For the third time this year, I used a race to explore side roads along California’s Highway 101. First I ran a 10K in a historic corner of Ventura, then a 50K south of San Simeon, and then last weekend, the Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon.
This event runs north of Santa Barbara around Solvang, a town fixed in my 1978 fourth-grade field trip mind as “the Danish windmill place near the split pea soup place.” (Those of you familiar with Hwy 101 probably get the reference to Anderson’s Split Pea Soup in Buellton.)
I knew next to nothing about the event when I registered and wanted only to break up my drive home from Southern California with a scenic run that would tune up my legs for upcoming races. This event turned out to be perfect. It’s one of five “wine country” half marathons in a popular race series produced by Destination Races.
Starting in the old cowboy town of Santa Ynez, the 13.1-mile course follows two sides of a big triangle to wind up in Solvang, passing through the picturesque town of Los Olivos along the way. We ran on rolling country roads (all paved) flanked by high-priced equine property, where sweat-flecked horses nervously cantered around their white-fenced pastures as hundreds of runners streamed by. Halfway, we climbed a significant hill and then descended past green hillsides interlaced with vines and blooming mustard.
The race ends in Solvang, the hamlet settled by Danes exactly 100 years ago. It’s a touristy but not-too-touristy village where home-grown bakeries outshine the Starbuck’s and Subway.
Reluctantly, I bypassed the wine and beer garden to hit the road home. Though I prefer trail to road racing these days, I’ll have to consider running one of this organization’s other races. In particular, their Healdsburg Half on Halloween weekend looks appealing.
This well-run event provided another reminder of just how vast and golden our state really is. During this year when circumstances limit our family travel, I’m grateful for any opportunity to explore destinations closer to home!
(* these two photos courtesy of the race organizer’s facebook page)