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Last November, I celebrated my 25th birthday. For this quarter-of-a-century landmark, it was my every intention to go big or go home. In my case, going big meant taking a weekend trip with my boyfriend to Santa Barbara for wine tasting, delicious dinners and gorgeous ocean views.

It had been a while since I had made the trek up to SB, although it really isn’t very far from LA, or even Orange County, where I grew up. We decided to skip the inevitable 405 traffic and instead drove up the coast on Pacific Coast Highway, admiring the sun as it set over the ocean. It may have been a little longer route, but the beautiful scenery was absolutely worth the time.

Clear skies and sun may have guided us up the coast, but by the time we got to our destination it was dark and rainy. We quickly checked into our hotel—the Parkside Inn, which was cheap, comfortable and perfectly nice—and made our way to State Street for dinner.

Yelp.com has become my BFF these days, and on this trip, it definitely didn’t let me down. Olio Pizzeria received rave reviews, and sounded perfect for a cold, rainy night, so we decided to check it out. Hidden behind fine dining restaurant Olio E Limone, the quaint eatery reminded me of an Italian osteria. And the pizza was molto deliziosa!

olio-pizzeria We started things off with the trio of house-cured and marinated olives, then stuffed ourselves with the capricciosa pizza, made with tomato sauce, mozzarella, artichoke hearts and prosciutto cotto. We even added spicy salami to the pizza for an extra kick. My dream is that the pizzeria will someday deliver all the way to Brentwood … Hey, a girl can dream, can’t she?

Based on a recommendation by our very helpful server, my boyfriend and I made our way across the street to the cobbled alleyways of La Arcada, where we found Petit Valentian for more wine and some dessert. Besides having one of the best bottles of pinot noir ever—if only I could remember its name!—we also split some amazing chocolate mousse. It was the perfect end to a perfect evening, and the perfect beginning to a fantastic birthday trip.

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Saturday was a designated wine tasting day. We drove north to Santa Ynez Valley, stopping first at the picturesque Bridlewood Winery. The wine was very good, and the staff was incredibly friendly and helpful. I’m no wine aficionado, but there’s always opportunity to learn, and we left with a better understanding than when we came, and a bottle of their pinot noir to enjoy back in LA.

bridlewood-winery

Next, we headed down the road to the Brander Vineyard. I enjoyed the wine more at this one, and we purchased a bottle of their sauvignon blanc. At our third stop, Beckmen Vineyards, we liked the syrah best and added it to our collection.

brander-vineyard

With all that wine, we were dying for some cheese and fruit, although unfortunately none was offered at the wineries we visited. Lucky for us, there exists a magical place called C’est Cheese. Located back in Santa Barbara near State Street, this place is cheese heaven, offering nearly 120 different types of cheeses from a variety of countries. It would have been overwhelming had there not been an angel working behind the counter.

While C’est Cheese specializes in delicious-looking grilled cheese options and, of course, blocks of the dairy delight to take home, the woman who worked there was perfectly happy to grant our off-the-menu request. She compiled a plate of Brie, Gouda and one other sample, along with dried cherries and apricots and a small bowl of olives. Just like at Olio Pizzeria, but this time in French, the meal was très dèlicieux. It was exactly what we needed to complement a day of wine, and the parings she put together—Brie with dried cherries, Gouda with dried apricots—was absolutely brilliant.

The rest of the day was spent in a sort of wine-and-cheese coma, although we were able to emerge from it in time to visit Dargan’s Irish Pub for some late-night entertainment. Ideal for a low-key night out, Dargan’s celebrates all things Irish with legit-looking wall décor and a giant leprechaun greeting patrons as they walk in the door. In the entry room, there is a small bar and some tables, as well as bar games including a dartboard and a couple of pool tables. A jukebox provides background music.

Through a hallway in the back, and something we discovered by accident, is another room with a much longer bar and a few dining tables; a stage in the very back hosts live bands. What I loved about this place was first and foremost its authenticity and excellent beer selections. It was also very cool that the bar’s two rooms were completely separate from each other; although the band was rocking out in the back room, only the jukebox tunes could be heard in the front. Two different vibes found in one location, and both were equally enticing.

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Sunday was a gorgeous day, perfect for visiting Stearn’s Wharf and the weekly art show. We walked to the end of the wharf enjoying the view before heading down the row of artists showing off their wares that lined Cabrillo Street along the shore. There were so many beautiful things being offered, but we finally choose two colorful glazed serving platters, sold by a man who had been peddling his wares at the Santa Barbara art show for more than 30 years.

With one more stop on my list of things to do, we walked back up State to the Santa Barbara Historic Courthouse. The building was beautiful, but the best part was the clock tower where we could see a 360-degree view of the city.

santa-barbara-courthouse

I can’t believe it took me so long to visit Santa Barbara and take in all that it has to offer, but I absolutely plan to go back soon. After all, it’s only a couple of hours away…

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