Travel Diaries: Santa Barbara

Hi friends! I hope you’ve missed me. Life’s been just a little crazy lately, ya know, raising a tiny human, buying a house, all that good stuff, but I’ve missed chatting with you in this little corner of the Internet and I’m going to make a sincere effort to be better about checking in.

A beautiful beach sunset in Santa Barbara, CA

Today’s post is one I’ve been wanting to write since January, but it required just a little bit of field research on my end and goodness knows how difficult even the tiniest of outings can be when there is a small babe involved. As you’ve probably heard, Santa Barbara County got hit HARD this winter. First there was the Thomas Fire, followed shortly thereafter by the Montecito Mudslide, both of which caused massive evacuations, homes lost, injury and death. They hit our little towns hard, and an area once known for its plethora of local businesses is now facing more vacant storefronts than it has seen in a long, long time.

While I was hearing about all of these great places being forced to lay people off, cut back hours or completely close their doors to business, I realized that, although I am passionate about sharing my favorite restaurants, wineries and breweries when I’ve traveled to other cities, I’ve never featured some of my go-to spots in my own town. And, in these uncertain times, they certainly deserve to be recognized now more than ever.

If you’re headed to the Santa Barbara area in the near future, I urge you to check out as many of these local eateries and drinking establishments as possible. And if you haven’t been here yet, I think it’s about time you planned a trip! It’s a beautiful little oasis in the middle of California that is truly one-of-a-kind. They don’t call it the American Riviera for nothing!

Santa Barbara

Hotel Californian

Full disclosure: I haven’t had the opportunity to stay here yet, but let me just tell you I like what I see. The entire Hotel Californian property (which also includes numerous restaurants and storefronts) is reinvigorating a recently humdrum State St. It’s beautifully decorated, classy and did I mention their rooftop pool?

Front entrance of the Hotel Californian in Santa Barbara, CA.

I’ve eaten at (and enjoyed) the first two eateries they’ve opened, Blackbird and Goat Tree SB, and I think the entire area could be just what downtown Santa Barbara needed.

Goat Tree SB - A lovely cafe at the new Hotel Californian in Santa Barbara, CA.
Goat Tree SB

Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort

Formerly The Fess Parker – A DoubleTree by Hilton Resort, I have to give my former employer a mention because there are BIG things happening here. As you can probably guess by the name change, the hotel is going through a huge rebranding. They’ve been remodeling the lobby, meeting and guest rooms to give the resort an updated, beachy feel and I can’t wait to check them out now that the official name change has taken place.

Helena Ave. Bakery

All I can say is thank goodness we finally have a bakery with a legit storefront in town! Helena Ave. Bakery offers a consistent selection of fresh bread and delicious baked goods as well as a huge assortment of grab-and-go lunch options that are perfect for a day of wine tasting or brewery hopping in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone.

Lucky Penny

Another Funk Zone gem, Lucky Penny is the place to go for tasty wood-fired pizzas, bountiful salads and hearty sandwiches. And did I mention they also sell frozé? You also must try the mushroom bruschetta appetizer. I’m working on my own version to post on the blog as we speak!

The Lark

Of course, I have to mention the hubs’ and my very favorite restaurant for date night, whenever we have guests in town, birthday or anniversary, or any other celebration we can think of. Seriously, we’ve tried so many other “nicer” restaurants in town and nothing compares. Aside from the Brussels sprouts (which are OMG to-die-for and ALWAYS on the menu) the Lark’s menu changes seasonally yet never disappoints, and everything is served family style, so you get to taste a little bit of everything! I also should mention that Helena Ave. Bakery, Lucky Penny and The Lark are all related, so it’s no wonder they all made my list of top places to visit!

The Lark | Santa Barbara, CA

The Lark | Santa Barbara, CA

The Lark | Santa Barbara, CA

Satellite

I couldn’t leave out Santa Barbara’s hippest new wine bar that offers a delicious farm-to-table menu to boot! I love this place for its unique, sometimes kooky wine selections, blind tasting night and veggie-heavy food items that change based on weekly Farmer’s Market offerings. Yoga Pants Salad, you have my heart!

Satellite | Santa Barbara, CA

Satellite | Santa Barbara, CA

Satellite | Santa Barbara, CA
The Spritz is a must-try at Satellite!

Yellow Belly

This used to be our “neighborhood joint” when we lived at our old place, and you can bet we’ll still be making regular visits even though we live a bit further away now. It’s locally owned with a great wine and beer selection and tasty pub-like food. They also offer brunch on the weekends, have a patio (yay for dog-friendly establishments!) AND we feel perfectly comfortable bringing the little babe with us. So many bonuses!

Yellow Belly | Santa Barbara, CA

Third Window Brewing

Santa Barbara is home to its share of breweries, that’s for sure, but Third Window consistently stands out to us. Even with a frequently rotating menu, the beers are consistently top-notch and, unlike many of today’s newest breweries, they are NOT solely focusing on IPA’s, which is perfect for me since I’m not much of a hops fan!

Third Window Brewing | Santa Barbara, CA

August Ridge

I’m so glad I stumbled across this gem of a tasting room! With its main winery and tasting room in Paso Robles, August Ridge recently opened a smaller tasting room downtown, just off La Arcada. Because they specialize in Italian varietals, they’re a welcome change from Santa Barbara Wine Country’s largely Pinot Noir and Chardonnay focused repertoire. I’ve loved everything I’ve tasted from them and need to plan another trip back soon to restock!

August Ridge | Santa Barbara, CA

Handlebar Coffee

Handlebar Coffee has been a Santa Barbara establishment for many years, but its newest location on upper De La Vina Street has everyone abuzz. It’s much bigger than the downtown location, with a great outdoor seating area, a full-service kitchen to make tasty breakfast and lunch offerings, plus beer and wine on tap! They also do lots of fun pop-ups and benefits for local organizations. We have yet to attend any but we hope to soon!

Handlebar Coffee | Santa Barbara, CA

C’est Cheese

If you’re a cheese lover like me, you’re not going to want to miss this stop. I was so happy when what started as a small, local cheese and wine shop that hosted my favorite annual Sparkling Wine & Cheese Pairing Class every year tripled in size to open its own café, only to see it have to shutter the restaurant portion after this winter’s hardships. I have high hopes they’ll once again be able to operate in their full capacity, but until then you can still buy lots of delicious goodies at their shop and support a great local business at the same time!

Carpinteria

The Food Liaison

I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty jealous that Carp has this awesome food establishment in its repertoire. You know I’m all about balance and tasty, quality food, and TFL delivers on all fronts. They offer plenty of vegan and gluten-free dishes, but also plenty of non-special diet items…and it is all soooooo good! Not only do they serve lunch Monday-Friday (try the Crack Bowl…it will not disappoint) they also have a stellar catering program AND offer cooking classes. I know where I’ll be eating lunch every time I’m in the area!

The Food Liaison | Carpinteria, CA

The Food Liaison | Carpinteria, CA
Crack Bowl @ The Food Liaison

Lucky Llama

Okay, Lucky Llama is probably THE cutest little coffee shop in Santa Barbara County. Their coffee drinks are top notch, but they also make delish acai and oatmeal bowls. It’s the perfect place to plop down with your laptop and get some work done or meet a friend to catch up on the lovely outdoor patio. Plus, it’s totally kid-friendly, which I’m learning to appreciate more and more these days!

Lucky Llama | Carpinteria, CA

Lucky Llama | Carpinteria, CA

The Apiary

What a one-of-a-kind tasting room! The Apiary specializes in mead but also offers ciders and lots of other interesting fermented elixirs. My dear friend @gojohannogo and I shared the tasting flight and it was the perfect way to take a little foray into the world of mead and everything related. I’m not sure I’d be able to drink large quantities of the different options, but it was so fun to experience all the different flavors. Definitely pay them a visit if you’re looking for a change-up from your average winery or brewery!

The Apiary | Carpinteria, CA

The Apiary | Carpinteria, CA

Goleta

Draughtsmen Aleworks

Our favorite pre-Costco shopping trip stop for a refreshing beverage. They have lots of entertaining names for their beers like Meat & Potatoes Porter!

Draughtsmen Aleworks | Goleta, CA

M. Special

Another great (newer) brewery in the Goodland that’s always sure to have a food truck or live band on hand, especially on the weekends. It’s also got some good outdoor space and is kid-friendly!

Outpost at the Goodland

This hip little eating and drinking establishment at a Holiday Inn turned Kimpton hotel is just what Goleta (“the Goodland”) needed. It’s a great spot for Happy Hour or brunch, and another one we feel completely comfortable bringing the baby to. If you’re lucky to visit on a Sunday during the summer, you might just catch a raging pool party, live DJ and all!

These are all just a few of my favorites, and I’m sure there are some places that I missed. If you know of any, please leave them in the comments below! I’m all about supporting local right now and love discovering new places. Until next time!

Hendry's Beach | Santa Barbara, CA

Pull-Apart Beer Bread with Comte and Whole Grain Mustard

The ultimate tri-fecta.

Pull-Apart Beer Bread with Comte and Whole Grain Mustard | CaliGirl Cooking

Especially for this here day before St. Patrick’s Day/morning after a night out with some of my besties to celebrate my birthday. I mean, how much better can it get to both recover from last night and get ready for another night of celebrating? (Or, in my likely case, just eating my weight in Irish food?) I’m thinking Pull-Apart Beer Bread with Comte and Whole Grain Mustard, a slow-cooker corned beef recipe (I’m going to give this one from Half-Baked Harvest a shot), some Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Irish Cream Buttercream for dessert, and maybe, just MAYBE, a Matcha Colada to really round out the meal. Who’s with me?

Pull-Apart Beer Bread with Comte and Whole Grain Mustard | CaliGirl Cooking

But let’s get to the point here. I really don’t want this uber-yummy Pull-Apart Beer Bread with Comte and Whole Grain Mustard to lose the spotlight, because trust me when I say it is soooooooo tasty and very worthy of the little extra effort it takes to make.

Confession: I actually copy-catted this recipe from Notch8, the restaurant in the hotel we stayed at when my mom and I went to Vancouver in January. I’m sure you’ve all seen sweet versions of pull-apart bread (like this or this), but this was the first time I’d come across a SAVORY version. As soon as my mom and I saw a menu item that listed bread, cheese, and mustard as ingredients  (in the middle of the afternoon when we were sooo ready for an afternoon snack, mind you) we knew we had to give it a shot. Let me tell you. Wowza! It was amazing. I immediately knew I had to try and recreate it at home.

And recreate it I did! I knew that I needed to make the beer bread a yeast bread (as opposed to a quick bread) so I turned to my mom’s trusty Beer Bagel recipe for inspiration and guidance. I then went out and got me some Comte cheese (if you don’t know what this is, it’s very similar to Gruyere… I found mine at Trader Joe’s) and some whole grain mustard. As you can see, the ingredients are pretty darn easy to come by so you really have no excuse to not make Pull-Apart Beer Bread with Comte and Whole Grain Mustard (say that ten times fast) in the next couple of days.

Pull-Apart Beer Bread with Comte and Whole Grain Mustard | CaliGirl Cooking

Since the bread is a yeast bread, it does take some time to rise. But that’s no biggie! I have to say that I was worried because my dough didn’t seem to be rising quite as much as I wanted it to, but everything turned out in the end. You just have to trust that your oven will do all of the work!

Once the dough has gone through its double rise, we slice it up (like you would a loaf of bread) and coat the sides with the mustard and cheese. We then line all the slices back up together in the loaf pan for them to rise and bake into each other in the oven. And of course we top it all with more cheese! Not only does the slicing before we bake ensure we can more easily pull apart the bread when it’s done, but it also helps us make sure we get the yummy fillings evenly dispersed throughout.

Pull-Apart Beer Bread with Comte and Whole Grain Mustard | CaliGirl Cooking

Okay, before I leave you with the recipe I MUST make a suggestion. Not only is this a fantastic addition to any St. Patrick’s Day menu, we also (accidentally) discovered that Pull-Apart Beer Bread with Comte and Whole Grain Mustard is THE perfect snack to pack for wine tasting. Seriously, if you think about it, it’s all of your favorite wine tasting snacks rolled into one neat little loaf! No need for an elaborately packed picnic basket or cooler when you’ve got one of these bad boys with you 😉 (Side note: I think I’m going to keep building on this idea and try a version with some sort of charcuterie added to the mix soon…Stay tuned!)

So what do you say? St. Patrick’s Day is tomorrow and I know a lot of my peeps out there are wine lovers like me, so you’ll most likely be going tasting sometime in the near future. That means that you absolutely, must, just gotta make this ASAP. You’ll thank me later!

Since I won’t be posting tomorrow, happy early St. Patrick’s Day to all of you! Stay safe and HAVE FUN!

Pull-Apart Beer Bread with Comte and Whole Grain Mustard | CaliGirl Cooking

Pull-Apart Beer Bread with Comte and Whole Grain Mustard

Yield: Makes one loaf

A delicious beer bread laced with comte cheese and whole grain mustard.

Ingredients

  • 1 packet active-dry yeast
  • 2 ¼ cups flour, divided
  • ¾ cup lukewarm beer (I used Firestone DBA)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup shredded Comte cheese
  • ¼ cup whole grain mustard

Instructions

  1. Combine yeast and 1 cup of sifted flour in a stand mixer. In a separate, small bowl, combine lukewarm beer, sugar and salt. Add to flour mixture. Turn mixer on low until ingredients are combined, then begin adding in remaining flour until a cohesive but slightly sticky dough forms (about 2 minutes.)
  2. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly for about 2 more minutes. Spray a medium mixing bowl with cooking spray and add dough, tossing to coat. Cover with a dish towel and let rise in a warm place free from drafts for 1-2 hours or until doubled in size.
  3. Spray an 8.5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray. Remove dough from mixing bowl and transfer it to the loaf pan, shaping to fit. Cover and let rise another 1-2 hours.
  4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove dough from loaf pan onto a lightly floured surface. Re-spray loaf pan with cooking spray. Slice dough into 8 pieces. One by one, take a slice of the dough and spread about half of a tablespoon of mustard on the side before sprinkling it with the shredded cheese. Gently tuck the slice back into the loaf pan. Continue this process until all slices have been covered and added to the loaf pan. {For the end pieces, keep the mustard/cheese combo on the inner side of the slice, as opposed to the side that will be against the loaf pan, so as to prevent sticking.) Sprinkle any remaining cheese on top of the loaf.
  5. Place loaf in preheated oven and bake for approximately 40 minutes. The cheese topping will be golden. Let cool in pan for 15-20 minutes then remove to finish cooling. If not eating right away, wrap loaf in plastic wrap and store in refrigerator (if eating in the next couple of days) or freezer (if not eating for a week or so.)

Notes

Wine Pairing Notes: This bread is soooo versatile, it will literally be a great juxtaposition to ANY wine, red or white. The only type of wine I may caution against is a sweet wine. Otherwise, just go for it! All the more reason to take it with you the next time you go wine tasting 🙂

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Pull-Apart Beer Bread with Comte and Whole Grain Mustard | CaliGirl Cooking

Catch ya on the flipside.

Travel Diaries: Napa

westwood view

Well the hustle and bustle of the holidays is [almost] over and I am finally taking a minute to not only breathe again, but reflect on all of the amazing moments from 2014. Can you believe it will be 2015 in just a few short hours? I sure can’t.

This past year has been a wild ride, that’s for sure, but I wouldn’t trade it in for a thing. It was my first full year living in Santa Barbara, my first full year with an amazing guy in my life…and so many other firsts I can’t begin to list them all.

chris and i selfie westwood

Of course, there are times when I miss my old friends and my old life in Napa. There is something pretty special about that place. A sense of community, the “small town,” country feel, and of course the unbeatable food and wine! I definitely got spoiled in my two-and-a-half years living there.

So, when a long weekend presented itself after Christmas, and my folks and I were trying to think of a good place to take a mini-vacation, a quick trip to Napa seemed like the perfect solution. It would be a chance for us to all hang out as a family, eat some good food, drink some good wine, and enjoy some beautiful surroundings.

napa view

 

People ask me all the time for recommendations of places to go when they travel to Napa, and my answer to them is always more questions. There are sooooo many places to eat, drink, and stay at in the Valley that run the gamut as far as pricing, experience, etc. that I always try to find out a little more. What kind of wine do you like? What method of transportation will you be using? Where will you be staying? How much do you want to spend? What sort of food do you want to eat? What atmosphere do you want when you are wine tasting? So many thingsssss!

napa view 2

When planning this trip to Napa, I took a few things into consideration. One, my younger sister and her boyfriend are new to the whole “wine tasting” thing, and aren’t the biggest drinkers, so I didn’t want to overwhelm them with a marathon tasting schedule. I wanted to be sure I mixed in other things they would enjoy, like a little history, some nature, and of course delicious food.

napa view 3

I also knew that I wanted to take everyone to some of my “old haunts,” the places I used to work, some of my favorite places to eat, etc. And, since we were staying in the city of Napa, as opposed to somewhere further up the Valley, I wanted to minimize the driving as much as possible.

Our first stop when we got into town on Friday was lunch at the Rutherford Grill. Since both of the wineries I worked at were less than a minute’s drive from here, it was a frequent spot for us when we wanted to get away from the “office” for lunch. I failed to take any photos, but I highly recommend trying the cornbread, grilled artichoke, and kale-peanut salad (which I hope to recreate someday!) For all you meat-lovers out there, Dad & Boyfriend recommend the French dip and the burger. You won’t be sorry.

ao view

We left the Grill and headed to Alpha Omega Winery, where I used to work as the Event Manager. Since we were a party of six, I had given the crew a heads up so they could set aside a little space for us. We had a lovely tasting of their Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay (my fave!! <3), Proprietary Red, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. This is a great spot to sit outside and enjoy a BEAUTIFUL view of the Valley. With fountains flowing, comfortable lounge chairs and a view of the mountains and vineyards, it doesn’t get much better than this. I know, I choose pretty crummy places to work (wink).

ao cheese

After our tasting we took a stroll through the Oxbow Public Market, which is a must-see when you are in Napa. It is basically an upscale food court with quick versions of amazing food, plus some other really cool vendors. One of the newer vendors to come into the market since I’ve moved is the Napa Valley Distillery, which has rows upon rows of bitter, shrubs, etc. Basically everything you need to make some craft cocktails right in your very own home.  I was at the same time overwhelmed and inspired to try making some fancy shmancy cocktails at home in the coming year.

napa distillery 2

napa distillery 1

The first “fine dining” experience of our trip was dinner at Angele Restaurant + Bar, right on the riverfront in downtown Napa. Amazing craft cocktails, great wine list, and a French-American-Wine Country inspired menu all make for a great experience in a trendy atmosphere. I like Angele because it’s not too over-the-top fancy but still offers a relaxed, upscale vibe.

fist full o dollars

angele lavender donut
My sister’s dessert at Angele: Coffee Pot de Creme with a Lavender Glazed Donut

 

The next morning I decided that, with all of this eating and drinking, it would be nice to get our heart rate up and blood pumping with some sort of outdoor activity. I settled on taking everyone to Westwood Hills Park, a fairly short (about 3 -mile loop) hike but with some steady incline and some great views at the end. Even despite the 37-degree weather, we made it to the top just in time to see all of the hot air balloons landing from their morning rides. Pretty awesome!

westwood view 2

chris and i westwood

Our first wine tasting stop of the day was at my other former place of employment, Inglenook Winery. I know, you’re thinking to yourself “Inglenook, the jug wine?” But no, let me clear the air. Inglenook wine was actually one of the most celebrated wines of its time back in its heyday, right after Prohibition. It won many awards, and was even named to Wine Spectator’s “Case of the Century” in 2000. Sadly, the Inglenook brand got bought out by a corporate company shortly after that and slowly the name was tarnished and the wine became what most of us seem to know it as – a jug wine. In 2011, Francis Ford Coppola, who now owns the property once known as Inglenook (which has also been called Niebaum-Coppola and Rubicon since FFC has owned it) was finally able to acquire the Inglenook name and has been working since then to restore it to its original reputation. Pretty cool, huh?

inglenook
The Inglenook Chateau

 

So enough about history. We had a wonderful private tasting in the Inglenook chateau and were hosted by one of my favorite old coworkers, who was so knowledgeable and really helped my sis and her beau see the “magic” of the history of the Napa Valley that really helped draw me in in the first place. It was so nice to share that with them.

inglenook staircase

For lunch we went to one of my FAVORITE Italian restaurants in St. Helena, Tra Vigne. One word to sum up this place: MOZZARELLA. Okay, maybe two words: FRESH MOZZARELLA. Okay, maybe a sentence: FRESH MOZZARELLA THAT IS NOT MADE UNTIL YOU ORDERED IT AND SLICED AND SERVED ON GRILLED BREAD RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU. Get the picture? If not, here’s one I took.

tra vigne mozzarella
Mozzarella “Al Minuto”

 

Okay, so I give the mozzarella a lot of credit, but all of the food here is truly amazing. See proof below.

tra vigne truffle pizza
Black Truffle Pizza

 

tra vigne kale salad
Lacinato Kale and Farro Salad

 

tra vigne carbonara
Rigatoni alla Carbonara

 

Next stop was one of my favorite little wineries: Elyse. An old coworker introduced me to this place and I love it now only because of the high quality wine, but also because it is SMALL. It is a great change-up from the type of winery that Napa is known for. Big, tourist driven, elbowing your way up to the bar….you get the picture. At Elyse, you call ahead to make an appointment (but don’t worry, they’ll probably have room for you), you’re greeted by the winery dog, a Portuguese water dog, and step into a small tasting room with a bar big enough for maybe four people. Heaven.

inglenook vineyards

Of course, no trip to Napa would be complete without getting to see at least SOME of my friends, so that evening Chris and I went to meet up with two of my Napa besties, Brittany & Courtney at 1313 Main. This is a hip wine bar that opened when I lived there, and it was always one of our favorite places to hang out. The atmosphere is great. On the darker side but still with enough lighting to see each other, knowledgeable staff, a great wine selection (to try, drink or buy), not too loud, and delicious small bites to boot. They also sell my friend Mike’s wine there, MTGA, which he is just starting out but is AMAZING, so if you are there please go buy some!!

Dinner with the family was at The Thomas, another place in downtown Napa that opened up while I lived there. I chose this place because of the atmosphere, but unfortunately the food let us down a bit. I’d still recommend it as a place for drinks though (there is a “speakeasy” style bar on the bottom floor, and a rooftop terrace on the third floor), and if you MUST order some food, I highly recommend the homemade donuts. We’ll leave it at that.

thomas donuts
Warm Cinnamon Sugar Donuts

 

On Sunday, our trip unfortunately had to come to an end. We couldn’t leave without hitting up one more good restaurant for brunch, Oenotri. This place is a staple in downtown Napa, and has been around for a while, but I didn’t know they were serving brunch until an OpenTable search told me so. The menu looked good, so I thought we’d give it a try.

When we first got there, my sister was turning up her nose. We were there for brunch, but the menu was lacking the “typical” breakfast items she was looking for. This was exciting to me, but apparently my sister is a plain Jane when it comes to breakfast foods. Nevertheless, she found something to order and also proceeded to eat about half of the pizza that I ordered, so I guess she liked it. Overall, I would say they still have a few kinks to work out as far as the brunch service is concerned but, as long as you are willing to step out of your comfort zone as far as “brunch food,” you won’t be disappointed.

Where are your favorite places to go in Napa? I’d love to hear!!

hot air balloons napa