Who knew the California Missions sell wine – and not the sacramental kind!

We started our day in downtown Ventura, where the Mission San Buenaventura is located.  The Ventura Mission was founded in 1782 by Fray Juniperro Serra – this was the last mission that he founded.  They built an aqueduct from a river 7 miles away to irrigate the mission crops – which lasted longer than the first church building that was destroyed by fire.  The padres had to flee inland in 1812 after a large earthquake damaged the mission, and they had to run again with the church valuables in 1818 when a pirate was pillaging the area.  An earthquake damaged the roof in 1857 as well.  Today, the mission is in the middle of downtown Ventura, but once you enter the gates to the courtyard, you are welcomed with very peaceful atmosphere.  They have a self-guided tour by donation, which is basically the chapel and the garden area.  There are a few of the early priests buried there behind the chapel.  The mission is an active parish with services daily and a school.  The chapel is beautiful, but more simple than some of the other missions we have seen.

After visiting the San Buenaventura Mission, we drove up to Santa Barbara to visit the Santa Barbara Mission.  This mission is much larger, more well-preserved, and more ornate.  It was the first founded by Fray Fermin de Lasuen in 1786.  The current church is actually the fourth on the site, built in 1820, after they decided to build larger and larger churches.  The third was destroyed in 1812.  Turns out the current trend of upsizing of homes is not a new phenomenon.  You can take a self-guided tour of the garden, which was originally a courtyard where the Indians lived and learned trades.  It takes you through the cemetery, where they estimate that 4,000 Indians, Franciscans and early Santa Barbara notables are buried.  From there you go into the chapel, which is absolutely beautiful.  It is decorated with 200-year-old paintings, that are about 7 feet tall.  Gorgeous!  The last stop of the tour was a museum containing information about the history of the mission, and artifacts from the mission.  They had a display of a mission kitchen, which made me glad for my gas stove and refrigerator.  And takeout – yes, definitely takeout.  In the gift shop you can buy Santa Barbara Mission Pinot Grigio and Sangiovese wine – it was tempting, but we settled for some postcards instead.

So all that looking into kitchens made us hungry (plus it was after noon, and I go from slightly hungry to “you could die if you don’t feed me now” in twelve seconds flat) so we drove to downtown Santa Barbara to find us some lunch.  We couldn’t decide, so we ended up at California Pizza Kitchen.  Neither of us had eaten there before, but for a chain, it was pretty good.  I had their Carne Asada pizza, and Jon had a Cobb salad, and we shared them both.  Yummy!  We wandered around for a little while, but neither of us was in the mood for ritzy shopping, so we headed on our way.

After lunch, we drove up to Solvang, California, which is a little Danish themed tourist town.  On the way, we stopped at Gainey Vineyard in the next town over, Santa Ynez, and did a tasting there.  Jon really enjoyed their Chardonnay, which is more on the oaked, buttery end of the spectrum.  We both enjoyed their Cabernet Franc.  I didn’t like their Merlot or their Cab Sauvignon, but Jon left raving about their selections.  They do their tastings in their aging cellar, which has a really neat atmosphere, but was dark and cold – and I didn’t come to California to be cold.  Luckily, they had a lovely patio that you could sit on while you do your wine tasting, you just have to keep trekking back and forth to get your next sample.  We sat and enjoyed the sunshine for awhile, and then were on our way.

We arrived in Solvang a few minutes before 4, so we didn’t really have much time to spend there.  We chose a winery on one of the main streets, Royal Oaks, and did a tasting there.  They had some good wines, and a few that were not so good.  I really enjoyed their Sauvignon Blanc, they did a great job making it a crisp, not too sweet wine.  Perfect for a hot summer day.  Their Pinot Noir was a disappointment – it was very tart.  They had a sweet Gewurztraminer that my mom would love though!  The server at the tasting room was friendly and down to earth, and we enjoyed our visit.

Solvang, CA

We headed back to the hotel that evening and hit Trader Joe’s for some snacks for dinner.  Sometimes dinner is just begging to be blueberries, a steak snack wrap, stuffed olives, 5-layer dip, and tapenade.  With wine of course.