Foxen Canyon was the original route to Santa Maria and that of Colonel John C. Frémont and his battalion of soldiers who were on their way to help free Santa Barbara and California of Mexican control in the 1840s. Frémont chose to lead his troops over San Marcos Pass in a heavy downpour rather than take the more predictable Gaviota Pass route, and his heavy cannon bogged down in the mud, resulting in a rather inglorious march into town. Today Foxen Canyon is explored only by those out for an afternoon ride or in search of the excellent wineries developed there since the 1970s.
This out-and-back ride features the Firestone, Fess Parker, Zaca Mesa, and Rancho Sisquoc wineries. From Mattei’s Tavern follow Foxen Canyon Road north for several miles up over a 300-foot rise and down to Zaca Station Road. Turn right and continue along Foxen Canyon Road through grassland and rolling hills for three miles, then climb a second rise to a point which overlooks upper Foxen Canyon, a land that has changed little in time.
Drop steeply downhill into the upper end of the valley, and in a mile Zaca Mesa Winery (10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily; (800) 350-7972) is on the left. Meaning “place of tranquility” in Spanish, the winery has colorful flowers on its perimeter, delicate rows of grapes leading in, and pleasing architecture for its tasting room in the interior, as well as a nice picnic area. In sum it is truly zaca mesa.
Continuing down Foxen Canyon, the road leads gradually downhill 9.5 miles through pastoral ranchland to the historic Sisquoc Chapel and the entrance to Rancho Sisquoc Winery (10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily; (805) 934-4332). Once a mighty cattle ranch, Rancho Sisquoc is the only remaining Santa Barbara land grant left intact, its 30,000-plus acres now providing grapes for one of the Santa Maria Valley’s finest wineries.
At the base of the chapel turn right and follow a level road for two miles along the banks of the Sisquoc River to the ranch headquarters, where you can not only sample the wine but also step back into nineteenth-century history.
Return via the same route. The Fess Parker and Firestone Vineyards provide convenient resting points on the way back. If you continue down to the Firestone Winery, backtrack .6 miles to Foxen Canyon Road, turn right, ascend the last remaining hill, and enjoy the final three miles of easy riding back to Mattei’s Tavern.