Wine Tasting – a short California tour

Wine tasting can be fun and appreciated by anyone, even if you don’t consider yourself a connoisseur (hi, have you met us?).  Choosing wineries to visit might seem easy, until you get to Napa, and turns out there are hundreds.  Even if you are a champ and hit 6 tastings per day, that’s still only 42 in a week – barely halfway there.

So how to decide? We tried to choose wineries that were organic or practiced more sustainable growing methods, but even this proved challenging.  In the end, TripAdvisor was our best guide.

Wineries range from simple tasting rooms to full-blown tours, and can be over $100 and require advance reservation. Rolling in late, as usual, we ended up using TripAdvisor, and then picking wineries with tastings under $15 and that were open past 4pm.  In general, it served us well.

Lodging: We love camping, especially in the west (no bugs, warm, dry, sounds pretty lame I know), and it is almost always the most cost-effective way to go.  On this trip, it did not quite work out that way, and here is the scoop:

* July = peak camping season.  With our loosy-goosy schedule, finding a campsite last
minute was not an option.  In fact, most sites were books 2 months out.  We could
show up late in the afternoon and hope to get lucky at a first-come-first-serve, but
this leads us to our next issue:

* Camping + wineries = lots of driving.  Turns out the wine industry attracts a lot of
people who have never seen a real tent before, let alone pit toilet (heaven forbid), so
rather than have numerous campgrounds near by, there are numerous $600+/night
swanky hotel rooms (can we please save that for Europe?! And NO Solvang doesn’t
count!).  Thus, if you want to camp, you might be driving up to 30 miles each way – not
my game after wine tasting all day!

Beckman Vineyards

This vineyard had a lot of potential, but it really was not very good.  The servers were bored, the wine barely passable, and the sprinklers came on during the “tasting” as we sat on uncomfortable metal furniture.
Location: Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Barbara County, CA

Wine quality:  3/10          Atmosphere:   6/10             Vibe:  3/10            Overall value:  1/10


Kalyra Winery

We found this winery from a great blog we enjoy reading (, and it was a great experience.  The honeyed wine is really sweet but intriguing and quite good.  Everyone working there was very pleasant and well versed on each wine in the tasting.  Highly recommended!
Location: Santa Ynez, Santa Barbara County, CA

Wine quality:  8/10        Atmosphere:   10/10           Vibe:  10/10         Overall value: 10/10


Olive Hill Farms


Not your expected wine tasting, but since we did it, and it was fantastic, we mention it here: olive oils in clever flavors such as habenero and jalapeno, of which we bought several.   If ever in Los Olivos, be sure to stop here.
Location: Los Olivos, Santa Barbara County, CA

Sarloo Sons

A quaint restaurant and wine tasting room, with a great outdoor seating area, complete with lovely shade trees and a water fountain.  Good selection of whites and reds.
Location: Los Olivos, Santa Barbara County, CA

Wine quality:  8/10        Atmosphere:   10/10          Vibe:  10/10          Overall value: 9/10

O’Brien Estate Winery – our overall winner!

This was the FULL experience, and without the expensive price tag usually found in Napa.  We had a fantastic tasting and a tour from the knowledgeable and friendly staff.
Location: Napa Valley, CA

Wine quality:  9/10          Atmosphere:   10/10           Vibe:  10/10        Overall value: 10/10

Artesa Winery

This winery was very nice, and like the name implies, artsy.  A LOT of money went into the super fancy landscaping, fountains, grounds, and tasting rooms.  All we could think was, how much of this cost is passed along to us in the form of wine bottles?  Probably a good amount.  However, due to the volume that this winery does, the prices were not too outrageous (as long as you dont want that $65 tour…).  Some of their red blends, which are purchased grapes from numerous vineyards and mixed to perfection, were truly great.  I never thought I would buy a $70 bottle of wine, but, when in Rome (Napa?).
Location: Napa Valley, CA

Wine quality:  9/10          Atmosphere:   10/10             Vibe:  7/10        Overall value: 6/10


This trip was a cobination wine tasting, hiking, and botany learning expose.  Our trip details:
(map from google here)

Nights 1 and 2:  Solvang Gardens Lodge, Solvang, CA ($180 weekend, $160 weekday).
Night 3: Fernwood Campground, Big Sur, CA ($60/night)
Night 4: Berkeley, CA, with friends.
Night 5: Best Western Inn, Napa, CA.  ($150/night – great place and value)
Night 6: Mill Valley Inn, Mill Valley, CA. ($200/night)
Nights 7-8: Lake Tahoe, with friends.
Night 9: South Lake Tahoe, America’s Best Value Inn ($100/night – great place and value)
Night 10: Big Bear Frontier Cabins, Big Bear Lake, CA ($80/night)


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