Cycle: Escape to Central Coast Wine Country

During the summer, Phoenix cyclists have to be a little more creative with their riding hours and levels of exertion.

What better way to escape the heat than pedaling from winery to winery among the rolling hills just northwest of Santa Barbara? That's right, a quick eight hour roadie will put you in the land of the vineyards that were featured in the indie flick, Sideways.

The great thing about touring wineries on bike is that any alcohol consumed at one tasting is immediately burned off during the ride to the next tasting room.

When Cycle made its recent trip to check out the pro riding at the Tour of California, we took the opportunity to enjoy some of the great roads and countryside. The area we focused on for great wine and great riding was the Los Olivos/Solvang/Buellton area, about 45 minutes up the coast from Santa Barbara. While it can still get plenty warm in this region, the morning temps drop into the low 60s before the heat settles in during the latter half of the afternoon. And there are plenty of very nice hotel and restaurant options in Solvang and Buellton.

The riding options are endless in the area, and visitors can do a smallish 14-mile loop starting and finishing in Solvang or Buellton, or longer loops that go back into the canyons where the vineyards are located and home to some of the best tasting rooms in California, including Napa/Sonoma. This week's Cycle will focus on a good 44-mile loop around the countryside that includes a few good climbs and several top wineries.

Start the ride in Los Olivos. This little town is set at the base of the Foxen Canyon/Zaca Mesa region, home to some crazy great Rhone style wines, especially syrahs. Los Olivos also has several great tasting rooms to hit when you return from the ride.

Head north from Los Olivos by way of Alamo Pintado Avenue and Steele Street, across the 154 to Foxen Canyon Road. This road will take you up a semi-short climb before dropping  down into the Foxen Canyon. Right at the junction is Curtis Winery, a great first stop, or turn right and continue head north along Foxen Canyon Road to Koehler Winery and Fess Parker Winery (that's right, the wines of Davey Crockett and the location where Miles drinks the spit bucket in Sideways).

Further north along Foxen Canyon the road tilts up for another short, challenging climb to the top of Zaca Mesa before dropping into the valley and the entrance to Zaca Mesa Winery. This stop is an absolute must for some of the very best syrah in all of California.

Return to Foxen Canyon heading north/west to Aliso Canyon Road. You can continue along Foxen Canyon to hit other wineries including Foxen and Kenneth Volk. But you will want to get back to Aliso Canyon to cut across to Los Alamos.

Aliso Canyon is typically a wind tunnel with the wind going the wrong direction, so just tuck in and push through to the 101. Once out, turn right onto the frontage road that runs along the Lucas & Lewellen vineyards to Foxen Lane that cuts under the freeway and into Los Alamos. While in Los Alamos, refill water bottles and grab a bite if lunch is calling. Regardless, it is time to fuel up as the big climb of the day comes next.

Off of Main Street in Los Alamos, turn left onto Centennial Street and start heading for the split in the mountain. This road turns into Drum Canyon Road and will be the route over to get to Buellton. This 2.5-mile climb is a category 3 rated climb, averaging a little over 5 percent grade on the way up, but it is very manageable. Up top are great views over the valleys on both sides, but ...

The road down is one of the roughest paved surfaces around, so take it easy going down. The road has some good twists and switchbacks before bottoming out along some beautiful farms. The reward for this effort is just a couple miles down Drum Canyon at the Dierberg/Star Lane Winery. The wines served at this green and red barn are simply amazing.

Continue following Drum Canyon out to the 246, turn left and take this up over one more rise before heading down into Buellton. Note that this is a high speed freeway so make sure you ride well on the shoulder. This road will cut straight through town, over the 101 past Anderson's (home of the famous split pea soup) and back towards Solvang.

Just out of Buellton, turn left onto Ballard Canyon Road. Ballard Canyon is a beautiful stretch past some farms that then cuts back north towards Los Olivos.  This is a gradual uphill stretch with a short climb to the top of the ridge which then twists down and around, dumping onto Steel Street and around Alamo Pintado and the center of Los Olivos.

Some of the good tasting rooms in town when you return include Byron, IO, Epiphany, and Sarloos & Sons. And for a great sandwich, hit Panino. And remember that you'll need to drive back to the wineries and pick up any bottles you purchased along the way.

Trip Distance: 44 miles (or longer if you hit more wineries)
Trip Duration: 3 hours and 30 minutes including the winery stops.
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult. There is plenty of good riding for anyone in the area, but this route has its fair share of climbs and challenges.
Route Map: www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/37609338

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