Our Recommendations for Stops Along the PCH
Our goal was to go wine (ing) on the Pacific Coast Highway: wine tasting through the California Winery Region, however no wine for us. Let me explain because I’m sure you were expecting a lovely article about the California Wine Trail and picturesque ocean scenes; so were we. It didn’t happen. Travel doesn’t always work out that way, regardless if you’re a travel blogger/content creator or whatever label applies today. But I will share some tips if this is the trip you are looking for. Travel tips in what NOT to do. We also found many places we would recommend, wine-related and otherwise. Otherwise, just sit back and be amused as our tale begins.
We headed up through Ventura Beach, drove through Santa Barbara, figuring we would hit that on the way back on our return trip. We were very excited to venture up into wine country: Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez, Solvang, Pismo Beach, Santa Maria and almost to Paso Robles. However, we seemed to have a knack for arriving ten minutes after every winery closed. Sometimes we arrived at 5:10 PM. Sometimes 6:10. Even as late as 7:10 PM. Regardless of where we were, when we arrived at our next destination, we saw the “closed” sign hanging on every wooden winery door.
Recommendations & Travel Tips
Places to stay along the Pacific Coast Highway
I could entitle this section the good, the bad and the ugly. Our experience the two nights we traveled along the Pacific Coast could not have been more different. The first night was welcoming, friendly and luxurious. The second night literally had us running scared for our lives.
We took a little detour off Highway 1 up into the mountains to Solvang, California. I was excited to give JD a full taste of everything Southern California had to offer. Ironically some of our best moments were in the Valleys and not along the coast itself, although the coast offered some spectacular views.
Hotel Corque, Solvang California
The warm welcome included a roaring fire in the fireplace on our brisk, fall evening. The embroidered pillows on the chairs, tableside board games, and friendly, knowledgeable staff all made us feel at home immediately. When I mentioned that were disappointed that we arrived too late to sample the wine tastings, our gracious front desk clerk immediately shared with us a map of all of the wine tasting locations and their hours for the following morning. Just for your knowledge, Saturday wine tasting events begin at 10 AM on Friday mornings. She directed us to The Succulent Cafe for a cozy dinner where I had a glass of wine, a charcuterie board, and JD had a delicious pineapple hard cider.
And then there was the “Other” Hotel
Let’s compare this wonderful experience to our second night on our trip. First night: roll into Solvang, enchanted by the twinkling fairy lights and gracious hospitality. Our front desk clerk offered us a map of all the shops, hours, and personal recommendations. The second night we roll into town welcomed by strip clubs, bail bonds offices, abandoned, nailed up buildings, and closed streets. Ironically the second hotel we stayed at was a major stop on the California Wine Trail. Naturally, we arrived too late for the last shuttle tour because of the detours from the closed-off streets. I won’t go into it, but after requesting to change rooms for safety reasons, our other options were a small room with an interior view (but tiny and no windows) or a room with a window next to the vending room and directly across from the elevator. Did I mention the second hotel was more expensive?
We Have A Bad Feeling About This
When we walked into the hotel, we both just looked at each other and felt a bad vibe. We didn’t say a word, we just knew. We ended up requesting to change our room to a more secure location inside the hotel. Then we sat down and tried to figure out what to do. Options seemed to be a strip club, a local homecoming parade or a movie. We opted for the movie.
The movie was inside a mall, so we parked in the mall parking garage. After the movie, the main entrances to the mall were locked, so we had to go around to another exit that took us out on the opposite side of the mall.
A Very Bad Feeling
As we walked on the sidewalk outside, we had the choice to take a shortcut through an alleyway to the garage, or follow a sidewalk along a busy road on the outskirts of the mall property boundary, follow it around a bank on the corner, and into the garage. We thought we took the safe path. You ever get the feeling you are being followed? Like the hair on the back of your arms stands up? I started getting that sense, but I brushed it off. I was focused on my mobile phone, reading all of these frantic messages from my daughter that came in during the movie. Once we headed around the corner, I stopped to text her back. We were in front of the bank, on a well-lit corner on a busy street, but, it was late. It was dark. And asking JD to stop so I could answer a text was one of the stupidest things I have ever done. A white car, with dark tinted windows, came into the corner of my eye. Rolling slowly, the car pulled up alongside us. The car stopped.
Without a word, both of us took off running, running as fast as we could. JD and I didn’t look at each other, we both had that intuition to just GO, as if our lives depended on it. We ran at least three blocks, as fast as I have ever run. We didn’t stop until we reached my car. Unlocking the doors, we threw ourselves in and took off. Did we overreact? Possibly. But I will always overreact and take precautions than worry about what someone else thinks. JD and I both agreed later that if the car started to follow us, we both would have started screaming our heads off. Maybe it was nothing. But maybe our intuition was right.
No Wine (again) On The Pacific Coast Highway
When we returned to the hotel, we headed straight for the bar, where we managed to get in one drink…before they yelled Last Call.
The Trip Continues
As promised, we stopped in Santa Barbara on the way back. It was lunchtime and the hot, salty air through the sunroof had wet our tastes not for wine, but for margaritas. I was bragging to JD that I knew of the best little Mexican place in Santa Barbara. It was a favorite little spot that I had been to just a month before. Situated in a little internationally flavored courtyard, in front of a little turtle pond, Viva was my go-to spot. We weaved our way through downtown and arrived…to find it has closed for good just two weeks prior. Seriously, we just couldn’t win on this trip. We found an awesome little walk-up taco stand but then decided to treat ourselves to a little chocolate.
The Biggest Lesson in the Smallest Bite
Here is where the inspiration for this post came. As we walked into the chocolate shop in downtown Santa Barbara, the air conditioning hit us, the smell of chocolate instantly refreshed us. We each purchased this small bite, shaped in a Buddha, and sat and watched the world go by outside the world. JD said “Chocolate that is done really well, is the best thing in the world. The whole experience of eating a really good piece of chocolate is worth everything, even in a small, expensive bite. This is the best treat you can ever give yourself.” And as we looked at the bottle of wine propped up in that chocolate shop, almost mocking us, we knew that here was the lesson. Take those experiences, and savor them in small bites. Make the best of the small moments.
Other Lessons Learned
What We Learned About Travel
Start with Trip Advisor, Yelp, and all the other travel sites. Each of our hotels had great reviews. But: go beyond the surface. If I had taken time to really dive in, I would have looked at the surrounding area and the neighborhoods. I would have researched the times of the wineries and noted when they closed.
The most important lesson learned is safety first, comfort second, and always trust your intuition.
What To Take On Any Road Trip: Wine or No Wine
In 2019, I’ve road tripped from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and Utah; I’ve completed The Loneliest Road in America and now taken on the Pacific Coast Highway. To make the safest and comfortable road trip, I’ve included a list of my “must-haves”.
- Playlists. Music can help keep you focused, awake, relaxed or whatever you need to give you the extra boost. Podcasts also make a great choice for making the hours go by quickly. Shameless plug to check out the podcast me & my husband put together known as California Exploring, talking about being two Midwesterns transferred to Los Angeles. Favorite musicians: Martin Joseph if you’re a country fan like me. Looking for music to fit a classic rock kind of mood? Check out SuburbanMen’s playlist.
- Emergency kit. For any instance of earthquake, landslide, wildfire, car break down, or personal injury. Don’t forget the extra food and water.
- Little comforts. Sitting in a car for hours can wreak havoc on your body. My recommendations include a good pair of sunglasses, eye drops, kleenex, comfortable shoes, an extra pair of socks to change into if needed, and my AddARest pillow.
Ojai Vineyards Winery
Where and What We Learned About Wine on The Pacific Coast Highway
This region is known for being part of the California Wine Country. We learned that many of the vineyards as used by the same wineries, but many wineries will buy-in and buy blocks of land. This way they have control of where the grapevines are planted (higher or lower elevations, impacting climate, soil and such). They can also specify how they want the grapes to be farmed based on frequency, timing, and variety. All of these factors go into what affects the taste of the wine.
Recommendation: Our final stop and detour and where our tale ends: Ojai Valley. Yes, off the coast and back into the mountains we once again found our warm welcome in Ojai at the Ojai Vineyard. The final lesson learned: even when there’s no wine on the Pacific Coast Highway, there’s no whining. We are happy we could at least share with your our recommendations and stops along the way.