Sideways in Santa Barbara: Sights Inspired by the Film

An ostrich pokes its long neck through a slatted fence.
Near Solvang, you can feed ostriches at Ostrich Land. Photo © Robin L., licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

The movie Sideways was released in 2004; it was nominated for five Academy Awards, and won one for best adapted screenplay. In the 30 weeks the movie was in theaters, gross domestic ticket sales topped $70 million, with worldwide sales reaching more than $100 million, making it the 40th highest-grossing movie of that year.

In spite of the off-putting behavior of the two main characters, it showcased the Santa Barbara wine country like no film ever had, and soon visitors were showing up in the valley’s towns toting Sideways maps, enamored with the wine country vibe and the images of lush leafy vines, clear blue skies, beautiful valleys, and soft rolling mountains, looking to recreate the film’s experiences for themselves. And they kept coming. Many local businesses saw a net increase in business of 20–30 percent after the film came out.

In a well-known scene, one of the characters, Miles, tells his friend that he won’t drink merlot (using more colorful language than is appropriate here), and also praised the virtues of pinot noir. That registered in the minds of a fickle public, and sales of pinot noir increased approximately 15 percent, while the maligned merlot dropped about 2 percent in sales. Was it just the result of a line in a movie? Well, yes and no. Merlot had been over-planted in California to begin with, and there was a surplus of inadequate merlot flooding the market. But pinot noir did see an impressive rise in sales as a direct result of the film. Merlot producers across California were frustrated by the merlot bashing, and wine writers only added fuel to the fire by dissing merlot. Rex Pickett, author of the novel Sideways on which the film was based, was the featured speaker at a “Merlot Fights Back” dinner. The success of the film even spawned a Japanese-language remake, changing the location to Napa from Santa Barbara.

Regardless, the film generated traffic for the wine country. In Santa Barbara County, wine is a $360 million industry that produces more than one million cases annually. More than a quarter of those bottles come from the Santa Ynez Valley, which is home to over 100 wineries and roughly 5,000 acres of vineyards. The county is best known for its pinot noir and chardonnay — and yes, there is merlot produced here too. In 2008, nearly 17 percent of the over eight million visitors to the county said they came for the wine. Sideways produced an up effect, and the ripples are still being felt.

Sideways Sights and Accommodations

Kalyra Winery

Kalyra Winery (343 N. Refugio, 805/693-8864, Mon.–Fri. 11 a.m.–5 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 10 a.m.–5 p.m., tasting fee $7) is famous for having been featured in the film Sideways. The building itself has been home to several other wineries prior to Kalyra moving in, such as the Santa Ynez Valley Winery and Lincourt Vineyards. The partial wraparound deck provides great views of the valley and mountains, and when the sun is setting and the golden hues hit the leafed-out vines, it’s truly beautiful. The winery’s interior gives a nod to brothers Mike and Martin Brown’s Australian roots and love of surfing. They initially started out producing sweet wines but have since expanded their portfolio to include a large number of red and white wines, including some made from Australian grapes.

Ostrich Land

Made popular by the film Sideways, the Ostrich Land (610 E. Hwy. 246, 805/686-9696, daily 10 a.m.– dusk, $4 adults, $1 children under 12) farm is on Highway 246 two miles before you reach Solvang from Highway 101. At first glance it seems somewhat prehistoric; you’ll see massive birds wandering through the shrubs in the distance, their thin necks sporting small heads and big eyes. They usually keep their distance and only approach when there is food to be had. Should you decided to feed them, you need to hold the food plate firmly in your hand as they don’t eat gingerly, but attack the plate with a fierce determination to get food, so if you have a loose grip on the plate it will fly out of your hand with the first attack for food. Aside from feeding them you can shop for ostrich eggs and ostrich jerky as well as emu eggs and ostrich-feather accoutrements.

River Course at the Alisal

The 18-hole, par-72 River Course at the Alisal (150 Alisal Rd., 805/688-6042, green fees $60–70) was featured in Sideways. It’s a beautiful course on the banks of the Santa Ynez River, punctuated with magnificent oak trees. Challenging and beautiful, it features four lakes, open fairways, tricky hazards, and large, undulating greens accented by native sycamore trees. Elevated tees reveal some vistas and occasional vineyards, so bring your best game and your camera.

Days Inn–Windmill

Days Inn–Windmill (114 E. Hwy. 246, Buellton, 805/688-8448, $70–90 d) was featured in the film Sideways— you can even stay in the same room where the main characters stayed in the film. The 108 rooms here are pretty standard and basic, with the best feature being the outdoor pool. It’s right off Highway 101 and you can’t miss its namesake windmill. It’s best to avoid the rooms fronting the freeway and go for an interior room to cut down on the noise. There are no views to speak of, but the prices are good.

Los Olivos Wine Merchant Cafe

Los Olivos Wine Merchant Cafe (2879 Grand Ave., 805/688-7265, Mon.–Fri. 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m., Sat.–Sun. 11 a.m.–9 p.m., $20) has been plying their trade since 1995, and always did well. But Sideways really cemented their popularity, and now it’s nearly always packed. You can sit outside on the deck, inside at the tables, or at the bar. They have a wall of wine as part of their offering, so if you find something you’d like to have with your lunch or dinner you can buy a bottle, or take one home with you. It gets noisy and the service is usually strained because of capacity crowds, but they prepare wonderful food like cage pot roast, and their excellent housemade bread dipping oil is sold by the bottle.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Santa Barbara & the Central Coast.