Buellton, 25 miles north of Santa Barbara, has been known for just one thing: split pea soup. For years, Buellton was that midday rest stop on the way to points north where you lunched at Pea Soup Andersen’s. No longer in the shadow of trendier neighbors Solvang and Los Olivos, Buellton has taken on a life of its own. It’s a fun place to stay, explore, eat and drink — and I’m not just referring to wine.
Buellton has at least one remarkable place to spend the night, the Flying Flags RV park (180 Avenue of Flags;  688-3716, www.FlyingFlags.com). Yes. You read that right. RV Park. Besides providing 178 spaces for those living the Good Sam lifestyle, it has on-site 14 exquisitely reconditioned Airstream trailers. Ever wonder what it would be like to travel in one of those shiny, silver, Streamline-Moderne trailers? Now you can find out, and you don’t have to hitch a thing. For $99 a night (Sundays to Thursdays) or $149 (Fridays and Saturdays), you get a 22-foot, 1967 Airstream Safari comfortable for two. Although you may not want to spend six weeks hauling it around the country, it is delightful for a weekend.
Dining opportunities are on the rise in Buellton, but there’s only one place to start: the Hitching Post II (406 E. Highway 246;  688-0676, www.hitchingpost2.com). Made famous by its star turn in the 2004 film “Sideways,” the Hitching Post attracts a lively crowd, most of whom are looking for steak. The beef is sourced from small packers in Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas, aged to the owners’ specifications and then grilled over a red oak fire. $36.95 gets you an 8-ounce filet mignon, baked potato, a salad made with local greens, a hearty soup of the day and a crudité tray. If breakfast is your most important meal of the day, the strawberry pancakes at Ellen’s Danish Pancake House — a local staple since 1947 — are not to be missed. (272 Avenue of Flags;  366-7819, www.ellensdanishpancakehouse.com).
Tucked away on a side street — and open only by calling ahead for a $15 guided tour — is Mendenhall’s Museum of Gas Pumps & Petroliana, one of the West Coast’s largest assemblages of gas station memorabilia and oil company collectibles (24 Zaca St.;  689-2402, www.mendenhallmuseum.com). The museum was the brain child of Jack Mendenhall, who used to run a Richfield station on U.S. 101 before it bypassed Buellton. Today his son, Mark, oversees the museum, which houses about 90 gas pumps, 400 gas globes, 3,500 signs and 37 pieces of road-related neon. It is also the home of the Dry Lakes Racing Hall of Fame. If you’re a devotee of the American road, this is Valhalla.
The lesson learned
Buellton is more than just a rest stop. It’s more than just wine. And it’s definitely more than split pea soup. Interesting destinations are cropping up, such as the Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. (45 Industrial Way;  694-2252, www.figmtnbrew.com), purveyors of the excellent Hoppy Poppy IPA, and the Ascendant Spirits distillery (37 Industrial Way, No. 102;  691-1000, www.ascendantspirits.com), makers of a remarkable small-batch bourbon called Breaker.
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