Tour: Gettin’ to the Getty, part 1
“We need some culture,” I said to Mr. Spice. “What do you mean? We’ve got culture: I just made yogurt the other day.” When you need an artsy intervention in your day-to-day scene, The Getty Museum in Los Angeles delivers, free of charge. This impressive museum featuring western European fine arts was situated at the other end of one of our favorite bike tours so we decided to get to the Getty by bike. In early November, a few weeks after celebrating our wedding, we set off on a honeymoon bike tour focused on fun, food, fitness, and art.
Foxen Canyon to The Ballard Inn
For this romantic trip, we decided to pass on the camping—our usual mode while touring—and opted for a more luxurious adventure with fine inns, hotels, and restaurants at the end of each day’s pedaling rather than a campsite and dinner conjured over a camp stove. At the top of the list: The Ballard Inn and Restaurant, whose bike friendliness bolsters their reputation for gracious hospitality and exceptional food.
We set off with lighter packs than usual because we left the tent and sleeping bags at home. We did bring along some nice clothes for eating out, adequate lights for both the front and back of our bikes to compensate for the more limited daylight of November, and Adventure Cycling maps for the second half of our route. Adventure Cycling maps provide cyclists with clear directions and elevation histograms for recommended routes across the United States including the very popular tour along the Pacific coast.
Just south of the San Luis Obispo County line, Santa Maria Valley and Santa Ynez Valley offer multiple scenic routes through the Southern Central Coast wine country landscape. We opted for the eastern path along Foxen Canyon rather than the western path through Guadalupe and Lompoc per the Adventure Cycling maps because we planned to stay our first night in Ballard, a teeny-tiny town between Los Olivos and Solvang.
We left SLO County on Sunday morning and enjoyed riding through Santa Maria Valley without encountering the large agricultural machinery and trucks that usually cluster on these roads during the week days. Riding southeast up the broad, flat valley, we gradually began climbing and rolling through some hills along Foxen Canyon.
On this trip, we definitively answered the question, “How many miles a day do you like to ride while touring?” Mr. Spice and I agree that 80+ miles is a few too many for comfort in one day while a 50-60 mile day keeps it fun and definitely more enjoyable. Whenever embarking on a bike tour, recognize your own limitations when route planning and be aware of alternatives.
We had lots of miles to cover on our first day so we passed by a number of wineries on our route that I would have liked to visit, including Cambria Winery & Vineyards, Kenneth Volk Vineyards, Riverbench Vineyard and Winery, Presqu’ile Winery, Tessa Marie Wines, and Gainey Vineyard. “Do you want to stop for some wine tasting?” asked Mr. Spice as we passed another one. On my loaded bike and on our first day out, I didn’t want to get wobbly legs syndrome, at least until we were closer to our destination. It’s one of the only times I turn down wine tasting!
Foxen Canyon delights cyclists, motorcyclists, and sports car drivers alike with its pastoral views, oak trees, mellow hills and several wineries. Having travelled this route once before in the spring, we were impressed with the autumn differences: crinkly dried leaves on the vines, fields plowed under, the lower sunlight angle, and the much shorter days. I was impressed with the changes late fall brings as well as a little freaked out that we might miss our reservation in the 12-table dining room at the Inn. Keep pedaling! Darkness, dinner plans, and it’s-about-time downhill motivated us to keep moving toward Ballard where we arrived just before dark.
The Ballard Inn, a Special Destination
With our bike lights blinking, we rolled into Ballard with just enough time to clean up before a lovely dinner at The Ballard Inn Restaurant. We got ready in the sweet and comfy Wildflower Room. The Ballard Inn is definitely bike friendly: not only were we allowed to keep our bikes in the room, but they also have cruising bikes to borrow as well as an array of bike route suggestions for guests. The exceptional service and friendliness of everyone at this peaceful inn, top to bottom, made our experience extra memorable.
As we waited to be called for dinner, Barry Rossum enticed us with a selection of delicious local wines produced by small local wineries that don’t yet have tasting rooms including Storm Wines and Luminesce. We settled on a fantastic Grenache from Kenneth-Crawford that offered the essence of a cool wine cave in the nose and on the palate. Barry and Chef Budi collaborate to offer select wines to guests both to feature special wines that fly under the radar and to ready our palates for the delicious dinner that followed.
Granted, we were hungry after 80 miles but we could both appreciate the deft layering of favors in this meal created by Chef Budi, who enjoys integrating French culinary techniques to Asian flavors and textures with fresh California ingredients. After an amuse bouche of Hamachi sashimi with yuzu sauce, avocado and toasted mushrooms, my Crispy Skin Loup de Mer, a sustainably farmed Mediterranean sea bass, tasted delicious with its Beurre Noisette sauce and herbed potatoes. I had to move fast to get a few tastes of Mr. Spice’s dish, a grilled beef tenderloin with chimichurri butter and chorizo mashed potatoes. A warm chocolate cake with raspberry sauce and homemade ice cream rounded out this delightful meal, made even more pleasant with the attentive, friendly staff and interesting guests at the nearby tables.
As we prepared to head back to our room for some well-deserved rest, Chef Budi came out of the kitchen to say hello and make sure we enjoyed our experience. I had a chance to ask him some questions about the fish and appreciated his knowledge of the sourcing for our dinner.
The warmth and friendliness of everyone at The Ballard Inn started off our bike tour honeymoon on a high note. Although it was just one stop on our trip, The Ballard Inn—situated in the midst of excellent bike routes, fine wineries and food, and pastoral Santa Ynez landscape—is certainly a destination unto itself. It also confirmed for us that discoveries along the way can bring as much pleasure as reaching one’s ultimate destination. The landscape around The Ballard Inn offers world-class road riding and outstanding wineries while the Inn enhances the pleasure of Santa Ynez Valley by offering great food, carefully selected wines, and genuine hospitality. We look forward to our next delicious experience when we pass through the area on another adventure.
Whether you’re traveling through Santa Ynez Valley by bike, motorcycle, or car, if you find yourself in need of lunch, you can always call on the friendly folks at Bell Street Farm Eatery & Market to deliver a satisfying wine country meal to wherever you are. Or, if you’re traveling through Los Alamos, stop at this little bistro, roll your bikes into the sheltered back patio, and enjoy some lunch and treats including local wines by the glass, wobbly legs and all.
- The Ballard Inn and Restaurant
- Bell Street Farm Eatery & Market
- Adventure Cycling Pacific Coast route
Stay tuned for “Gettin’ to the Getty” part 2
chef photo: Jeremy Ball for Bottle Branding