Santa Barbara, Santa Rita Hills and making of the movie Sideways makes for memorable tour

The lovely Santa Rita Hills wine country is a great place for Pinor Noir and Chardonnay wine grapes.

We’ve been traveling the country extensively in recent years, with much of our time spent in a little teardrop travel trailer. When the weather’s bad, we retreat inside to watch favorite movies – with the 2004 hit Sideways high on our rainy day list.

We recently were trekking up the California coast to Santa Barbara, planning to take a boat over to Channel Islands National Park. When ocean storms raised complications – we reconsidered our plan and decided, instead, to tour the lovely Santa Rita Hills wine country just northwest of Santa Barbara.

From there, it was also easy to elect to retrace the film locations of the 2004 movie, filmed in multiple locations in Solvang, Los Olivos, Buellton and Santa Maria.

Miles and Jack at the bar at the Hitching Post Restaurant.

Released in October, 2004, Sideways is the story of two men in their late 40s who take a week long road trip to Santa Barbara County/Santa Rita wine country to celebrate the upcoming wedding of serial philanderer Jack (Thomas Hayden Church). Best man Miles (Paul Giamatti), wine snob and would-be writer, continually denigrates Merlot and extols his love of local Pinot Noir.

My spouse, Susan, at left, bellies up to the Hitching Post bar beside a newly made friend.

During the week, the men meet Stephanie and Maya, partake in local wines and their relationships frame the film.  In the months following the movie, Pinot Noir sales jumped 16% on the West Coast and Merlot sales dropped several percent – tied to the movie’s impact.

The movie received a host of major awards: it garnered an Academy Award Oscar for best adapted screenplay and was nominated for best picture, best director, best supporting actor (Church) and best supporting actress (Virginia Madsen). It won a Golden Globe for best picture/comedy and best screenplay. The Screen Actors Guild awarded it ‘best performance by cast in a motion picture’.

This is a land of lovely coastal mountains and flowing valleys, yielding world-class wine country – shown off beautifully in the film. Even if you have no interest in the area’s film credits, it’s world-class and immensely scenic wine country. The area specializes in Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc and counts more than 100 wineries in the immediate area.

Solvang has a cute, Scandinavian design and feel.

So, take the tour with us, most of it filmed in the pastoral Santa Rita Hills. We started in Buellton, right on Highway 1, site of several of the film’s scenes, including Sanford Winery, 7250 Santa Rose Rd., Days Inn Buellton, 114 E. Highway 246 and three blocks away, the Hitching Post II Restaurant, 406 E. Highway 246.

Sanford Winery in nearby Lompoc is relatively small and homey; here Miles imparts to Jack the fine points of wine tasting, noting one tasting has “just a flutter of Edam cheese” (while Jack chews gum). They return to the Windmill Motel to spend the night (the Days Inn) and walk a few blocks to the Hitching Post, where Maya (Virginia Madsen) waits tables; Miles recommends the ostrich steak. We stumbled upon the ostrich farm, by accident, 610 E. Hwy. 246.

Horse-drawn wagon ferries tourists in Solvang.

Nearby Solvang is definitely worth a visit, built to look like a quaint Scandinavian village. Here, as horse-drawn wagons ferry visitors through the city, the Solvang Restaurant is where Miles and Jack begin to see their relationship fracture (try the waffles!). Stop at Ingeborg’s Danish Chocolate Shop, across the street, for world-class chocolates and sweets.

The Solvang Restaurant is featured in the Sideways movie; here cracks appear in Mile's and Jack's relationship.

Fess Parker Winery, 6200 Foxon Canyon Rd., Santa Maria, passes as the low-brow winery under the fake name ‘Frass Canyon”, where a distraught Miles, learning his novel won’t be published, attempts to drink the spit-bucket. It’s big, modern and crowded, likely connected to the Davy Crockett character who founded the establishment.

But it’s Los Olivos that really struck our fancy, with a bucolic downtown surrounded by stunning wine country. Firestone Winery, 5000 Zaca Station Rd., is where Jack, Stephanie, Maya and Miles sneak into the barrel room.

The wine rack in Los Olivos Restaurant and Wine Merchant.

After wine-tasting we had a late delicious dinner at the Los Olivos Café and Wine Merchant, 2879 Grand Ave., where the couples dine, sample 4+ bottles of wine and Miles phones his ex-wife. My spouse, Susan, of course, sampled a local Pinot Noir, hooked on the varietal by the movie!

Afterwards, we strolled the quaint downtown, with several bed-and-breakfast inns and the nifty Los Olivos General Store – vowing to come back.

The Los Olivos downtown is anchored by the Los Olivos General Store.

What’s nearby: the Santa Ynez Mission, circa 1804, the lovely coastal city of Santa Barbara and Channel Islands National Park (reachable by ferry from Oxnard and Ventura).

How to get to Santa Rita Hills/Buellton, CA: From Stockton, take I-5 south, go southwest on Hwy. 41, then south on Hwy. 101 to Buellton. It’s about 310 miles and five hours from Stockton.

For more information: the Santa Barbara Conference and Visitors Bureau, offers a free map of the movie tour, santabarbaraca.com.  For insight into the Santa Rita Hills Wine Trail, santaritahillswinetrail.com/.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

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