Getting Sideways in Central California (Santa Barbara – Part I)

My second most requested place for travel advice after Ireland is for people going to Santa Barbara and the nearby wine country. The area started booming after the 2004 indie hit Sideways (Think “WE’RE NOT DRINKING ANY MERLOT!”). Pro-tip: Don’t mention that quote or “the movie” up there. The locals have all heard it already. And please do drink the merlot – it grows particularly well in this climate! I travel up to the Santa Ynez valley MULTIPLE times a year for my day job, so I know the area pretty well! I’ll break this down into two posts: Santa Barbara & Santa Ynez Valley

For Santa Barbara the city – it’s super adorable and worth a trip and your time. If I was a tourist in my own state, I’d much rather spend time in SB than in LA. Gorgeous and smaller with a fraction of the tourists. However, there really aren’t enough hotels up there to meet the demand, therefore the prices are pretty high, even for a Best Western. There are some gorgeous luxury hotels, if you want to splurge.

If you want to check out Santa Barbara solely for the vino, I’d strongly recommend you do the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail. From as far south as San Diego, Orange County, or Los Angeles, you can take a quick ride up on the Amtrak (this is the northern-most stop on the Pacific Surfliner), walk from the Santa Barbara station to all these great places, then stumble back to the train and Uber your way home. Note that these are all tasting rooms, you’re not going to be seeing any vineyards here. Bring a bunch of singles and tip your pourers $1-$2 per person, more if you’re drunk. You’re going to want to join the wine club at your last winery of the day because your palate will be wrecked and everything will taste good – maybe sleep on it? Here are my favs:

  • Kunin – get their Pape Star if they have it!
  • Kalyra – Not officially on the wine trail, but worth a stop for their orange muscat. (They have their vineyard in Santa Ynez next to Sunstone – it’s where Sandra Oh worked in “the movie” and has a fun laid back surfer vibe).
  • Santa Barbara Winery – I’ve never had anything bad here
  • Figueroa Mountain Brewery is my FAVORITE brewery outside of Belgium. You should go to this taproom and try all the things! Also, there’s a lot of really cute new restaurants around Fig that look awesome but I haven’t had a chance to check out yet. If you do, report back!
  • Metropulos has always been my go to for food on the wine trail – cute little deli and mini gourmet grocery.
  • Off the wine trail – the Santa Barbara Public Market reminds me of all the amazing markets that I went to in Spain, and it makes me happy. If you go there, make sure to pack your sweet tooth and check out Enjoy Cupcakes. THESE CUPCAKES WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE, I’M NOT KIDDING!!! They are made with wine and the joy of unicorns. (There’s a location in Los Olivos, so you’ll see me recommend this again in Part II)
  • In googling for links for this post, I came across The Santa Barbara Bubble Trail, and you can bet your bottom dollar that I’m going to be checking that out on my next trip!

As I said, I haven’t stayed in Santa Barbara proper too many times. But every time I pass through, I’m going to try to check out something different. On my last trip I stopped at the beautiful Chromatic Gate by artist Herbert Bayer. Have you ever seen anything more Instagrammable?

Chromatic Gate


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