temecula, situated about midway between Los Angeles and San Diego, but a ways inland. Arid and hot, this area produces some beautiful wines, many of which can be purchased only at the wineries. The vast landscapes make for beautiful drives down the Rancho California Freeway, and you can see the land go on for miles from a hot air balloon. You can hike Mt. Palomar and stay at Warner Springs Ranch in your own California-style casita. Closer to the action, you can camp out at the Temecula Creek Inn or the modern Pechanga Resort & Casino. Of the more than 25 area wineries, I suggest visiting the tasting rooms at the award-winning Callaway Winery, “the village of dreams” at Leonesse Cellars and Thornton, known for sparkling wines and its café.

However you plan to spend your California vacation, the Sunshine State has a lot to offer wine lovers. You just have to be patient; there’s a lot of wine to taste!

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Ari Bendersky, the co-creator of foodie the app, is a Chicago-based food, wine, music and lifestyle journalist whose work has appeared in theNew York Times,, the Associated Press, Huffington Post, Time Out Chicago, and the Chicago Tribune. He was also the editor in chief of UR Chicago magazine.

Tagged: California

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