A Sip of Spring Activites

By Zachary Rosen

With spring arriving and Covid restrictions relaxing, we are all likely anxious to get outdoors and possibly have a drink while we’re at it. The newly arriving sun and lengthening days make it the perfect time of year to get outside to take in the sights along the Central Coast. Here are some springtime activities that let you delve deeper into both what you see and drink.

On a Roll

The Central Coast is known for its stunning landscapes, and a bike ride in the springtime is one of the best ways to experience them. Fortunately, there are several wheeled ways to see the area and taste local wines. The Solvang History & Wine Tasting Tour teaches guests about the area’s Danish roots along the route (with some wine to boot). This 45-minute tour takes two people in a pedicab where they can sit back and enjoy the sites and scenery as a guide bikes them around the small town’s historic past.

The Solvang History & Wine Tour lasts 45-minute and immerses guests in the origins of Solvang with some wine along the way. Photo by Pacific Coast Pro Media/Bonita Ernst

“I have been a fan of Solvang for many years before I started this business myself. So out of my own love of Solvang and interests, I developed this tour,” says owner and founder, JoWanda Dziesinski, who also runs Green Goddess pedicabs out of Santa Monica. The pedicab trip gives visitors a more in-depth understanding of Solvang than if they were only walking the fun-filled streets. “You really come away with knowing Solvang history, which is a pretty cool place,” adds JoWanda. She has often found that many people visit the popular tourist attraction without really knowing the origin and nuances of the town. Solvang was founded in 1911 by Danish immigrants. It has grown today into a Disney-like village with many of the shops and structures reflecting famous Copenhagen attractions.

Founder and pedicab tour guide, JoWanda Dziesinski, has a love for both Solvang and history. Photo by Pacific Coast Pro Media/Bonita Ernst

You’ll enjoy these downtown sites while the biking guide points out historical facts, buildings, and attractions in the area. “Like any good tour, I feel like it leaves people with a lot of ideas of what they can do after,” says JoWanda. If you’re looking for more education afterwards, there are several small museums in town. “Most of them are free or very low cost. I don’t think a lot of people know that there’s a Hans Christian Andersen Museum that’s free, and the Elverhøj Museum of History & Art is a must-see,” she says. Designed to look like an authentic 1700s Danish farmhouse, the Elverhøj Museum is donation-only and home to Danish cultural relics as well as a group of informed docents. “I’ve talked to the people in there and gone in myself. I feel like they’re encyclopedias of Solvang and Danish history,” JoWanda says. The pedicab ride ends with a tasting at the Casa Cassara Tasting Room, where the guests receive a generous sampling of their wines such as the black cherry Chianti-style blend, Sam’s Dago Red.

For those more exercise-inclined, the I Bike Santa Barbara Wine Tours gives guests a taste of the wines and vistas between Los Olivos and Solvang. The tour has been happening for about 10 years with the path looping through the Ballard Canyon AVA. This 15-mile biking tour is a unique way of enjoying both the outdoors and some of the area’s esteemed wineries. And this is the perfect time of year for it. “Right now, it’s really green and the wildflowers are coming in. This is not our busiest time to come out, but maybe our best time, because it is so cool and green and clear. You can see all the Channel Islands on the way up,” says I Bike owner and operator William Cochran.

The tour starts in the morning and lasts through the afternoon. A 14-passenger van picks up groups at the Peppertree Inn in Santa Barbara. For those staying close by, they can meet the tour group at The Brander Vineyard. Of course, biking and drinking can be dangerous. The tour eschews this by having attendees go on a bike ride first (to also work up a thirst) and then takes them on a tasting tour with the group being chauffeured in the van. If you’re not an avid biker, do not fret. The company now has a fleet of e-bikes that make riding through wine country a breeze, allowing guests to focus on the scenery over the strain of pedaling. William adds, “I just think the pace is exactly right and the e-bikes really allow just about anybody to avail themselves to the beauty of the wine country.”

The Tour

leaves from Brander around 9:45 am with small stops along the way, including a visit to Clairmont Lavender Farms where they produce essential oils and culinary lavender from the botanics grown and crafted onsite. Biking past the small wooden shop and aromatic periwinkle fields, the tour weaves its way toward Ballard Canyon with views of such vineyards as Rusack and Larner. “We have a little stop in Solvang. We’re seeing the small properties and sites on Alamo Pintado Road at the beginning of the ride and then we get into the hilly section of Ballard Canyon,” says William. “We finish out through Saarloos & Sons Windmill Ranch, which is a beautiful, hilly property. That’s where the e-bikes come in handy – coming out of the canyon.” After the ride, the tour slowly rolls back to the starting point, where the tasting can begin.

Bike past Rusack, Larner, and other vineyards along the tour.      Photos courtesy of I Bike

The tasting starts not with a glass of wine, but a sample of another local product: olive oil. The first stop is at Rancho Olivos Olive Orchard, where the group is treated to different varietals of their distinctive yet delicate oils. From there, the guests arrive at the stone courtyard of Brander Vineyard to enjoy a lunch and tasting of Brander’s wines, including their famed Sauvignon Blanc. Frederic Brander is a pioneering vintner in the area, planting the first vines in 1975, and his skill can be tasted in this grapefruit-forward white wine. The trip continues after a short van ride to Rideau Vineyard. During the bike tour, riders go past the recently-restored old adobe — a California landmark — but now they get to revisit the vineyard and sample its esteemed Rhône varietals. Rideau grows about half of their own grapes with the other half being sourced from other vineyards in the county, giving guests a taste of the AVAs around Santa Barbara. After the tour has wrapped up, the van takes the group back down to Santa Barbara around 4 pm, where they can visit the busy wine scene there. Or if staying in the area, it’s easy to continue the tasting or dine at one of the many nearby establishments, such as the famed Hitching Post.

Staying the Course

With so many open spaces, the Central Coast is lined with golf courses that embrace the splendor of this area. Springtime is the perfect moment to putt around the course with a few brews. Many golf courses have craft breweries close by, such as the sour and wild beers at the new Libertine Brewing Company tasting room near Avila Beach. Each golf course has its own regulations regarding outside alcohol being brought onto the green, so always check before bringing anything with you. Fortunately, most courses also have their own restaurants to enjoy some food and a brew or two after your round, making it easy to meander the day away at the course. “We take a lot of pride in the fact that you can genuinely spend a day there. You can come enjoy a great breakfast, play some golf (with some drinks), have lunch or dinner and drinks after your golf, and enjoy some music,” says Colby Hartje, the general manager at Avila Beach Golf Resort and Blacklake Golf Resort in Nipomo.

Ride through Happy Canyon and its vineyards along the tour. Photo by Zachary Rosen

Blacklake Golf Resort is a community of about 500 homes with 27 holes accompanying the neighborhood. The resort is surrounded by an expanse of old eucalyptus trees with a back patio that looks out onto the Lakes Nine Golf Course, featuring a recently renovated tee box. This is one of the original courses, along with the Canyons Nine; the Oaks Nine was added later in the ‘90s. “The Lakes is more open and long. The Oaks is short and tight,” says Colby, “and then the Canyon is a little bit of both.” Avila Beach is the standard 18-hole golf course; however, what is not standard are the views. Nestled along the coast, the course overlooks the ocean with an island feel and a soft breeze assisting your putt.

Alcohol can be purchased onsite at both golf courses and brought onto the green. Of course, after your game you can also relax with some food and drink at their restaurants. Avila Beach features an outdoor dining area where guests can look out at crimson skies and indigo seas. Blacklake offers soothing views of their lakes while enjoying a sandwich or snack, along with live music on the patio Saturdays and Sundays. Live performers take the patio at Avila from Thursday to Sunday. With live tunes and memorable views, plus some food and drinks with your round on the green, it really is easy to spend the day on the course.

All Aboard

There is a certain comfort with having your two feet on the ground (and especially while drinking), but sometimes it is nice to get a change of perspective. When that mood strikes, take to the sea and maybe even bring a few drinks with you. In Santa Barbara, The Land Shark is a popular choice for city and harbor tours, or can be chartered out for a more raucous time. The Land Shark is an amphibious vehicle — basically a hybrid boat-truck — that holds up to 42 people and can cruise on both the land and sea. Private charters can bring their own beverages for the party.

Photo by Zachary Rosen Nothing but beautiful views and good vibes aboard the Lil’ Toot.

For a more intimate experience, jump aboard the Lil’ Toot Water Taxi. This adorable little electric charter boat takes groups of up to six people for a ride through the harbor and along the coast of Santa Barbara. The rental is available throughout the day, but it is their Sunset Charter where the ride really shines. Food and drink can be brought aboard, so you can curate your own experience. The parent company, Celebration Cruises of Santa Barbara, also hosts a 90-minute Happy Hour cruise that takes place from mid-March until October of each year.

Their boats, including the Lil’ Toot, launch from the Santa Barbara Harbor, which is a short jaunt from State Street and just down hotel-lined Cabrillo Boulevard. Before your ride, it is easy to grab some crowlers from a local brewery or a bottle from one of the many wine tasting rooms in the area. If you’re looking to change your perspective, then definitely swing by Wylde Works before the voyage. Their State Street tasting room just hosted a grand opening celebration and has already begun to fill with live music, poetry readings, and a charming Bohemian vibe in the cozy, wood-filled space.

Photo by Zachary Rosen Happy passengers aboard the Lil’ Toot.

Husband-wife duo Dylan and Sydney Wylde are the minds behind Wylde Works and have been serving raw honey and fermented meads around the local farmers markets for years. Both of them come from impressive creative backgrounds spanning original plays, puppeteering, and visual arts, among many other things. This same artistry goes into the tasting room atmosphere, as well as each of their products — including their illustrated children’s book Can You Imagine. Before a boat trip, pick up one of their meads (which have the strength of wine), or a lighter sparkling dry-hopped mead. They also have low (1% ABV) or hard jun kombuchas spiced with blends like ginger and turmeric. The Special Dark has a touch of brown sugar balanced by spiced, earthen orange-peel aromas and a mocha roastiness that will add some warmth on a cool sunset ride aboard the Lil’ Toot.

The harbor also houses a number of eateries to grab a bite before or after your time at sea. Brophy Bros. is a local and tourist favorite, and the nearby Santa Barbara Fish Market sells fresh fish and several prepared bites, like crab cakes, that are easy for grabbing on the go. The uni from Santa Barbara is world famous and can be bought fresh from the counter here. The ginger turmeric hard jun kombucha from Wylde Works will add an herbal, tart snap to this salty, gelatinous delicacy.

Whether from the land or sea, the Central Coast offers a range of spectacular ways to see the stunning sights, local history, and even taste some local drinks along the way.