There’s a lot of wine waiting to be discovered in Santa Barbara. Home to six AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) growing more than 70 varietals of grapes, the SoCal enclave is practically bursting with vino.
When it comes to sampling the labels, the Urban Wine Trail is a great place to start, encompassing five neighborhoods and nearly 30 tasting rooms. But if you’ve only got a limited amount of time in town, zoom in on the area affectionately called the “Funk Zone.” Located downtown, walking distance from the beach and Amtrak station, this eclectic, 10-block section has the highest concentration of tasting rooms (17) on the trail — and that’s not including spots for savoring craft beer and spirits. Whether you’re craving sparkling, unusual whites or a classic pinot noir, these must-visit Funk Zone stops are sure to satisfy.
This is where you’ll want to linger if you prefer your sips with an effervescent twist — it’s the only tasting room on the trail to offer a flight of sparkling wines. Riverbench makes its bubbles (both white and rosé) in the méthode champenoise (or like French champagne).
Sundays are almost always packed, thanks to the addition of enticing noshing in the form of freshly shucked oysters or sushi.
If you’re searching for an efficient manner to taste your way through Santa Barbara, this industrial-chic space should be your first stop.
Tucked just behind Riverbench, this unusual spot offers bottles from five local wineries, including Fess Parker, Babcock, The Paring and Notary Public. Try a single varietal from each vineyard (the range of chardonnays produced in the region is impressive) or enjoy a custom flight. Either way, this spacious venue provides an excellent opportunity to learn about the diversity and span of Santa Barbara’s terroir.
Have a flavorful lesson in Santa Barbara’s different wine regions with a visit to this pinot-focused tasting room. Not only does the winery boast a stunning chalk mural illustrating Southern California’s AVAs, but it also produces its own vino (both reds and whites) with grapes from each area.
Recently opened within the Funk Zone’s Moroccan-chic Hotel Californian, this elegant tasting room pours what it does best: a selection of pinot noirs, syrahs and chardonnays. If available, request a taste of the pinot noir sparkling rosé.
Also debuting a brand-new tasting room near the beach at Hotel Californian, this Buellton-based (in the Santa Ynez Valley) vineyard does white wines like no other.
Make sure to sample the Sybarite Sauvignon Blanc (Barack Obama served it at the White House) and M5 White, a unique blend of five white Rhône varietals: grenache blanc, roussanne, marsanne, viognier and picpoul.
For something out-of-this-world, check out this alien-themed tasting room. The kitschy venue is a kick with its X Files-approved décor (“Top Secret” menus, Martian pictures), but its traditional-tasting California wines (juicy reds and buttery chardonnays) make it an instant classic.
Crowd favorites at this playful stop include the Pape Star Blonde Rhône blend and Jurassic Park Chenin Blanc. Any of the viogniers also make for a refreshing pour.
For something a little stronger, visit this Funk Zone distillery. Cutler’s makes five one-of-a-kind spirits, ranging from vodka to bourbon, and you can sample them all in the onsite shop and tasting room.
For a gift or souvenir, our pick is Cutler’s gin infused with locally sourced ingredients, like California citrus and jasmine.
Located inside the aforementioned Hotel Californian’s main lobby, this brand-new cocktail bar serves up North African-inspired libations like the Desert Blood Moon (blood orange, lime and tequila) and Hamar NaaNaa (vodka, ginger and mint). Stop by during the full moon to play with down-tempo DJ beats, classic board games and a Tarot card reader alongside the pours.
Where to Eat
It’s best to stay well-fed and hydrated with all that wine and walking. Luckily, there’s plenty of flavorful options all within a few blocks of your vino-tasting tour.
Among the newest Funk Zone eateries, Tyger Tyger is a delightfully delicious stop for the whole family. It’s a modern Vietnamese and Thai street-food concept (look up to see fun pink Chinese lanterns overhead) with a coffee shop and soft-serve counter.
If you need some carbs quick, head to Lucky Penny for wood-fired pizzas.
California-meets-French food more your style? Stop in at Les Marchands, where you can also try an excellent selection of European wines.
For upscale Italian with oceanfront views just beyond the Funk Zone, check out the newly opened Due Lune — the second outpost of celeb favorite Tre Lune in Montecito.
Taco and craft beer lovers will want to pay attention to a new collaboration between popular Public Market Mexican spot Corazón Cocina and local brewery Captain Fatty’s, opening in June on State Street.