I travel up to Santa Barbara about once a month and regularly drive over the San Marcos Pass to spend the majority of my time in Santa Barbara wine country where both my dad and best friend live. Below are my favorite places to eat, drink and stay.
A tiny dream town. Visited here as a child with my dad. Partied here in college. Visited my best friends here post-college. Now…currently seeking alcohol and burritos as an adult. Fun for a trip before you head over the hill into Santa Barbara wine country- which I have MANY details on below.
Santa Barbara can be extremely expensive to stay in. Actually it is. It IS expensive to stay in. Suggest you keep an eye out for TravelZoo or Jetsetter deals as sometimes there are good ones. I am lucky enough to have many friends who I am able to stay with, but here are some of my recommendations, depending on your mood:
Walk around “The Funk Zone”- it’s an industrial gathering of tasting rooms right near the beach. You can wander around and taste wherever strikes your fancy. My favorite is Kunin. My least favorite in Municipal.
Additionally, more towards downtown (a walk from the Funk Zone, but be wearing comfy shoes) is where my favorite tasting rooms are all next to each other just off of State Street:
Surrounding Wine Country
Because it’s a valley, it can get much hotter and much colder than Santa Barbara, so definitely check the weather before you go so you are dressed accordingly. My favorite parts of Santa Barbara wine country are 5 small cities, spread out through the valley: Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, Solvang, Lompoc and Los Alamos.
Due to the fact that my best friend and father both live in Santa Barbara wine country, I have spent a considerable amount of time in Los Alamos. It is a short drive over the beautiful and windy San Marcos Pass. Be prepared for canyon driving if you decide to visit. Although it’s easy to pop over from Santa Barbara for a day trip of tasting, my sincere recommendation is to spend some quality time (at least a night). Also, I highly suggest getting a car service or designating a driver (maybe one of those good trips to bring a pregnant friend along?).
Los Alamos, California is a hidden treasure, a drive-by town. But if you take the moment to stop and explore, it’s one of the most interesting, up-and-coming neighborhoods in Santa Barbara wine country. I began exploring the area when my best friend moved to Solvang. Shortly thereafter, I took a long drive with my dad who was moving back to California after relocating from Malibu to Calgary, Canada for seven years. He’d recently started looking back in California after he sold his successful food import business/gourmet food store in downtown Calgary (a store that I always thought of as a gorgeous, artsy, European Whole Foods, with a more personal vibe) and after surviving a breakup with a 2 year-old psychopath. He fell in love with the sleepy, small-town yet hip vibe of Los Alamos. It reminded him a lot of Malibu, where I grew up, back in the 80’s. Friendly, a mild celebrity and ex-famous music and TV executive contingency, small and warm. He bought a house, completely re-did it, and now it’s one of my favorite places to visit.
This is a cute, very small town. All you have to do is park, and you can walk everywhere. Tons of good tasting rooms, though not a ton to do other than drink and check out some kitschy stores.
Eat: The only decent food in my opinion is Panino. It is an order-at-the-counter type of place where you can get good salads, sandwiches. You can either sit there or ask for it to go and bring it to a tasting room.
Drink: My favorite tasting rooms in the city:
This and Los Alamos are my favorite areas.
Solvang is a weird-ass Danish town with tons of tasting rooms, parks, snack spots. Definitely worth a walk around to explore, and has the most hotel options of all areas in wine country.
Lompoc is a short drive from Solvang. It’s not beautiful, but it’s wonderful. Historically one of the more ghetto areas in wine country- which they own- they have built a rad wine tasting area called “The Wine Ghetto.” Located behind a Home Depot it’s nothing more than back-to-back industrial warehouses, each with a tasting room. Many wines are actually made and stored here, so it’s more for those of you interested in good wines, learning some cool shit, and not interested in the kitchyness that wine country can bring.