Z Folio Gallery

Penguin Family Blue Turquoise - by Jan Machalek

Amidst the t-shirt, souvenir and trinket shops of Solvang lies a gem – Z Folio Gallery. Hand crafted jewelry and glass and wood art from around the world. The artistic displays are complemented nicely by the over-sized photographic prints which cover the walls. As soon as you cross the threshold you realize you have entered a store like none other in Solvang or any place else for that matter.

I was immediately drawn in to the gallery by the photography. I love big. On the back wall was white rose that seemed to be illuminated from within. Over-sized, extreme close up, printed on canvas. Just beautiful. All the photography is big and my favorite subjects, flowers and water. The seascapes are fantastic. All the photography is done by Michael Mendizza, one of the gallery owners. While chatting with him about the gallery he claimed the photography was “just a lark.” He was simply looking for something to cover the walls.

But there is far more to this gallery than beautiful photography. It all started while on vacation. Michael and his wife Zdena Jiroutova, a native of the Czech Republic, were visiting Prague and discovered unusual glass crystal art. They filled a suitcase to bring back to the US and the journey began. First selling to wholesalers then opening a shop of their own. The Solvang location was such a success they have opened a second location in Monterey on Cannery Row.

Today, the gallery is filled with all sorts of glass art. Blown, fused, sculpted. Unique. Vibrant. Large, small, functional, decorative. Shall I say something for everyone. All hand created by a variety of Czech artists and designers. There are many pieces I would love to have in my home but I was particularly drawn to two glass towers created by glass artist Bohumil Elias Jr. As explained to me by Darcy Wright, the towers are made of fused glass and are meant to represent the twin towers of the World Trade Center. When viewed straight on, the towers are a magnificent blue with green centers. But, when viewed on the side the color all but disappears. Incredible.

Abundance Oval Pendant - by Falcher Fusager

Z Folio also carries art on a smaller scale in the form of jewelry. Again, all hand crafted using a variety of materials and techniques. If you stop into the gallery be sure to check out the jewelry by Falcher Fusager. An artist from Denmark, Fusager creates his jewelry using a highly refined multi-layered enameling technique. The art form results in a very colorful, almost iridescent, piece of jewelry.

Z Folio Gallery – A must see for any Solvang visitor.

What’s cool about it?
All handcrafted art and jewelry, truly unique and beautiful!

Valley Grind

Coffee, coffee, coffee…some days it seems like I cannot get enough :) Most of my weekdays start off at the Valley Grind in Santa Ynez where I pick up my caffeine to go and head off to work. Chelsey is there to greet me with a smiling face and cheery “Good morning!” and already has my double Americano brewing before I even walk through the door. All good things when I am barely awake at 6:45am.

Re-opened just about a year ago now, Chelsey, along with the help of her mom Barbara, scooped up the coffee shop when a rent increase drove out the previous owners. Chelsey saw her opportunity to go for her dream to be  local business owner. Serving up the rich aromatic cherished beverage (yes, I really do like coffee) seems to be a passion for Chelsey. She has turned this quaint local staple into a fun gathering place by featuring local artists of both the gallery type and musical variety, a “bookshelf” where book sharing is encouraged, lots of great seating and of course free wi-fi.

So, what’s on the menu? Coffee, coffee, coffee :) The Valley Grind gets their coffee from the Caribbean Coffee Co. of Santa Barbara. They offer all the usual suspects, espresso, mochas, lattes, drip coffee, teas, plus ice-blended drinks, smoothies and shakes. And what goes great with coffee? Pastries, of course! Their bakery case offers a wide array of locally baked pastry, muffins, bagels, donuts, cookies… all sorts of goodies. For bigger appetites try one of their bagel sandwiches.

Oh, and I almost forgot, Valley Grind is dog friendly! Great outdoor seating can accommodate you and your four legged furry friends. A bowl with fresh water and dog treats compliments of Jake (Chelsey’s Jack Russell) are always available.

All this talk about coffee I need to go grab me a cup!

What’s cool about it?
Great coffee, friendly atmosphere, dog friendly!
  • Address: 3558-A Sagunto Street, Santa Ynez, CA, 93460
  • Phone: 805.688.1506
  • Hours: Monday-Wednesday 6:00 am to 6:00 pm, Thursday-Saturday 6:00 am to 8:00 pm, Sunday 7:00 am to 5:00 pm
  • Getting there: Google Map to Valley Grind
  • Valley Grind

Sansone Studio Gallery

Joel Sansone in front of his "Stellarscape"

Vitreous enamel on copper is art. Who knew?

Long before Los Olivos turned into the wine tasting room mecca it is today, Joel and Pamela Sansone relocated from the Los Angeles area to turn their passion for art into a full time job. Today, their studio is full of incredible art both large and small, from the 8 foot diameter “Stellarscape” to 7″ diameter bowls which make great gifts!

This art form is a very time consuming process. Vitreous enamel, or ground colored powdered glass is applied to pure 18 gauge copper then fired in a kiln 1500 degrees Fahrenheit. During the firing process the glass becomes molten and fuses to the copper. Many applications and firings are done until the desired results are achieved. In the case of Joel’s “Stellarscape” the process took 17 months and about 500 firings to complete.

Although their address is on Nojoqui Ave, Sansone Studio Gallery is located just around the corner from the Daniel Gehrs tasting room on Jonata Street, this incredible art studio is open daily from 11am to 5pm. Look for their “open house” style signs for assistance.

Sansone Studio Gallery - Los Olivos

What’s cool about it?
Beautiful artwork, Great gift ideas, FREE to browse :)
  • Address: 2948 Nojoqui Ave #8, Los Olivos, CA 93441
  • Phone: 805.693.9769
  • Hours: Daily 11:00 am to 5:00 pm
  • Getting there: Sansone Studio Gallery is around the corner from Daniel Gehrs Wines tasting room and faces Jonata Street (dirt road)
  • Sansone Studio Gallery

The SYV Coffee House Bike Loop

This bike ride is may favorite loop through the Santa Ynez Valley. I have named it the SYV Coffee House Bike Loop simply because it passes by five of the best coffee houses in the Valley, any of which are a great meeting place to start your ride. I have chosen the Valley Grind as my starting point since it is closest to my home.

The 17.5 mile loop begins in Santa Ynez and travels north on back country roads through Ballard and on to Los Olivos. Los Olivos is a great stop if you want to do any shopping or wine tasting. Out of Los Olivos you head west to Ballard Canyon where the route turns southwest. The beginning of Ballard Canyon has a short steep climb and then a great downhill all the way to Solvang with just one short climb before entering into town. From here the route turns east passing through Solvang. A short downhill out of Solvang brings you to the Nielsen’s Shopping Center and one more climb before making your way back to Santa Ynez.

What’s cool about it?
Easy to moderate ride with great scenery, passes by several Santa Ynez Valley Favorite locations!

Refugio Road, Santa Ynez CA

Top of Refugio Road - Santa Ynez, CA

So, you’re in the Santa Ynez Valley, you don’t have a lot of time or money but want something active to do where you can experience “The Valley.” My suggestion would be a hike or mountain bike ride up Refugio Road. A few miles past the bridge crossing the Santa Ynez River, Refugio Road turns into dirt road “Forest Route 5N12.” It is possible to drive this road but certainly not recommended as the road is NOT maintained by the county. Instead, leave your vehicle behind and either jump on your mountain bike or put on some comfortable shoes and start walking. The dirt road meanders its way up the mountain (a pretty steep climb at times!) through the Los Padres National Forest. It is about 3.5 miles to the top where you have a fabulous view of the Pacific Ocean. To the west is Ronald Reagan’s ranch, aka the Western White House, but all you can see is the gate. If you are in really good shape you can continue down the road (which is now paved) and eventually end up at Refugio State Beach. To do this as a loop you are looking at about 27 miles round tip

This is also a great walk with your dog but I would recommend keeping your pooch on a leash. Remember, this is a wildlife area and you can run into bears, mountain lions, rattlesnakes and more. Plus, there is a lot of poison oak in this area. But don’t let any of this deter you. In the 20+ years I have been hiking and biking these trails I have only ever seen fresh bear tracks once. Click here for tips on what to do if you should encounter a mountain lion.

What’s cool about it?
Requires no $$, great views!


Longhorn Coffee Shop

Longhorn Coffee Shop - Santa Ynez, CA

The local hang out for breakfast in Santa Ynez is definitely the Longhorn Coffee Shop on Sagunto Street. Serving up breakfast and lunch daily for nearly 40 years, I think it is safe to characterize this place as one of the best greasy spoon in Southern California. Have a seat at the counter and take in the show, pancake flipping, eggs cooking, frying up breakfast meats…If you find the stools at the counter to be too short, and they are short, help yourself to a table. In fact, feel free to share the big table with some of the locals. Kelli would have insisted on it if the place was busy and the seats were available.

Speaking of Kelli, for me, she was the heart and soul of the Longhorn. Way back, when it was run by a couple named Peg and Bud Beaulieu, Kelli Moniot was a young waitress at the Longhorn. Eventually, Kelli bought the coffee shop and ran the place with grouchy efficiency and everyone loved her. She opened early, 4:30 am kind of early, so the local ranchers would have a place to get their morning coffee. She had a love for animals and always had bowls of food and water out front for the homeless cats. Sadly, Kelli passed away a few years ago but her spirit still lives on behind the old wooden Western facade and her husband Mike has kept the Longhorn going ever since. If you stop on by, you’ll see the kitty bowls are still out front. Inside you’ll find photos of Kelli on the walls along with local celebs, John  Wayne memorabilia, Western art and a hearty hot meal.

What’s cool about it?
True local flavor, family atmosphere!
  • Address: 3687 Sagunto Street, Santa Ynez, CA 93460
  • Phone: 805.688.5912
  • Hours: Daily for Breakfast and Lunch from early morning to 1:30 pm
  • Getting there: Google Map to the Longhorn Coffee Shop


Nojoqui Falls

Nojoqui Falls - Gaviota, California

Hidden at the back of a box canyon near the Gaviota Pass are the impressive 160 foot Nojoqui Falls. Pronounced NAH-ho-wee, the word is of Chumash origin and means honeymoon place. Water spills over these falls year round but if you can catch the falls after a recent rain the waterfall is spectacular.

Getting to the falls is an easy a journey. The park is just 1.8 miles east of  Highway 101, drive to the back parking lot and from there it is just a short 10 minute walk to the falls. The maintained dirt pathway has a couple of bridge crossings and two short rock stairways. The walk is an easy one but as you get closer to the falls it may be slippery so watch your step. Please follow the signs and not venture from the pathway. Not only is it dangerous but there is a large overgrowth of poison oak and the falls are not on park property but rather leased from a neighboring rancher.

If you’d like a more scenic tour, travel to the falls out of Solvang via Alisal Road. This windy country road brings you past the 10,000 acre Alisal Guest Ranch and golf course after which you begin a steady uphill climb beneath old Califonia Oaks. As you near the park the landscape opens up to a beautiful view of rolling hills dotted with grazing cattle. The one way 6.5 mile trip makes for a perfect afternoon bike ride and a great destination for a picnic lunch.

What’s cool about it?
Beautiful scenery that is easily accessible! Dog friendly!
  • Address: Nojoqui Falls County Park, 1.8 miles east of Highway 101 near Gaviota Pass
  • Phone: 805.934.6211 (for reserving park areas)
  • Hours: 8:00 am to Sunset
  • Getting there: Google Map to Nojoqui Falls County Park


Brothers Restaurant at Mattei’s Tavern

Brothers Restaurant at Mattei's Tavern - Los Olivos

Brothers Restaurant at Mattei's Tavern - Los Olivos

5/5/12 Update:

Sadly Brothers Restaurant at Mattei’s Tavern has closed. The old stage coach stop has become a ghost town.

The good news is the brothers have opened a new restaurant literally around the corner at the old Sides Hardware location (Patrick’s Side Street Cafe.) “Sides Hardware and Shoes – A Brothers Restaurant” is serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Watch for our blog post as I am sure it will be a “Favorite!”


Travel back in time with a visit to Brothers Restaurant at Mattei’s Tavern. The old stagecoach stop was built in 1886 by Felix Mattei and it served passengers and freight customers of the narrow-gauge Pacific Coast Railway. Today, the restaurant and bar are dripping with Old West heritage and charm from the red velvet wall covering to period art and plaques of the Rancheros Visitadores or “visiting ranchers.”

If you are like me and enjoy people watching then hang out in the tavern. Have a Martini or a glass of great local wine while sitting by one of the fireplaces. Reservations for the restaurant are highly recommended, but if you like, you may choose to dine in the tavern where they offer their full menu plus a few items you cannot get if dining in the main restaurant. My choice is always either the Filet Mignon Tacos or the Kobe Burger with Stilton cheese and caramelized onions. If you are really feeling decadent, top it all off with the Warm Mocha Truffle Cake. Mmmmm…my mouth is watering just writing about it!

If you are considering stopping in you need to do it soon before this treasure is gone away forever! While photographing the tavern for this post I learned the Brothers will only be at this location until spring of 2012 when their lease is up and they will be booted out. Seems a high priced hotel is moving in and taking over the old stagecoach stop. A true loss of such a special place that can now be enjoyed by so many.

What’s cool about it?
A look back on California’s Old West, full bar, good food, happening place!


Figueroa Mountain Road

California Poppies - Santa Ynez Valley

Spring has sprung in the Santa Ynez Valley. If you enjoy wildflowers the trek up Figueroa Mountain Road is well worth the trip for outstanding views and an abundance of California Poppies and Lupine. Be forewarned, the drive can be steep and windy and you should plan on at least a couple of hours for the trip.

To get there….You can begin your journey in Los Olivos, coffee and a bagel at Corner House Coffee would be my choice! Or pick up sammies, chips and drinks at Panino and plan on a picnic. Head north on Grand Avenue and cross over Highway 154 and you are on Figueroa Mountian Road. About 5 miles up the road you’ll find Neverland Ranch on your left – you know, the old Michael Jackson place. (Note, the sign for litter removal on Highway 154 for MJ Ranch has nothing to do with Michael Jackson!) After this, the road begins to narrow and climb up the mountain. To get all the way to the top you are looking at about 15 miles. If you are extra adventurous, rather than turning around and coming back the way you came, you can make a loop and exit out of the forest via Happy Canyon Road. The entire loop is about 42 miles and a large section within the forest is on unpaved road so travel at your own risk as road conditions will vary with weather.

What’s cool about it?
Outstanding views, beautiful flowers in the spring, hiking!


Dos Carlitos Restaurant & Tequila Bar

Dos Carlitos Restaurant & Tequila Bar

Photo: Dos Carlitos Restaurant & Tequila Bar - Santa Ynez

If it is Mexican food you are craving then Dos Carlitos is a must. Serving the best Mexican food in the Santa Ynez Valley, Dos Carlitos’ dishes feature fresh quality ingredients cooked over an open fire grill that give each entree it’s own delicious smokey flavor.

While you are trying to make up your mind on what to order from their extensive menu of mouth watering Especialidades, help yourself to the chips with black bean and corn salsa. Add a side order of their homemade guacamole for an extra treat. Dos Carlitos’ most popular dish is the Rock Shrimp Soft Tacos. My favorites? Hmmmm…Definitely the Sizzling Fajitas Platter or the Enchilada Suizas Verde or the Chicken Quesadilla. No matter what you order each bite is a tasty delight!

Dos Carlitos also offers the best deal going in the Valley. Their daily happy hour is between 4pm and 6pm and feature premium margaritas with 100% Blue Agave Tequila. Be sure to sit at the bar where they will also treat you one of their fabulous appetizers – all for only $5!! Be forewarned however, once you get a taste of those freshly made taquitos or quesadillas you’ll be moving the party to a table for dinner.

6/19/11 – UPDATE  Good news for all you dog owners who like to bring their best friends along…Santa Barbara County has lifted the ban on dogs! Restaurants that have patio dining may now allow pets if they choose. Dos Carlitos is now pet friendly and you may dine on their patio and have fido (or in my case, “Gracie”) beside your table. Yay!  There are still some rules which would prohibit dogs so be sure to inquire at other establishments.

Dos Carlitos Patio

Photo: Dos Carlitos Patio

What’s cool about it?
Superior food, best Happy Hour deal, patio seating and DOG FRIENDLY!


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