If you’ve read any of this blog before, by now you can probably guess what a typical itinerary looks like for me: arrive, eat, drink, learn somethin’, and repeat. My ladies’ trip to Santa Barbara, California was no different—the perfect combination of good ole’ fashioned gluttony and doing my best to learn something about the place I’m visiting. If you’re thinking about visiting California but want to go somewhere more laid back and slower-paced than Los Angeles or San Francisco, Santa Barbara is the perfect choice.
One of the best things about Santa Barbara is that you get a definite city-vibe—there is plenty to do and something going on seemingly at all times—but with the laid-back attitude of a much smaller place. State Street and downtown Santa Barbara are full of good restaurants and an obscene (in the best way) amount of wine tasting rooms, but parking wasn’t a nightmare. Our AirBnB was a mere 5-minute drive from all the action of State Street but was in a quiet, residential neighborhood. If you’re really dying to get out of town, there are countless wineries and even a Danish town full of mysterious intrigue within a short drive down the PCH.
Before this trip was fully planned out, we were waffling between heading to Santa Barbara or the Willamette Valley in Oregon—two spots where we could easily procure wine at literally any moment of the day. What tipped the scales in the favor of Santa Barbara was the Urban Wine Trail, a collection of several dozen tasting rooms that are loosely arranged around bustling State Street. We could leave the car at home, walk from tasting room to tasting room, and enjoy the endless food options around us once we decided to call it quits.
Though I’ve heard only good things about all of the tasting rooms on the UWT, some in particular stood out. Area 5.1 Winery emerged as our favorite, right in the heart of the Funk Zone and boasting a mix of really unique wines and the most laid-back, fun attitude and staff you could ever imagine in a tasting room. Deep Sea Tasting Room is more upscale without being stuffy and enjoys a gorgeous patio with views across the Pacific coastline. Pali Wine Company, Kunin Wines, and Margerum Wine Company were other fan-favorites of the weekend.
Wine activities aside, travelers that aren’t grape-lovers can find plenty to do and eat in Santa Barbara. The upscale dining standout of our weekend was Wine Cask, which shares space (and wine) with Margerum Wine Company—but the food is just as good as the libations.
True to California’s notoriously laid-back attitude, some of the best eateries we encountered were casual and inexpensive. The Santa Barbara Public Market has you covered for breakfast, lunch, or dinner with trendy poke bowls at I’a Fish Market & Café, a cupcakes stand, or Green Star Coffee, which, in addition to great coffee and great service, has the tenderest, flakiest croissants that I’ve had in a long while.
McConnell’s ice cream is a favorite to locals and visitors alike, where you can find old staples like sweet cream or treats that sound like they jumped straight out of Portlandia—Eureka lemon & marionberries or boysenberry rosé milk jam come to mind. I settled for a scoop of olive oil & salted almond and did not regret a single bite. Our most genius idea was visiting C’est Cheese, a dream come true for a cheese-lover. For a quick stop, grab lunch at the café that offers several types of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches; if you’re more committed to cheese than a quick lunch, resign yourself to getting lost in the cheese shop, where you’ll probably drop $50 before you convince yourself to get out while you still can.
Though it’s easy to spend days on end wine-tasting, you’d be crazy to miss out on the historical sights of Santa Barbara. Mission Santa Barbara is a piece of Spanish missionary history frozen in time, though the history of the Mission is definitely portrayed in a rosier light than it might be in, say, a history textbook; I’d skip the explanatory film and head straight through the self-guided tour of the gardens and chapels. The courthouse is gorgeous and has a tower open to visitors that will offer you an amazing panoramic view of the city and coastline as well.
Travelers itching to get out of the city have plenty of options at their fingertips. There are a bevy of wineries and vineyards just outside of the city—we settled on Fess Parker, where several scenes of Sideways fame were filmed (called “Frass Canyon” in the movie). Fess Parker is classy, again, without being snooty, and has a beautiful patio with views over the vineyard. When you finish your tasting, you’re welcome to stroll through the rows of grapes or just order wines by the glass.
Solvang, a kitschy Danish town in the Santa Ynez Valley, is still a bit of an enigma to me; upon arrival, you’ll see windmills, year-round Christmas shops, and bakery upon bakery “in the Danish style.” Though the bakery we chose (and likely most of the bakeries) are a tourist trap and not worth the money, the winery-in-the-windmill (actually called Lost Point) was cute and a great 30-minute diversion.
Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that Santa Barbara will far exceed your weekend-trip expectations; I think we could’ve stayed for a week and never run out of wine and cheese to eat or day trips to take. Next time you think of California, think of Santa Barbara!
Area 5.1 Winery & Tasting Room, 137 Anacapa Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, (805) 770.7251, http://www.a51wine.com
Deep Sea Tasting Room, 217 Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, (805) 618.1185, https://www.conwayfamilywines.com/Deep-Sea-Tasting-Room
Pali Wine Company, 116 E Yanonali Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, (805) 560.7254, http://www.paliwineco.com
Kunin Wines, 28 Anacapa Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, (805) 963.9633, http://www.kuninwines.com
Margerum Wine Company, 813 Anacapa Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, (805) 845.8435, https://www.margerumwines.com
Wine Cask, 813 Anacapa Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, (805) 966.9463, http://www.winecask.com
Santa Barbara Public Market, 38 W Victoria Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, (805) 770.7702, http://www.sbpublicmarket.com
McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams, 728 State Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, (805) 324.4402, http://www.mcconnells.com
C’est Cheese, 825 Santa Barbara Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, (805) 965.0318, http://www.cestcheese.com
Fess Parker Winery, 6200 Foxen Canyon Road, Los Olivos, CA 93441, (805) 688.1545, https://www.fessparker.com
Lost Point Winery & Tasting Room, 436 Alisal Road, Solvang, CA 93463, (805) 350.8645, http://www.lostpointwinery.com