Travel Destinations

Monday, May 9, 2016

California Weekend Getaway: Buellton Beyond Pea Soup

Buellton Vineyards California Weekend Getaway

What is Buellton known for?  A lot of people know Buellton as the home of Pea Soup Andersen’s, a favorite California road trip stop for families with kids.  In fact, Pea Soup Andersen’s is pretty much responsible for putting Buellton on the map.  Wine fans know Buellton for being part of the Santa Ynez Valley Central Coast wine region made famous in the movie Sideways (a movie I will never forgive for being so detrimental to Merlot).  In our never ending quest for unique California weekend getaway destinations, we decided to give Buellton a visit for Romeo’s birthday weekend.  What we found was the quintessential small town with super friendly people, gorgeous natural surroundings, good restaurants, wineries, and distilleries, and fun things to do and see.  Buellton is also incredibly dog-friendly, which meant Rome could spend his birthday weekend on vacation and with our furry children.  Top that off with glamping (glamorous camping) in a luxurious safari tent and you’ve got a California weekend getaway that’s pretty hard to beat. 

Buellton Glamping California Weekend Getaway

I usually leave the hotel suggestion and review until the end of an article, but glamping was truly the highlight of the trip.  I’ve wanted to go glamping since I first saw the Real Housewives of Orange County do it in 2012.  Of course, if the Real Housewives did it, that meant glamping would be at the bottom of Romeo’s list of things to do.  However, not only did glamping live up to everything I hoped it would, Romeo was crazy for it too, neither of us wanted to leave, and there may have even been a completely impractical discussion about building our own safari tent in our backyard for rainy or hot nights.

Flying Flags Airstream Buellton California Weekend Getaway Flying Flags Cabins Buellton California Weekend Getaway

Flying Flags RV Resort & Campground is not your typical campground.  It is really, really nice.  Most of the RV resort is set up for RVs, as the name implies.  RV pull-through spots have strips of lush green grass next to them and there are lots of trees, so the entire park feels green and fresh.  But Flying Flags isn’t just for people who bring their own living quarters with them.  Flying Flags RV Resort & Campground also has unique accommodations like cottages, vintage trailers, airstreams, and luxury safari tents.

Flying Flags Safari Tent Buellton California Weekend Getaway

Flying Flags’ safari tents are the newest addition to their accommodations lineup.  The safari tents are in their own little, fenced area.  We were greeted by a rhino statue at the entrance, which was the first hint to the African theme.  Each tent is named with an Africa inspired name like Nile River and Tanzania. 
Flying Flags Safari Tent Interior Buellton California Weekend Getaway

The safari tents are huge!  We had a comfy king size bed, a long leather couch, a coffee table, a writing desk, and two stuffed chairs in addition to bedside tables and a lamp.  The desk is equipped with a toaster, coffee maker, coffee press, mugs, glasses, wine glasses, and silverware.  Hidden on the shelf of the coffee table are plates, placemats, and cooking pots.  Each safari tent has a covered front area with two Adirondack chairs and a covered back patio area with a dining table.  Also in the back is a built-in grill, sink, and countertop.  Fences between the safari tents add privacy.

Flying Flags Safari Tent Desk Buellton California Weekend Getaway Flying Flags Safari Tent Amenities Buellton California Weekend Getaway

The safari tent is built on an above-ground platform and there is a tin covered wood roof overhead, so when it rains you are full protected.  We loved lying in bed at night and hearing the rain tip-tip-tap on the roof while frogs croaked in the distance.  The safari tents also have a heater/air-conditioner to keep your tent at the perfect temperature.  The tents don’t have bathrooms, but bathrooms have been built nearby.  Each bathroom is private with its own toilet, sink, and shower stall.  The bathrooms are also climate controlled so it is toasty warm when it is time to take a hot shower. 

Flying Flags Fireside Lounge Buellton California Weekend Getaway

Flying Flags RV Resort & Campground provides all sorts of amenities for their guests including a swimming pool, hot tub, restaurant, gas fire pits, and an outdoor gathering area called the Fireside Lounge. 

Henry Dog-Friendly Glamping Buellton California Weekend Getaway Flying Flags Dog Park Buellton California Weekend Getaway Charlie Dog-Friendly Glamping Buellton California Weekend Getaway

The resort is also very dog-friendly, including the safari tents, and they have an off-leash dog park too.

But enough about glamping.  Once you’ve torn yourself out of your safari tent, there are so many little things to do in Buellton that make this town special.

Mendenhall's Museum of Gasoline Pumps and Petroliana Buellton California Weekend Getaway

One hidden gem is Mendenhall’s Museum of Gasoline Pumps and Petroliana.  This is where hoard turns into historical archive.  The collection was started by Jack Mendenhall.  Jack Mendenhall lived in Buellton his entire life and had a car shop at the end of town.  In 1957, he bought the property where the museum currently stands and used it as a wrecking lot. 

Mendenhall's Museum Signs Buellton California Weekend Getaway

Jack Mendenhall started collecting gas pumps and petroliana (collectibles relating to gas stations or the petroleum industry) in the 1960s.  After he sold his service station in 1978, he became a picker, going out on the road for three to four months at a time selling signs during the day and picking at night.

Mendenhall's Museum Race Car Buellton California Weekend Getaway Mendenhall's Museum Tow Truck Buellton California Weekend Getaway

Jack’s son is a contractor by trade and built all the buildings on the property to properly house all of the memorabilia his father had collected.  Now the 4,000 signs, 100 gas pumps, 37 neon signs, and 2,000 license plates are all organized and lovingly displayed in multiple outdoor rooms of this unusual museum.  Every sign, license plate, and gas pump has a story which can’t all be told in one visit.  There were a number of repeat visitors on our tour as people love the museum and know that they’ll see and hear something new every time they visit. 

Mendenhall's Museum Petroliana Buellton California Weekend Getaway Mendenhall's Museum Gas Pumps Buellton California Weekend Getaway

The museum also houses the official Dry Lakes Racing Hall of Fame.  The museum is open by appointment only, and tours, which can be arranged via phone or email, take approximately two hours.  Since the museum is mostly outdoors, it is also dog-friendly to well-behaved dogs.

OstrichLand USA Buellton California Weekend Getaway

Another fun and unusual spot to visit is OstrichLand USA, which is on Highway 246 just outside of Buellton.  OstrichLand is open every day for visitors to observe and feed ostriches and emus.  It is pretty cool to get close to these animals and see how huge, strong, and prehistoric they are.  I would not want to come face-to-face with an angry ostrich! 

OstrichLand Emus Buellton California Weekend Getaway OstrichLand Ostriches Buellton California Weekend Getaway

Visitors are given dustpans with feed bowls glued on so they can hold onto the handles while the ostriches and emus peck the food.  The key is to not be nervous and to commit.  Also, don’t make the ostriches and emus have to stretch their necks too much to reach the food.

In addition to the chance to see and feed the birds, guests can purchase ostrich and emu related items in the gift shop like ostrich eggs, jerky, purses, belts, and more.  OstrichLand USA is also surprisingly dog-friendly as long as dogs are well-behaved and won’t bark at or scare the birds.

Buellton Road Trip Highway 1 California Weekend Getaway

Buellton is surrounded by the beautiful countryside of California’s central coast.  This year it is exceptionally beautiful because the El Niño rains have made the cow-dotted rolling hills many shades of green and, during the spring, covered with yellow mustard flowers. 

To get a sense of the land where Buellton is located, and also to see some of the vineyards growing the grapes used to make the wine you can taste at one of Buellton’s many wine tasting rooms, take a drive. 

Highway 1 Hills Covered in Mustard Buellton California Weekend Getaway

We suggest heading out from Buellton along the 101 towards the coast.  Then follow Highway 1 north until you’re almost to Lompoc, then turn right on Santa Rosa Road and follow it back to Buellton.  The drive only takes an hour, though you’ll want to add in extra time to stop and take pictures.

Santa Ynez Valley Botanic Garden Buellton California Weekend Getaway Dog-Friendly Santa Ynez Valley Botanic Garden Buellton California Weekend Getaway

Within Buellton, there is also an opportunity to commune with nature at the Santa Ynez Valley Botanic Garden.  The Botanic Garden is just a little space of land dedicated to flowers, plants, and trees with a pleasant walking path.  The garden can be found at the end of River View Park and is free and dog-friendly.

Buellton is known for wine, but they are starting to cover all aspects of culinary delights.  One of the best areas to experience all of Buellton’s taste gems is along Industrial Way.  Industrial Way is on its way to being Buellton’s Funk Zone, similar to the Santa Barbara Funk Zone, a place to enjoy wine, farm-to-table dining, confections, spirits, and more.

Michele's Tesora Confection Buellton California Weekend Getaway Michele's Tesora Buellton California Weekend Getaway

Michele’s Tesora is an artisan candy shop that just recently opened to the public.  Michele’s candies are delightful confections made with organic peanut butter, chocolate, organic brown rice crisps, and peanuts.  They sell five flavors: original, coconut, pretzel, marshmallow, and caramel (my favorites are the first three).  Tesoro means treasure in Italian and these bite-sized candies truly are little treasures.  Romeo says they are the best sweet thing he has ever put in his mouth. 

Michele used to make the original version of her treats for fun and would bring them to parties.  People started offering to pay her to make them.  She didn’t think this could really become a business, but her daughters encouraged her to take the leap.  She has now been selling her treats wholesale for three years and just recently opened up a store for the public.

Industrial Eats Menu Buellton California Weekend Getaway Industrial Eats Wood Oven Buellton California Weekend Getaway

Across the parking lot from Michele’s Tesora is Industrial Eats.  Industrial Eats is a farm-to-table restaurant serving local food sourced from the Central Coast.  In addition to the restaurant they also have a butcher shop.  Industrial Eats is one of the most popular restaurants in Buellton and is busy all day long.  The menu is featured on butcher paper hanging from the wall and changes frequently.  There are two wood-burning ovens in the back of the restaurant where they make pizza to order.

Industrial Eats Caesar Salad Buellton California Weekend Getaway Imperial Eats Cauliflower Vadouvan Buellton California Weekend Getaway

If Industrial Eats is crowded or you want to dine with your dogs, the best thing to do is to place your order and ask them to deliver it next door to Alma Rosa Winery.   Then you can enjoy wine tasting or a glass of wine with your meal.  Also, since Alma Rosa Winery doesn’t serve food, they are dog-friendly both inside and outside.

Alma Rosa Winery Buellton California Weekend Getaway

The Alma Rosa Winery tasting room brings a natural feel to its urban setting.  An olive tree stands in the middle of the tasting room and wood tables have rock filled bases.  They have a number of wines to taste.  My favorites include the Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, and an anniversary blend, all made from grapes grown in the nearby Santa Rita Hills.

Brothers Spirits Buellton California Weekend Getaway

In the same building as Michele’s Tesora, just around the corner, is Brothers Spirits, one of Buellton’s craft distilleries.  Jay Lockwood is the master distiller of Brothers Spirits, but the idea of the craft distillery was that of both Jay and his brother Jeff, who is a local winemaker.  Brothers Spirits makes Vodka, a sipping vodka that is like liquid velvet and is made with Albariño grapes, Tegave, which can’t be called tequila since it is made in the US but is made with 100% blue agave grown in Jalisco, and Limoncello, made with Granache grapes, filtered through crushed coconut shells, and infused with the zest of organic lemons.  Brothers Spirits will also be releasing a Mesquite Smoked Malt Whiskey.

Terravant Wine Company Buellton California Weekend Getaway

Farther down Industrial Way is Terravant Wine Company.  Terravant Wine Company is a commercial wine making operation churning out a half million cases of wine a year.  They are also the home of the other incredibly popular restaurant in Buellton, Terravant The Winery Restaurant, and the wine tasting wall, which has 52 bottles available for tasting.  For wine tasting, you get a card which you insert into the wine wall and pour your own wine.  You pay by volume and can fill your glass with as much or as little as you want.  Terravant is one of the first restaurants to feature one of these wine walls, which have air pressure control so the wine stays fresh.

Ascendant Spirits Buellton California Weekend Getaway

Next door to Terravant is Ascendant Spirits, which was the first craft distillery to open in Santa Barbara County since prohibition.  Ascendant Spirits makes 11 spirits including four vodkas, one gin, one corn whiskey, three bourbons, and two moonshines.  Ascendant Spirits likes to play with flavors, like using organic strawberries in their American Star Strawberry Vodka and Pink Lightening moonshine, limes from Goleta in their American Star Caviar Lime Vodka, and ghost peppers in their American Star Ghost Chili Vodka.

Standing Sun Wines Stage Buellton California Weekend Getaway Chi McClean at Standing Sun Wines Buellton California Weekend Getaway

Not far from Industrial Way is another of Buellton’s wineries, Standing Sun Wines.  In addition to their wine, they are known for their concerts.  We thought a concert at a winery would be a fun way to spend an evening, but we were surprised by the high caliber of musicians Standing Sun Wines brings in for the citizens of Buellton.  We learned later by talking to some locals that Standing Sun Wines has a reputation for introducing some really great musicians to the town.  We left Standing Sun Wines with not only the memory of great wine, great food from a food truck, and great music, but also three CDs from two new favorite bands Chi McClean and The Far West.

Another great thing about Buellton is the small town restaurants that have been around for years where one of the main ingredients of the food is love.  We visited two such places for breakfast. 

Pattibakes Breakfast Sandwich Buellton California Weekend Getawa Pattibakes Carrot Cupcake Buellton California Weekend Getaway

The first was Pattibakes, which Patti Wicks opened 20 years ago in September.  During the week, Pattibakes is open for breakfast and lunch, but on the weekends the employees get a break and they close early, so they’re only open for breakfast.  On the weekend, Pattibakes serves breakfast sandwiches, crunchy toasted bread filled with fluffy scrambled eggs.  Mine had a southwestern flair with avocado, chipotle mayo, and melted cheese while Romeo’s had ham, tomatoes, and melted cheddar.  What Pattibakes is really known for are baked goods like cakes, muffins, cupcakes, cinnamon rolls, and cookies.  I had been told to try the carrot cake cupcake, so I took one to go and later enjoyed it while wine tasting at Alma Rosa.  If you like carrot cake, do not miss out on Pattibakes’ carrot cake cupcakes.  Pattibakes has outdoor tables on the covered patio, so is dog-friendly year round. 

Mother Hubbard's Restaurant Corned Beef Hash Buellton California Weekend Getaway Mother Hubbard's Restaurant Hubbard Benedict Buellton California Weekend Getaway

The other family-owned restaurant in Buellton that we visited for breakfast was Mother Hubbard’s Restaurant.  Mother Hubbard’s has been serving Buellton for almost 40 years, though the current family has “only” owned it for 17 or so.  Owner Doniece Parson is a fixture in the restaurant.  She knows everyone, or gets to know them, and is constantly moving around checking on everyone and making sure they’re happy.  Mother Hubbard’s serves old-fashioned favorites, but some with a twist.  For instance, I had the Hubbard Benedict with bacon, poached eggs, and a red pepper hollandaise sauce on top of flaky country biscuits.  Rome had the corned beef hash, a recipe that the Parson family has perfected over the years.  They brine the beef in their wood walk-in refrigerator for seven to ten days.  They cook the corned beef the day before they plan to serve it, and then they shred it the day of serving.  I’m not sure this is the best description, but it kind of tasted like shredded charcuterie, perfectly salty and packed with meaty flavor.  There are a couple tables outside for dog-friendly seating.

Pea Soup Andersen's Buellton California Weekend Getaway

One final thing you have to do on a weekend trip to Buellton is to have a bowl of split pea soup at Pea Soup Andersen's.  As a kid, we always stopped at the Pea Soup Andersen’s in Santa Nella during our summer road trips and I have very fond memories.  The original Pea Soup Andersen’s is in Buellton, and Pea Soup Andersen’s is responsible for putting Buellton on the map.  Denmark-born Anton Andersen and his wife Juliette bought the land and opened the restaurant over 90 years ago.  Juliette was from France and she is responsible for the split pea soup craze.  Juliette’s split pea soup became, and still is, the most popular menu item.  Pea Soup Andersen’s is a casual diner, the food isn’t fancy, and honestly the other restaurants mentioned in this article are better, but Pea Soup Andersen’s is such an institution and so important to the town of Buellton, it has to be given the respect it deserves.  But stick to the split pea soup.

When our California Central Coast weekend getaway to Buellton was over, I was about ready to move there.  We loved the small-town attitude where everyone knew each other, liked each other, and looked out for each other.  The surroundings are breathtakingly beautiful and it feels like being in the country, yet the ocean is just a few miles away.  Add the food, the wine, the spirits, the candy, and the fun things to do, including some unique hidden gems, and you have a perfect California weekend getaway in the small package of Buellton. 

Thank you to Buellton Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau for hosting our trip and making this post possible.  As always, all opinions are our own.

Katherine Belarmino and Romeo Belarmino are the authors of Travel the World, a travel blog for the everyday working stiff. They work full-time in non-travel related jobs, but take every opportunity they can to travel the world during their limited vacation time.