Solvang + A Hidden Ranch in San Luis Obispo

A few Saturdays ago, I met up with an old culinary school friend of mine in Solvang, California. Jamie owns Calistoga Olive Oil Company (THE BEST OLIVE OIL I'VE EVER HAD) and was down south cosponsoring a pretty cool organization, Destination Races. I've only paid to run a race once in my life (I don't fully grasp the idea of paying to run), but the events that DR hosts are pretty unique. My sister, Jackie, joined me for the day trip since neither of us have visited Solvang in years. 

You may have heard of Solvang, (Danish for "Sunny Field"), a little Danish city nesstled in the Santa Ynez Valley, about 40 minutes inland from Santa Barbara. Established in 1911 by Danes as a colony to escape harsh midwestern winters, the city has ordinances to preserve its original characteristics. Many of the building facades reflect traditional Danish styles and the streets are lined with windmills, pastry shops, restaurants and other mom-and-pop merchants. It's an absolute trip to see.

solvang

Aebleskivers/Ebleskivers are by far the most famous Solvang food item. They are these light and fluffy, spherical pancakes served with lingonberry jelly and powdered sugar. I've heard people compare them to jelly doughnuts but that's totally inaccurate. They're not fried and are made with pancake batter.

A few outlets serve them, but we tried this place:

solvang

To achieve their shape, you need a special pan. Don't worry, every store sells them.

Aebelskiver makers also use chopsticks to flip and grip them. They're sold everywhere too. 

solvang

There's a park in town square that hosted Destination Race's Beer Garden. This is one of the reasons I'd choose DR over other running organizations...they're all about beautiful scenery, music, great food, booze.... the only things that could get me to pay to run. 

solvang

Plus, they brought in some amazing sponsors (this guy).

solvang
solvang
solvang

After grabbing a bite and walking around town, we all headed to Fess Parker Winery in Los Olivos for the after-party. This is where modern technology failed. After twice wrong GPS directions, going wayyyyy further in-valley than we had any business to be, no cell reception and a dying phone, my sister and I lost contact with Jamie. 

solvang

I immediately plugged my dead phone into the wall to call Jamie. He made the same mistake as us, but overshot Fess Parker by so much that he ended up at the 101, and decided to head back up to Napa. So we stayed for a tasting. 

The wines were very drinkable and the room was gorgeous. It's truly everything you'd want from a winery tasting room, so add Fess Parker to your list if you're ever in the area. You know when a place just gives you good vibes? *This place*

solvang

The after-party that we missed seemed to be wrapping up, so we went over to ask if it was indeed the after-party we missed. It was.

solvang
solvang

The grounds were bought out for a wedding so it was time to skedaddle.

solvang

We stood there taking in the view, when some older guy passed us on his way out. He said something and we commented on how we were supposed to be at the party, but everything went wrong, so we missed it.

He said, "well we're all heading to the VIP after-after-party and you are now invited to that. Just follow the group of us." My sister and I consulted, and figured Los Olivos would be a stunning place to be murdered if that so happened to be the direction of accepting his invitation.

solvang

We followed two cars for about 20 minutes, traversing canyons, up steep unmarked dirt roads and through oak tree lined hills to arrive at a hidden ranch, tucked away on acres and acres of the most beautiful land you can imagine. My pictures don't do it justice.

We had arrived at Refugio Ranch.

solvang

As we pulled up the dirt driveway, Jackie and I got nervous because 1) it didn't look like there were a ton of people 2) everyone was a lot older than us. Plus, they all seemed to know each other, and well, we were the two stray dogs wandering in.

los olivos

We stepped on the porch to be greeted by glasses of Malvasia Bianca, the beginning sips to a tasting hosted by the owners at their private ranch. (I didn't realize we were in San Luis Obispo until I just looked at the wine bottle we bought). There's also a tasting room available to the public in downtown Los Olivos.

I can't tell to you how welcoming, friendly, sweet, interesting, funny, smart and kind everyone was. Even when we explained our very random and reaching connection to the whole event, they were still all of those things. No awkwardness whatsoever–just really good people. 

los olivos

When asked if we were hungry, my sister and I politely declined since no one else was eating, even though we were starving. Then, the man who originally invited us, chimed in: "Don't be silly, they missed the after-party, they are starving!"

So we were presented with small plates of smoked lamb shoulder, grilled asparagus, white beans and avocado mashed with fava beans. It was mind-stampingly extraordinary and I kid you not when I say that it is put on record as one of the most incredible food experiences I've had. You can't plan times like that.

solvang

As we chatted with some of the others there, we of course explained why the heck we were so randomly meeting them and casually asked who Matt–the man who invited us–was. He was the owner of the whole event. 

Now I'm convinced that I will pay money to run. Makes sense that someone so cool and kind was behind the whole thing.

That's Matt in the orange below. Jackie's to the right of him. 

los olivos
solvang
los olivos
los olivos

Needless to say, it was a great day trip with an amazing ending. As a city person, it's so easy to become disenchanted with humanity, but sometimes a day in the country and a little spontaneity is all you need. 

solvang