Wine Lover’s Paradise 

Santa Barbara and its Urban Wine Trail

With its Mediterranean-inspired architecture, expansive beaches enveloping Santa Ynez mountains, and year-round sunshine, no other United States locale so well mimics the aesthetic of the European Riviera. Hence Santa Barbara’s nickname, The American Riviera. Simultaneously sophisticated and bohemian, easy-going and energetic, this glamorous oceanfront hamlet offers the perfect environment for a romantic couples’ getaway. But it is equally ideally suited for family fun. It’s no wonder that many fortunate individuals, who can live anywhere in the world, choose to call Santa Barbara home.

This self-contained  paradise  truly  has  it all: hyper-local gourmet dining, sumptuous hotels, a thriving art scene, boutique shopping, outdoor activities, the beach, and wine, lots of wine. Santa Barbara features one of the most vibrant wine scenes in the nation; 33 tasting rooms make up the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail, where visitors can enjoy some of Santa Barbara County’s finest varietals. Nearly all of the tasting rooms are within walking distance of each other and within blocks of downtown and the beach.

Five distinct neighborhoods make up the walkable Trail. The Funk Zone features an eclectic mix of galleries, shops, restaurants, wineries, and breweries and is ground zero for Santa  Barbara’s  artisan  community.   La Arcada is a quaint, secluded outdoor downtown plaza surrounded by boutiques, cafes, and art galleries. Midtown showcases six fully functioning wineries where one can watch winemakers in action. The Presidio neighborhood is centered around  the  last  of the Spanish fortresses’ historical site, offering a bit of history along with some of the area’s finest food and wine. Summerland is a charming, Victorian-esque hillside beach town lined with antique stores, cafes, and high-end boutiques.

Some of  the  best  tasting  experiences include Grassini Family Winery: This boutique winery specializes in the handcrafted production of wines made exclusively from Bordeaux varietals grown on the Grassini estate vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley’s Happy Canyon AVA. Their small tasting room located in the El Paseo complex in the Presidio district features charming front and back patios at which to sip and savor. 

Become an Urban Wine Trail member and purchase the Urban Wine Trail winetasting card to enjoy one-time free tastings at each Trail winery, as well as a 10% discount on wines. Membership also provides priority access and discounts on select Urban Wine Trail events throughout the year.

Paradise  Springs  WineryLocated  in the Funk Zone’s  The  Project  complex,  this is the first bi-coastal winery in the United States with operations both in Santa Barbara and Virginia. Their west coast operation features wines grown in the Sta. Rita  Hills and Happy Canyon AVAs: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and a beautiful Rosé, the label of which features original artwork by actor Billy Zane.

Santa Barbara Winery: Also located in the vibrant  Funk Zone,  this  winery was founded in 1962 as the first post- prohibition commercial winery in Santa Barbara County.  Enjoy tastings, wines by the glass or bottle, and cheese plates from Pierre Lafond Deli, named for winery founder Lafond. A well-stocked gift shop pays homage to his original vocation as a retailer. 

Where to stay

Location, location, location. For convenient access to the Trail, downtown’s Kimpton Canary Hotel can’t be beaten. With its rooftop pool affording glorious views, and amenities such as morning coffee service, evening social  hour, and a fleet of complimentary cherry  red bicycles, this Spanish-style jewel of a hotel is a rare mix of style and service without the stuffiness. After a day and evening of wine tasting, take to the roof for a soak in the hot tub before falling into a plush, four-poster bed.

Where to dine

Corazon Cocina at The Project features inventive Mexican food from Chef Ramon Velazquez, whose cooking is highly innovative yet deliciously familiar. Try the Big Eye tuna tostada, the shrimp taquitos,  or the Octopus Burger. Meals can be paired with craft beers or cocktails such as the Oaxacan Old Fashioned  with  mezcal,  agave nectar, orange, and chocolate bitters. 

Restaurant Roy: For nearly 30 years, local character Roy Gandy has helmed the kitchen at his eponymous eatery located next to The Canary. Gandy scours the local farmers’ markets for the freshest ingredients used in his prix fix dinners: $22 for soup, salad, bread, and entrée. Dine in his small street-side parklet, or order take-out as the locals do. 

Andersen’s: A trip to Santa Barbara is not complete without a stop at Andersen’s for Danish Kringle. Family owned and operated for more than 40 years, Andersen’s is a Santa Barbara landmark, serving time-honored traditional European cuisine and delicious pastries. 

Aside from wine

Hit the picturesque 4.5-mile Cabrillo Bike Path or cruise to beautiful Old Mission Santa Barbara with a bike or surrey rental from Wheel Fun Rentals. A must for horiticulture lovers is Lotusland, a whimsical botanic garden created by the renowned opera singer Madame Ganna Walska of Poland who moved to the area in the 1940s. For more than four decades, Walska established 25 different gardens on her Eden-like estate, where rare cycads and 300 species of cacti thrive. Bike or drive to nearby Montecito and wander Coast Village Road, a favorite haunt of the Hollywood glitterati, and browse the celebrated one-of-a-kind jewelry and clothing boutiques. Finally, discover the Santa Barbara enjoyed by one of its most illustrious residents. Julia Child adored Santa Barbara and made it her final home. Visit her favorite places to eat (hot dogs and tacos), drink (martinis), stroll, and shop via Santa Barbara Culinary Experience’s interactive, downloadable map