Los Olivos Is the Under-the-Radar Wine Town You Need to Visit This Year

This 2.5-square-mile town just went from rest stop to must-stop.

George Rose/Getty Images News
George Rose/Getty Images News
George Rose/Getty Images News

Welcome to Two Days Away, our series featuring weekend-long itineraries within a five-hour drive of your city-because sometimes we all just need a little adventure fix.Throughout much of its history, the rolling hills of Los Olivos have been considered a mere place to rest on the way to somewhere else. It started as a stagecoach stop on the route between San Francisco and Los Angeles in the mid-1800s. When the Pacific Coast Railway added a line extension from Los Alamos to the new town in 1887, developers began calling it “Los Olivos” after Rancho De Los Olivos, a nearby ranch dotted with 5,000 olive trees.

Now a tourist destination in its own right, this pastoral Santa Ynez Valley town overflows with Old West charm. From hitting up the best tasting rooms and dining at destination-worthy restaurants to stocking up on cowboy boots for a horseback ride through the hills, here’s your weekend itinerary for Los Olivos, California.

Travel time:

2 hours and 30 minutes from Los Angeles. 
4 hours and 15 minutes from San Diego. 
4 hours and 30 minutes from San Francisco. 

If you don’t do anything else: Sip through Los Olivos’s best tasting rooms

For such a tiny town, Los Olivos has an almost astounding number of tasting rooms within walking distance of one another, including some wine industry favorites. Start at Story of Soil for its low intervention pinot noirs and world-class gamay. Around the corner, Storm Wines offers flights of its classically styled pinot noir and Sauvignon Blanc. Down the block, Stolpman Vineyards boasts two tasting rooms that require reservations (though the staff will often take walk-ins when space permits). Stolpman pours natural-style, uncrushed, whole-cluster wines fermented via native yeasts in its adjacent Fresh Garage Patio. Meanwhile, the open-air Los Olivos Patio, with sleek yet comfortable outdoor sofas and lounge chairs, is where you’ll find Stolpman’s classic estate-grown wines. Finally, make an appointment at Holus Bolus for a tasting of organically-farmed classic varietals: One of the owners, Peter Hunken or Amy Christine, will most likely personally guide the tasting.

Fill Your days:

Horseback riding in Los Olivos

Driving into Los Olivos-in pretty much any direction you look-you’re going to see a horse. There are numerous breeders around, and the town is even home to one of the best equine hospitals in the entire state. So, if you’re even remotely interested in horses, consider booking a ride for the full Santa Ynez Valley experience. In Los Olivos, Adventure Kap offers horseback excursions on the upper mesa of Fess Parker Home Ranch. The rides, which offer stunning views of the valley and surrounding peaks, pass by cattle, wildlife, and an adorable herd of miniature donkeys. Plus, for an additional $20, guests can end their excursion with a tasting next door at the Fess Parker Winery. In nearby Santa Ynez, Vino Vaqueros offers private riding experiences through the grapevines and countryside.

Where to hike in Los Olivos

The rugged Santa Ynez mountains boast a number of hiking trails that are well worth the effort. The moderately challenging, 4.1-mile Lovers Loop Trail passes through grass- and oak-covered hillsides and offers prime views of the lower valley. It starts at the Grass Mountain Trailhead, which also marks the beginning of the challenging Grass Mountain Trail, a 5.2-mile out-and-back that goes up to the grass-covered and (sometimes) wildflower-studded peak, offering spectacular vistas of the region.

Where to shop in Los Olivos

Another great thing about strolling around Los Olivos’s quaint downtown is the dozens of cute shops. Buy a pair of boots or a Stetson for your ride at Jedlicka’s Saddlery, customize your straw or felt fedora at Global Eye Shop & Studio’s hat bar, or stock up on luxury, ranch-inspired dresses, tops, and accessories at Wendy Foster.

Take advantage of local farms to stock your kitchen. Load up on local olive oil and take a beat under the trees at newly opened Olive & Lavender Farms. The beautifully bucolic property boasts more than 100 imported olive trees at what once was a blacksmith shop for the famous 1800s stagecoach stop at Lansing’s Crossing, as well as numerous seating areas, where guests can chill and even bring a packed lunch. On your way out of town, make sure to hit up Finley Farms‘s self-service stand (it accepts Venmo) for fresh greens and other seasonal items to take home. Summerset Farm, a can’t-miss stand right on 154, offers jams, honeys, and eggs year-round. Plus, it also offers pick-your-own berries in summer and pumpkins in fall.

Eat, Drink, and Sleep:

Restaurants and Bars in Los Olivos

The crown jewel in the town’s dining scene is Bar Le Côte. The French-farmhouse-meets-mid-century spot, overseen by the team behind Michelin-starred Bell’s in Los Alamos, features European-inspired dishes starring fresh Central Coast seafood. Make sure to try the Day Boat Scallop Crudo, topped with a memorable combination of pickled mushrooms, crème fraîche, and dill pollen. If you really want to go all out, wash it down with a bottle of grower-producer Champagne Marguet from the short but nicely assembled wine list.

Given that it’s set in the middle of farming and ranching country, it’s no surprise that several top restaurants in Los Olivos serve a solid selection of locally-grown ingredients. Homey and casual Los Olivos Wine Merchant and Cafe offers salads, pizzas, and large plates featuring produce sourced straight from the owner’s nearby farm for lunch and dinner. Another great spot for lunch and dinner is Nella Kitchen & Bar, run by the S.Y. Kitchen team, which features local ingredients on its Italian-leaning menu of seafood, meat, and Roman pinsas (hand-pressed pizza made from a mix of rice and wheat flours). The Tavern, the restaurant at Mattei’s, serves locally sourced, wood-grilled meats and veggies paired with an impressive wine list (also great breakfast and brunch in the morning). Since opening, the trendy, saloon-like hotel bar has become a go-to for historically-inspired cocktails and a prime spot for watching local winemakers and cowboys mingle with the well-to-do guests and anyone else who happens to be around that given night. 

For a more low-key drinking vibe, consider stopping into wine and beer bar The Other Room, a collaboration between Companion Hospitality (Bar Le Côte, Bell’s) and the team behind the BackRoom at Solvang’s Valley BrewersIt boasts rarer wines by the glass, hard-to-find bottles, and an excellent selection of California craft beers. Just don’t expect to stop in for a nightcap unless that follows an early-bird dinner, as it’s only open from 2 pm to 8 pm Friday through Tuesday.

Where to stay in Los Olivos

Until the newly renovated historic Inn at Mattei’s Tavern threw open its doors this year, anyone who wanted to spend the night within stumbling distance of Los Olivos’s abundant tasting rooms had to fight for one of the 19 rooms at Fess Parker Wine Country Inn or try to snag one of a handful of vacation rentals. That changed this year when-after four years of construction and who knows how many millions of renovations-Auberge Resorts reopened the historic Inn at Mattei’s Tavern with 67 luxury guest rooms and cottages. The long-running hotel first opened its doors in 1886 to serve the rail and stage passengers making their trips north and south. (Original proprietor Felix Mattei eventually called it Mattei’s Tavern.) As you’d expect, it’s not cheap, but it enables visitors to actually spend a weekend in town. Whether you want to splurge or find a cute, affordable Airbnb, there’s never been a better time to spend a couple of days in Los Olivos’ walkable downtown.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTikTokTwitterFacebookPinterest, and YouTube.

Sara Ventiera is a former editor at Thrillist.


Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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