A two-day visit to Buellton, CA, revealed to me why you should stop and explore this gem of an overlooked community in the Santa Ynez Valley.
For many travelers, Buellton, California, is just a town you go by on Highway 101, 25 miles north of Santa Barbara. However, a two-day visit to this town, which is two miles by two miles, revealed to me why you should stop and explore this community in the Santa Ynez Valley. Buellton is not just another stop along the way—discover what this gem on California’s Central Coast has to offer.
Arrival in Buellton, CA
I checked into the newly remodeled Pea Soup Andersen Inn when I arrived in Buellton, CA. I opened the door and smiled as a spacious, immaculately clean room greeted me. There was a great view of the heated pool and the enclosed kiosk-like structure, where breakfast is served. I can attest that the bed was comfy, but its linens also made it difficult to get on my way in the mornings.
Pro Tip: The refrigerator was a great asset, and the microwave comes in very handy to warm the oh-so-good Danish pastries they serve for breakfast.
Satisfying the Hunger Bug
My 6.5-hour drive from Palm Springs left me with a ravenous appetite. Thankfully, Discover Buellton, recommended A.J. Spurs, my first stop.
The minute I parked my car in the large parking lot of A.J. Spurs, I knew I was in for a unique experience. I was escorted to my dining spot, in front of a fireplace. Over my head was a gigantic taxidermy buffalo head, who thankfully stared across the dining room, not down on me.
Since A.J. Spurs is known for its barbecue ribs, I placed my order with this in mind. Quickly, a cast-iron pot of hearty beef vegetable soup arrived. Then a salad with amazing bleu cheese dressing and a gigantic rack of ribs—finger-licking good as revealed by all the wet wipes I had piled high. A childhood favorite of root beer float was included with the meal for dessert.
Slow Down and Relax in Santa Ynez Botanic Garden
The Santa Ynez Botanic Garden is on the outskirts of town and was created as an extension of the River View Park. Two acres were developed as a habitat for the endangered Western Willow Fly Catcher, a bird known to nest along the nearby Santa Ynez River. The garden is now maintained by local citizens. Volunteers of all ages help assure the natural fauna continues to thrive. For example, California poppies were blooming, signs of a healthy environment, where future generations can learn about the watershed and its living organisms.
The Wishing Tree is a lovely touch, decorated with small brown slips of paper containing visitors’ wishes. Yes, I have one there now, too.
DorWood Distillery Welcomes Visitors in Buellton, CA
This family-owned DorWood Distillery is the perfect place to learn about the fermentation and distilling process to make liquor. As a neophyte in this industry, I was honored to meet Jay, a hands-on owner of this small but very up-to-date operation. Jay is still beaming about the new system that has just been installed, which will significantly enhance the ability to produce more quality liquors.
There is a homey, tasting room attached to the distillery. After a tour that Jay happily gives every visitor, you can sip samples of his liquor. I am now the owner of a bottle of his limoncello.
Pro Tip: By California law, you will only be able to sip a total of 1.5 ounces of liquor.
Ostrich Land a Delight for the Whole Family
Ostrich Land is an ideal place to take a family since there is something for everyone. However, don’t expect the ostriches to welcome you. The staff even confirms their reputation of being somewhat mean; although, it is fun watching them roam in the flat grass pastures. There is even a therapy pen where abused or no-longer-wanted ostriches are held to recover and acclimate to a new, healthy, and safe environment.
There is so much to learn about these magnificent birds. For example, they lay eggs every one to three days. Each ostrich egg is the equivalent of 18 regular chicken eggs.
The emus, on the other hand, are happy to have you pet them, and somehow know you want to take their photos. Be sure to have your camera ready, for you will be amazed at how fast they clean their plate. You can feed both the ostriches and emus with a dish provided with your admission fee.
Pro Tip: Do not wear rings or sparkling fingernail polish. Talk about animals going for shiny objects—you will quickly become a target!
Avenue of Flags Marks Your Arrival at Buellton, CA
At one time, Highway 101 went through the center of Buellton. However, the decision was made to move the highway a short distance away. The town no longer needed six lanes of traffic in the retail area. A city commission was formed, and Avenue of Flags, a beautiful urban city project, resulted in two of the lanes being transformed into a boulevard.
Today, this boulevard has an art installation—numerous bronze statues of individuals saluting the American flag. American flags fly on giant poles down the entire boulevard, which caused a little lump in my throat.
Mendenhall Museum is Filled with Nostalgia
You may have heard of the term “American picker.” A picker goes out across the United States looking for warehouses and garages stacked with stuff. Then the picker digs for items that might add to a personal collection or might go into a salvage shop.
It is believed Jack Mendenhall might have been the first American picker. After selling his gas station, he got in his truck and hunted for gasoline memorabilia. Fifty years later, his son and wife are the guardians of this unique Mendenhall Museum, which fills 15 garage-size rooms. Signs are displayed on the ceilings, and their glass globes—400 of them displayed though they own 600—are on secure ledges around most rooms. Items are displayed everywhere, including in their family room.
The Mendenhall Museum is the home of the Dry Lakes Racing Hall of Fame—the distinguished dry lake car racers, their vehicles, and the manufacturers. Thus, many priceless displayed objects pay homage to this sport.
Pro Tip: You have to make an appointment to see this museum. It is immaculate, and even after two hours, you might not feel as if you have taken in everything this museum offers.
Original antique gas pumps, including one of the rare coin-operated ones, are displayed in a room that has hosted many meetings. The space is also available to rent.
Dining in Buellton, CA
Of course, you have to have the famous pea soup at the internationally known Pea Soup Andersen’s Restaurant. This vegetarian soup can only be described with one word—sublime. A must-stop when you come to Buellton.
Hungry for a hamburger? Stop at the Hitching Post, which is open Wednesday through Sunday. Order a side of bacon for your fabulous wood-fire-cooked burger—and don’t forget the fries.
Perfect Stop at the End of the Day
The lounge at the Sideways Inn makes the perfect place for a nightcap. The hotel became famous because of the movie Sideways—the tale of two men’s wine tasting and golfing adventure during a week-long bachelor trip through the famous Santa Ynez Valley.
Be sure to strike up conversations with locals while sipping your cocktail. I’m betting they will share more places and attractions you didn’t discover on this visit to Buellton. This small community has much more to offer than first meets the eye. Here’s to it becoming a vacation destination in its own right.
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Stop in Buellton, CA When Traveling Highway 101
More than likely, you too, will be surprised what is happening in this town that was previously just a name on the map. When you think of Buellton, CA, the saying “small, but mighty” comes to mind. I met wonderful people who graciously shared the attributes of this community that is awakening and welcoming visitors to stop and relax with them over a glass of wine. Take time to explore the hidden gem of the Santa Ynez Valley. I am trusting you, too, will become enamored with this place called Buellton.
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Buellton, CA: Gem of the Santa Ynez Valley