We recently spent some time in the Santa Ynez Valley for our first weekend getaway since moving to California! I had such fun exploring the area and will be sharing our experiences in a series of three blog posts. I’m starting today with an overview of Buellton, California along with a recipe for Beer Mac and Cheese inspired by our brewery visits.
Buellton is a small town with a population currently around 5,000 nestled in the Santa Ynez Valley at the base of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA. Located at the intersection of US Highway 101 and State Route 246, it is about 44 miles northwest of Santa Barbara and 140 miles from Los Angeles. It became an incorporated city on February 1, 1992 and is perhaps best known from the movie Sideways (I did things a little backwards here and didn’t actually see the movie until after the trip was planned).
Despite its small size, Buellton has plenty to see with local distilleries, wineries (over 200 wineries and tasting rooms can be found in Santa Barbara County), breweries, a variety of restaurants, and special events throughout the year. For us, it was the perfect spot to spend the night and relax while also being close to the surrounding towns in the Santa Ynez Valley.
We stayed at the Sideways Inn just off of US Highway 101 at 114 E Highway 246. Formerly a Days Inn, the hotel was rebranded following the success of Sideways. Only 3 1/2 miles from Solvang and 9 1/2 miles from Los Olivos, it was the perfect home base for the weekend. Evan was a huge fan of the windmill in the front (there are also a few in Solvang). This was his first time seeing windmills since our trip to Amsterdam in 2016.
We stayed in a fairly spacious room with two queen beds, cable TV, WIFI, a mini fridge, and microwave. The rooms have been renovated to highlight the style of the California Central Coast and Santa Ynez Valley. I do wish the water pressure for the shower had been a bit higher.
We filled out a menu card for the complimentary breakfast daily and it was brought to our door in the morning at a set time. We usually ate breakfast at a bakery in the mornings, but this was perfect to tide Evan and Claire over while I was finishing getting ready for the day. They enjoyed eating on the balcony overlooking the pool even though it was still a bit chilly.
In addition to sharing the amenities with the next door Flying Flags RV Resort & Campground (pools, bocce ball courts, and a dog park), Sideways Inn also features an outdoor heated pool, fire pit, and the Sideways Lounge.
We were incredibly lucky during our three day trip in January. There was rain the weekend before and the weekend after. Even though it was sunny and in the 70s˚F during the day, the temperature did dip down into the low 40s in the evenings. The kids were still both insistent on swimming in the outdoor (heated) pool. They lasted about 20 minutes before they were ready to come in and dry off.
Ostrichland USA technically has a Solvang address (which I will be featuring soon) at 610 E Highway 246, but is just on the outskirts of Buellton between the two towns so I am including it in this post.
Open year-round from 9 am to dusk, the current entrance fee (2019) is $5 for adults and $2 for children 12 and under with food an additional $1 per dish. We spent about 45 minutes here.
Home to 50 ostriches and emus, Ostrichland USA offers the opportunity to see these animals up close and even (carefully) feed them.
This was the absolute highlight of the trip for Evan. Claire wasn’t too sure about the large birds and kept her distance, but Evan is already asking when we can go back for another visit. For the rest of our weekend, he loved pointing out the ostriches as we drove between Buellton and Solvang.
The ostriches can get a bit aggressive during feeding, so Chad held the dustpan (with both hands and fingers firmly on the handle) for that part. On busy days, be sure to visit earlier in the morning if you want a chance to feed the birds. They will stop selling food after a certain point on high traffic days to avoid overfeeding.
We learned quite a bit about ostriches with facts posted such as:
- Native to Africa, adult ostriches grow to be 8-9 feet tall and weigh between 250-350 pounds. They live up to 75 years.
- They are the largest and fastest birds with sustained speeds of 35 mph and bursts up to 45 mph.
- Ostriches are the only birds with 2 toes (emus have 3).
- They have no teeth, but swallow pebbles and sand to help grind their food.
- The average female (hen) lays 40-60 eggs per season. Females are lighter in color so they blend in with the sand better when sitting on the eggs during the day. The darker feathered males sit on the eggs at night.
- They DO NOT bury their heads in the sand.
- Ostrich farming first started in South Africa in 1857.
The emus were more docile and Evan was much more comfortable feeding them. The second largest living bird, Emus are native to Australia. They reach up to 6 ft in height and weigh 66-121 pounds.
Check out the gift shop on the way out for ostrich and emu-themed objects. There are even ostrich eggs for sale (in the corner of the gift shop are also a few eggs signed by celebrities). One ostrich egg holds the equivalent of up to 2 dozen chicken eggs for one very large omelet. Emu eggs are also available in the winter and spring (10-12 chicken eggs).
Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.
During the day we visited wineries in Los Olivos and Solvang for me, so we spent each evening in a brewery for Chad. The first was Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. at 45 Industrial Way. Other taprooms are located in Arroyo Grande, Los Olivos, Santa Barbara, and Westlake Village.
Open from 11 am to 9 pm daily, the taproom in Buellton is family friendly with indoor and outdoor seating. There is even a brew deck overlooking the brewing facility. We opted to sit upstairs purely because the kids were fascinated with the Rampage arcade game.
Chad tried a couple of beer flights. The Danish Red Lager was his favorite. We also enjoyed the Dietenhofer Bavarian Beer Pretzel, Mac and Cheese Bites (favorite with the kids), California Classic Burger, and “Grand Ave” Carnitas Street Tacos.
Firestone Walker Brewing Company
We had dinner at Firestone Walker Brewing Company at 620 McMurray Rd. on our second night. Other locations can be found in Paso Robles (with brewery tours) and Venice.
We tried the Rotator Tots (flavors rotate- ours was a Mexican/Californian mix); French Onion Soup with caramelized onions, DBA, gruyere cheese, and toasted crostini; The Lion’s Fish n’ Chips; and the kids had the Mac and Cheese. This restaurant was definitely kid friendly with a kids menu, paper, and crayons. We loved the atmosphere and food here.
Along with the restaurant, Firestone Walker also has a separate tasting room, gift shop, and you can walk among the barrels in Barrelworks (open 11-9, tours available Saturday and Sunday at 3 and 4).
Before driving back to Los Angeles, we made a stop by Coffee Cabin at 264 E Hwy 246 for a quick pick-me-up. This little drive-thru coffee shop has an assortment of beverages and pastries.
Here are a few other places in Buellton that were on our list, but we didn’t get a chance to visit yet: Industrial Eats, Ellen’s Danish Pancake House, Pea Soup Andersen’s, Santa Ynez Valley Botanic Garden/River View Park, Loring Wine Company, Mendenhall Museum, Hitching Post 2, and Pattibakes.
Beer Mac and Cheese
I used my recipe for Pumpkin Mac and Cheese (minus the pumpkin) as the starting point for this Beer Mac and Cheese inspired by our visit to Firestone Walker Brewing Company. Packed with three types of cheese and your choice of beer (I used a Firestone Walker Blonde Ale), this creamy stovetop Beer Mac and Cheese comes together in less than 20 minutes.
After creating the roux with butter and flour, milk and beer are slowly whisked in to form the base. It is then flavored with paprika, garlic powder, salt, and pepper before adding the Cheddar, Mozzarella, and Parmesan and folding in the al dente pasta. Top the Beer Mac and Cheese with a little extra Parmesan, thinly sliced green onions, and a sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper. Looking to add more to your mac and cheese? Sliced kielbasa, bacon, or even roasted mushrooms would make great additions.
I followed Firestone Walker’s lead and used shells for the pasta shape, but any favorite medium-sized shape with nooks and crannies to hold the sauce would be perfect. Lighter beers tend work best for this Beer Mac and Cheese, but feel free to play around with your favorites. Remember that stronger, darker beers will add a stronger flavor to the dish.
Make sure the sauce is not bubbling when whisking in the cheese. The pot should be removed from the heat source and just hot enough to melt the cheese. If the mixture is too hot, the cheese (especially the Cheddar) may separate into an oily mess. If the sauce does end up breaking, you can cheat with the help of an immersion blender (or carefully transfer to a stand blender) to bring it back together. Shred the cheese at home and avoid pre-shredded if possible. This will help create a smoother and more velvety texture.
Beer Mac and Cheese Recipe
Adapted from Inspired Taste
Beer Mac and Cheese
- 1 pound dried medium-shaped pasta
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups milk
- 1 cup beer
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 1/2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
- 1/2 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese plus more for serving
- Thinly sliced green onions for garnish
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, just tender. Drain and set aside.
While the pasta is cooking: In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour and continue to stir until golden.
Slowly whisk in the milk until all the flour is absorbed and no lumps remain, followed by the beer. Continue to whisk often until the mixture thickens and begins to bubble.
Remove from heat and stir in the salt, paprika, garlic powder, and pepper. Slowly stir in handfuls of cheese until smooth.
Fold in the drained pasta and serve immediately topped with additional grated Parmesan cheese, thinly sliced green onions, and a sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper.