I found another state, very close to home. It's
only about a ninety minute drive from Thousand
Oaks. After cruising past the surf and surfers
along the coastal drive to Santa Barbara, head
a few miles more up Highway 154, though green
rolling hills and the San Marcos pass, just past
Lake Cachuma, and enter it - the Santa Ynez Valley.
It's another state of mind - romantic, relaxing,
and beautiful. You'll find yourself in a country
setting surrounded by vineyards and orchards.
It will be as if you somehow made the drive to
Napa and Sonoma in a little more than an hour.
I stayed in The Ballard Inn (800-638-2466) in
the little town of Ballard centered between Santa
Ynez, Solvang, and Los Olivos. Ballard is an off
the beaten path kind of town with just a few dozen
families and a 19th century one room red schoolhouse.
If you're interested in the fruit of the vine,
there are twenty or more wineries within a five
minute drive of the Inn. And just down the road,
there are apple orchards inviting pickers, a nut
farm inviting tasters, and a stable breeding the
tiniest of Shetland ponies. They were beautiful
animals and I still wonder, "can you house
train a Shetland pony?"
The Ballard Inn defines "quaint," interestingly
old fashioned. And yet, it is a modern place,
built in 1985 by Steve Hyslop and Larry Stone,
the current owners, in the heart of Santa Barbara
wine country to provide a romantic setting and
attentive service for guests, within easy access
to the local wineries. The building is Victorian
modern with fifteen spacious rooms varying from
$175/night to $320 for their honeymoon suite.
Rooms have balconies, fire places, large beds,
unique antiques, many have a western décor, and
each has an individual charm. Hyslop and Stone
have done a wonderful job in giving this modern
bed and breakfast a comfortably old fashioned
aura. On the outside, there's a wrap around veranda
furnished with wicker chairs and settees. The
entry is dominated by a grand curved staircase
on one side and an Italian marble fireplace on
the other that warms the lobby as well as an intimate
dining area, which serves both as the Inn's breakfast
area and, in the evenings, as the wonderful Café
Chardonnay, a fine dining restaurant open to the
public from Wednesday through Sunday. Breakfasts
each morning include a buffet of fruits, cereals,
and pastries, and you can order as well, requesting
specially cooked omlettes or pancakes. There's
also a large, comfortable sitting area with couches
set about a shoulder high wood burning fireplace
with a nearby armoire displaying the best wines
from local vineyards. And there's always music
in the air, the soft whisper of french music,
in keeping with the french ambience of the Café
You can dine in the Inn, or in the nearby town
of Santa Ynez. There you'll find the Trattaoria
Grappalo, a small but very authentic Italian restaurant
with a real Italian waitress. We enjoyed its ambience
and its food.
So, if you're in the mood to enjoy another state
of mind, consider sojourning to the Santa Ynez
Valley and a stay at the Ballard Inn. You're slogan
for the trip, "eat, drink, and be merry,"
for the fruit of the Chardonnay is second to none.