What drew us to Santa Barbara for my mom’s 50th birthday?
For one, it was the coastal setting. Who wouldn’t want to visit America’s Riviera?
Second, the wineries and the conveniently located tasting rooms downtown. Very unusual and so tempting!
And of course, one of the main things I research before booking my flight, the food scene.
It was my first trip away from baby, now 12 months old, and I was heading out with my sister and parents in celebration of my mom’s 50th. It is a new tradition in my family to celebrate big milestones – 30th, 40th, 50th and so on.
Tofino was my 30th, Hawaii was my dad’s 50th (although that was a trip for my parents), and Santa Barbara was my mom’s 50th. Where will my sister’s 30th take place next year? Trust me when I say I am already planning it.
But I digress!
Santa Barbara was so beautiful. The orange tiled roofs, the white building façades, the wine and by god the food.
Here are the places and eats I recommend you sample on your trip to Santa Barbara.
1. The Lark
A kind of southern inspired Californian restaurant with family style serving, it was my favourite foodie stop of all. Located in the trendy Funk Zone and highly revered as one of the city’s best restaurants there is something for everyone and we tried an array!
What we tried: Pimento cheese sliders, oysters with bloody marry granita, chicken skin cracklins and the Santa Barbara white sea bass were all killer choices but my favourite dish of all…
What I loved: The crispy leg duck confit with duck fat biscuit, black eyed peas and charred nectarine. I would go back for this dish alone!
Another culinary gem in the Funk Zone is Loquita. A popular restaurant trend is family style and as a family that likes to share, swap plates and try a bit of everything it really works for groups. Another fun fact is that Santa Barbara and its unique Mediterranean terroir are very similar to coastal Spain. For this reason, Loquita offers Spanish tapas with local ingredients and it is a hit.
El Bulli inspired liquid olives, tomato toasts served with jamón tasting, the Vaca flat iron steak carpaccio, medula bone barrow and free range chicken fritter wrapped in jamón ibérico.
What I loved: Paella! Seasonal paella is offered at Loquita and the only trouble you’ll have is deciding which one to order.
I’m not going to sugar coat things. At first, I didn’t like any of the white wines from the Santa Barbara area. I hit about 3 wine tasting rooms within the first 12 hours of being there and all of the white wines were very tart and too much acid. When I finally did find a wine I liked it was only because it didn’t burn the back of throat.
We were finding a few good reds here and there but white wines, my preferred drink of choice in the summer, was far and few between.
I admittedly have a “valley palate” as we like to say here in the Okanagan wine region. That’s when we drink a lot of local Okanagan valley wines. When we try wine from somewhere else we are almost in shock – good or bad. So I was chalking it up to my inexperience of Santa Barbara county wines.
But then I found reprieve. Margerum Wines. Again in the Funk Zone and is one of the most beautiful tasting rooms in the city with plenty of room.
What I loved:
M5 White tasting notes: Golden in colour and notes of pineapple, apricot and brioche.
2017 Sybarite Sauvignon Blanc: Minerality, apple and pear. A pleasure to drink!
This tasting room offers a fun vibe and at the time of our visit we enjoyed live music. As are many of the best restaurants and tasting rooms, it is located in the Funk Zone. Come here for the Pinot Noir selection. There are plenty!
What I loved: All their wines were enjoyable and the atmosphere made me want to grab a glass and stay a while for music on their patio.
Wine + Chocolate tasting = Murissa’s weakness
Jamie Slone has some excellent red wines, their white wines were a little too acidic for me. However, the rosé was tasty and a perfect patio sipper. The tasting room itself is located in a historic building on De la Guerra Street in the El Paseo, part of the Presidio area of town. It is historic and beautiful as you duck into random arcades scented with orange trees along tiled walk ways and quaint fountains.
What I loved: Chocolates, locally made by Chocolats du Cali Bressan, were a real stand out as was the Rosé made from 100% Grenache.
6. Silver Wines
This was the first wine tasting room where I felt that I was speaking to someone who knew a lot about wine. And I would hope so as it was the wine maker! Although I have met and seen many local wine makers here in the Okanagan, it is rare that they are pouring a tasting. This is even more so in Santa Barbara. So for us to stroll in and unexpectedly get a tasting from the wine maker and owner, Benjamin Silver, made the experience even more special.
Not only that, but Silver also knew about the Okanagan wine region and told us how lucky we are to live here. Everyone else we mentioned our wine valley to was oblivious.
What I loved: All of the wines he poured were excellent and worth your time! The tasting room is small, quaint and also in the historical El Paseo area just steps away from Jamie Slone Wines.
This was our last winery we visited in the Funk Zone as we made our way back to the Hilton Beachfront.
It was one of the few wineries open late and we found ourselves a delightful spot on a shared hightop table with a pair of ladies next to us discussing man troubles.
I grabbed a glass of the Pink Ash Rosé (notes of strawberry and green apple), taking a chance not opting for this tasting first and it paid off. When suddenly the lamps started to sway, the hanging canvases on the wall wobbled and a lady shouted “Earthquake!” So what did we all do? Get our phones out of course. You can see the experience on my Instagram Highlight entitled “California”.
This was the second earthquake I had experienced in Santa Barbara during my 72 hour stay. This second one, experienced at Paradise Springs tasting room, was substantially stronger than the one prior.
Needless to say I ordered another drink!
What I loved: Not dying. Oh, and the Pink Ash Rosé of course!
1. Santa Barbara wine tasting can be very expensive when compared to the Okanagan wine region. Each tasting will run you $15 – $35 USD per person and only waived with a purchase of 2-3 bottles. To cut down on cost I recommend looking into the Santa Barbara wine walk experiences.
While I didn’t purchase this for my trip I wish I did!
2. Make reservations for dinners to avoid disappointment.
3. Despite being in California it is cooler on the coast even in the summertime. In fact, it really doesn’t get ‘hot’ until fall. Bring a jacket and jeans, yes even us Canadians!
4. I know it is tempting to go to Solvang but don’t! It is a tourist trap unlike any other! But if you do find yourself in the old Dutch town head into Toccata for wine tasting.
5. For a free photo opportunity head up to the top of the historic Court House for some amazing views (like the one in the very first photo).
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