My perfect date starts early on a Saturday, so we’re the road to Solvang by 8 a.m. For the scenic route, take Pacific Coast Highway north to Santa Barbara and then take Highway 154 over the San Marcos Pass to this Danish-style community in the Santa Ynez Valley.
Try to make it there by 11 a.m. If you get there any later, you’ll have a hard time finding ableskevers, a local specialty that resembles a round pancake. These fluffy, golf ball-sized treats come three to an order, are dusted with powdered sugar and served with strawberry jam. They’re great with a side of Danish ham. I suggest you ask for the jam on the side because they sometimes overdo it.
After the ableskevers, take in the sights of Solvang. It’s kind of a tourist trap, but still fun to look around for a couple of hours. You might even want to buy a pan and the mix to make your own ableskevers at home.
A store to watch for is Lucas & Lewellen. They sell their own wine, have books on wine and have wine tasting too. You might recognize it from the movie Sideways.
Another place to visit is The Olive House on Mission Drive. They have a fantastic selection of olives, pickled peppers, oils (and wine too). I always grab some olives there. They’re great for martinis at home.
By 2 p.m., you should be back on Highway 101 heading north. On the way out of Solvang on Highway 246 you’ll pass Ostrich Land on the left. They have tours — but unless your date is into 7-foot tall birds, it might not be part of a perfect date scenario — at least not mine anyway.
Next stop is Pismo Beach, about an hour away, where you’ll spend the night. I like to stay at the Cottage Inn by the Sea. It’s quaint but very comfortable and sits right on the cliff area that overlooks the ocean. Try to get a room on the upper floor for the cathedral ceilings.
I like to spend some time in the room relaxing or doing whatever you feel like doing before heading out again.
When you’re ready for dinner, I suggest taking a cab for a 10-minute ride to F. McLintock’s Saloon and Dining House. (The cab is so you don’t have to worry about drinking and driving.) It’s on the east side of the freeway. They have a nice bar area to wait in, and do prepare to wait if you want a table with an ocean view. But it’s pleasant because there’s usually someone playing guitar and singing, and the atmosphere is rustic and comfortable.
McClintock’s has the best steaks in the Santa Marino area — an area known for its fantastic barbecue. They also serve awesome onion rings and these great pan-fried ranch potatoes. Oh, and they always serve salsa with steaks in Santa Marino. I don’t know why, but you’ll get it no matter where you go.
After dinner, we get back into a cab and head off to The Great American Melodrama & Vaudeville in the little town of Oceano, about a 15-minute drive from McClintock’s.
This is an old-fashioned-style vaudeville theater. There’s sawdust on the floor and a little stage like you’d see in a western saloon. The waiters and waitresses are also the performers. They encourage you to boo, hiss, and cheer — it’s a lot of fun. When the show ends at 11 p.m., I usually head back to the hotel in Pismo.
The next morning, I like to walk down to the Pismo pier. The Old West Cinnamon Roll Company sells the most amazing cinnamon rolls. It’s the only thing they sell. But you can also help yourself to the breakfast that’s included at the Cottage Inn. I suggest you grab something to hold you over until you get back to Solvang where I like to stop in at Paula’s Pancake House.
Expect to wait at Paula’s, but it’s worth it for their Danish pancake — a very thin 12 inch in diameter pancake that’s to die for. And yes, I realize this weekend adventure will probably require eating salads for the rest of the week.
As a last stop, I like to take a walk on the Sterns Wharf, the Santa Barbara pier. On Sunday’s there’s usually something always going on there, like an art show or fair. By the time we get back to Los Angeles, we’re usually both pretty relaxed by then, and definitely well fed.