By Stacy Davies
Why You Must Go: Referred to as the “Gateway to Wine Country,” Buellton is a quiet little town on the western edge of the Santa Ynez Valley. While it’s not nearly as heavy on atmosphere as its neighbors, it does offer one of the most affordable overnight spots—Best Western Pea Soup Andersen’s Inn. The rooms are immaculate and come with a refrigerator, cable TV, Internet and private patio. They also have exceptionally comfortable beds and pristinely clean bathrooms; a continental breakfast is served each morning in the gazebo by the pool.
Where To Eat: Andersen’s world famous Pea Soup restaurant is right next door to the Inn, which means you absolutely must stop for their “Traveler’s Special”: all-you-can-eat pea soup, a bread basket and a drink, all for $8.95 (additional toppings of ham, real bacon bits, cheese and onions can be had for another $2.50). If you’re looking for something heartier in the evening, the Hitching Post Restaurant (made famous in the film Sideways) is just down the street so be sure to drop in for one of the best oakwood-fired BBQ steaks you’ll ever sink your teeth into. Also try the mouth-watering grilled artichoke appetizer, and do not leave without having a glass of the Big Circle Syrah ’06 and the Pink Dry Rose. In fact, have several.
What Else To Check Out: Take a drive down Santa Rosa Road where you’ll become positively breathless over rolling ranches of Icelandic horses and acres of blooming vineyards. Stop off at Andre Organic Lavender farm (run by one of Rona Barrett’s protégés) and pick up some lavender oils, soaps or even mulch for your garden. Then drive up to the Alma Rosa Winery (also featured in Sideways), and have a $10 wine tasting with Mel Lewis—or any of the helpful staff manning the bar—who’ll be happy to tell you all about wine clones and cuttings. Don’t worry that you know absolutely nothing about wine (it’s better than being a snob), and definitely try the ‘06 Pinot Blanc from Rita Hills, and the 667 and Mt. Eden ‘07 Pinot Noir clones. And please pet the fat cat on the floor.
Best Western Pea Soup Andersen’s Inn, 51 E. Hwy. 246, Buellton, (800) PEA-SOUP; www.peasoupandersens.com. Per-room rates from $71-$113. AAA discount.