A Biking mecca in Northern California
By Ted Lux
Got a few days to spare on your visit to Southern California? Here’s a great suggestion-Solvang and the surrounding Santa Barbara wine country is waiting for you.
Great biking around Solvang
Nestled within scenic hills and cow-strewn canyons, about a 35-minute-drive north of Santa Barbara, our gem can be found. This is the same location that many of the memorable scenes from the popular movie Sideways were filmed a decade or so ago.
It’s the same area, painted with green rolling hills and gentle peaks, which Lance Armstrong and team trained for the Tour de France.
If you have an interest in great road-bicycling you owe it to yourself to visit Solvang and the gorgeous surrounding countryside. Drive up and take your bikes and helmets with you or rent gear in Solvang or neighboring Buellton.
The best time of the year to plan a trip to the area is in the months of April, May and June. The wild flowers are out in spectacular fashion. The lush green grass hills are filled with specks of yellow and orange.
The weather is mild and mostly dry after the rainy season in Southern California. The area can be very hot in summer months – so unless
you enjoy cycling in 90 degree plus temperatures – it’s best to cycle in the springtime or late fall. A clear December day works well too.
Very Romantic Getaway
A Solvang biking experience is fun for just about anyone. It’s a great place to escape to and ride in solitude for a few days, if you are so inclined. Take the children or renew and ignite your relationship with someone special. Solvang can be very romantic. Debbie Lee, an Orange County, Calif., pleasure rider, visited Solvang frequently with her boyfriend. “He used to take me up there two to three times a year to ride,” she said. “Then he asked me to marry him one night there.”
A great ride out of town in late morning is on Atterdag Road which becomes Chalk Hill Drive and then Ballard Canyon Road. This route is fun, scenic and easy for most riders.
You’ll pass farmlands with cows, horses and even a few bison. The hills are gently rolling and in spring they are crackling green. Crows hover overhead and few cars will pass you on this magnificent stretch of highway.
About three miles out on Ballard Canyon you’ll peddle past the very scenic Rusack Vineyards. This is a great resting place and if you are so inclined – sample some of the local vintage. Don’t forget to fill-up water bottles before your group departs for more riding.
There aren’t many water stations along the route. From Ballard Canyon head to the lovely town of Los Olivos which is about nine miles from Solvang. You’ll find a throwback community with a flagpole in the middle of town, art and antique shops and several quaint eateries.
Lunch in Los Olivos
Lunch or snack in town. If you are traveling with children it’s best to head back to Solvang from Los Olivos along Alamo Pintado Road on the Dan Henry bike path. The path is flat – even slightly downhill. You’ll glide almost effortlessly in your saddle back to Solvang. The lane is named after the civic-minded retiree who displayed a passion for cycling well into his nineties.
I had the pleasure of meeting Dan on one of my many rides to Solvang, on a hot afternoon at the local market. He was very cheerful and friendly and liked the bike I was riding. As you cycle to Solvang you’ll pass more wineries. The Blackjack and the Buttonwood Farm wineries come to mind. You’ll also pass more farmland with grazing cows and then pass a stable with Shetland ponies. The kids will enjoy stopping there to visit.
If you are an experienced and strong rider, you and your companion should bypass the route to Solvang and head to Foxen Canyon Road from Los Olivos. You’ll have more magnificent hills to climb.
Ride to the top of Foxen Canyon which is no easy chore. You will have a steep mile or so ascent to the top. You’ll sweat and your heart will pound.
Look down from above and gaze out at green grass covered hills surrounding you. From this peak you will take a steep mile descent and come to a fork which allows you to continue on Foxen Canyon Road for more spectacular riding, or onto Zaca Station Road.
This route steers you back to town but, first, you’ll come to the popular Firestone Vineyard which is worth a tour and visit.
Easy Loop to Solvang
The riding from Firestone to Solvang is relatively easy. The scenery is inspiring. Take Ballard Canyon Road back to Solvang and you’ve just had a very pleasant 25-mile bike ride.
After your first day of cycling, visit the various shops and bakeries in Solvang that line the town streets. You’ll run into many tourists bustling about. Sample some of the Danish pastries. You’ve earned it by riding those hills. Plan to spend the night in town or neighboring Buellton. Eat dinner at one of the many fine restaurants.
I especially enjoy an evening at the Hitching Post in Buellton where the charred tuna is superb and the sirloin steaks succulent. Visit the bar and see where several comic scenes from Sideways were filmed. A great spot for the kids is Pea Soup Andersen’s across the street.
More Bike Routes
The following morning calls for another great day of riding. There are so many hills and roads to choose from. Pick up a local map and study the area. Plan a ride that suits your stamina and conditioning. One great road to travel on is Santa Rosa Road, a 20 mile or so stretch, which takes you on a slightly ascending cut through green-pastured hillsides as you peddle toward Lompac. On this route you will pass several more wineries. The Sanford Winery has an extra-special setting and is worth a visit and rest stop.
Another great ride is to peddle nine miles from Solvang, heading west on Highway 246. Here you will pass through Buellton. Then turn right onto Drum Canyon Road. This route is not for the faint-at-heart and is one of the more difficult paths in the entire region.
The six mile ascent makes for a great way to wake up in the morning as you navigate the switchback road to the top. Along this stretch you may see deer. If you are very lucky a bobcat or tarantula spider may cross your path. Then descend rapidly and head into the small town of Los Alamos for a needed break.
Some of the roads you decide to tour are some of the same roads Lance Armstrong and his group whirled up and down. These are also the same roads used for the hugely popular Solvang Century cycling event. Held each year in March – thousands flock with their bikes in tow to take part in the 100-mile tour.
The next time you find yourself with a few extra days to explore Southern California – put Solvang and the Santa Barbara wine country on the map. You may find a new passion in your life. Spend a few days in spring exploring the beautiful green landscape. And, remember to do it on a bicycle and don’t forget your helmet.
Ted Lux, is an avid cyclist and lives in the Los Angeles area. He formerly worked at a major investment firm and has been involved in real estate lending in the Los Angeles area for over 20 years. He is author of the investment book, Exposing the Wheel Spin on Wall Street