When people think of wine country in California, they think of Napa Valley, Sonoma, Mendocino, Lodi... but it wasn't until the movie "Sideways" came out in 2004 that a greater mass of the wine-loving population became familiar with Foxen Canyon in Santa Maria Valley. Even though some of Foxen Canyon's vineyards have been around for quite some time, Rancho Sisquoc pressed its first grapes in 1972, and it still remains a highlight of the area. So, what does all this wine talk have to do with outdoor adventure? What better than a weekend bike ride through some of the prettiest landscapes in Santa Barbara County?
Foxen Canyon Road is a great destination for a moderate length ride. From start to finish, the entire road is 29.4 miles along; however, you can chose to do this route in a number of ways. If you have your own bike and a friend, you can set a shuttle in Santa Maria and Los Olivos. Alternately, you can do an out-and-back that is fit for your strength level. The road is windy, offering spectacular views of the San Rafael Mountains at the summit of the second of two climbs when heading south to north. Unfortunately, there is no designated bike lane or much of a shoulder, but local traffic is used to cyclists and seems to pay attention well enough.
What's a ride through wine country without some wine? Currently, there are 14 vineyards on the Foxen Canyon Wine Tour. Most of them are open for tastings until at least 4 p.m., and some are open until 5 p.m. An excellent halfway point is the Rancho Sisquoc Vineyard. Cottonwood Canyon alxo offers wine cave tours, if that sparks your interest! Built in the mid-1990s, Cottonwood Canyon was the first winery on the Foxen Canyon Trail to utlize these subterranean structures for the purpose of storing and aging wine.
Here is a full list of the vineyards on the wine tour route you can choose from (south to north):
Too many options? Guess you'll have to do the ride more than once! If you choose to ride with a company, Santa Barbara Wine Country Tours offers an excellent half-day option with a farm-to-table lunch and wine tasting with your ride. The tour starts in Los Olivos and weaves its way up and through Foxen Canyon Road, following the Sisquoc River Valley rangeland, up through Ballard Canyon, and finishes in Slovang where you will be shuttled back to your start point.
Whichever route you decide to take, you won't be disappointed. Just remember to bring plenty of water because it can get quite hot from late spring to early fall.