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Barry Pollack's "Going Places"

The Ballard Inn - Santa Barbara Wine Country

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 Chardonnay.
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.