Santa Barbara: The American Riviera

Posted on Apr 19, 2016

SBpalmtreesJust an hour and a half’s drive from Los Angeles, Santa Barbara encompasses a delightful span of California’s central coast that is surprisingly underdeveloped particularly given its location and what it offers visitors: beautiful beaches lined with palm trees, fantastic restaurants, and easy access to a truly unique wine region producing world-class wines.

Given its reputation as home to a number of celebrities, one would expect Santa Barbara to be both extravagant and unaffordable, but neither could be further from the truth with respect to this charming beachside city. Sure, Oprah and other stars have their mansions tucked away in the hills, but it doesn’t change the easy going charm that we witnessed. The California vibe is alive and well here where time seems to stretch along at a much slower, and equally perfect, pace.

SBbeachIn terms of accommodation, Santa Barbara has a range of options from high end resorts, to well known hotel/motel chains, to bed & breakfasts. We were lucky enough to stay at the Harbor View Inn, a Four Diamond boutique hotel located directly across the street from Stearns Wharf and West Beach. Done in a yellow stucco and red tile roof Spanish Mission style, it fits in perfectly with the neighbourhood along the Santa Barbara beachfront. It features elegant and very spacious rooms (all with either a balcony or private patio) and sits right on the corner of State Street, meaning easy walking distance to both the waterfront as well as downtown. The service was definitely worthy of its Four Diamond designation as the staff went above and beyond for even the smallest request.

One of the great things about walking around Santa Barbara is discovering the numerous gems in the form of local eateries and shops. We happened upon a fantastic spot for lunch called Metropulos Fine Foods. This is clearly THE local deli and an ideal place to grab a fresh salad, sandwich or one of their homemade gyros. They had a terrific stock of cheese and charcuterie if you’re planning a picnic to the beach or they can prepare a boxed lunch or picnic basket on request.

For dinner we ended up at another local favourite, Barbareño, a casual and unpretentious restaurant that focuses on the best food that can be sourced from the region. Their philosophy is grounded in local, fresh, tip-to-tail eating that aims to give a modern twist to traditional dishes from the Central California Coast area. This will definitely be on our repeat list on our next visit where we hope to sit outside near the oak burning Santa Maria grill while enjoying the area’s famed tri-tip barbecue.

One of the newer developments in downtown Santa Barbara is “The Funk Zone” –an interesting name for an area of town that has its own unique spirit. And while the locals we asked seemed mixed about whether they liked the name, if your definition translates into hip (without being trendy), and cool (without being pretentious), then it’s perfectly suited. We found it to be a gathering of like minded people that love good quality food, are proud of their local wine scene and welcome you with a warm smile.

The Lark restaurantCase in point is the Lark Restaurant located in the heart of the Funk Zone. The former Santa Barbara Fish Market building has been re-invented into a fantastic place for locals and tourists alike to meet. Absolutely packed on a Thursday night, sharing space and food is encouraged as is evident by the long table running down the centre of the room with an equally long bar running parallel on one side. We sat along the other side against the wall in one of several tables for two and four. Within moments of being seated, we received a friendly hello from the two men sitting beside us and upon hearing us tell the waitress it was our first time at the restaurant, we discovered it was also their first time as they were brothers visiting from out of town to attend a wedding. By the end of the evening, we had shared several plates, a bottle of wine and great conversation with our new friends. The sense we got from the energy at The Lark was that this sort of chance meeting was a pretty regular occurrence.

Santa Barbara wineWithin the same warehouse space of the historic fish market is another establishment called the Santa Barbara Wine Collective. It is a tasting room featuring five local wineries: Babcock Winery, Ca’Del Grevino, Fess Parker, Notary Public, and The Paring. Unlike a standard individual winery tasting room, you get a fantastic opportunity to taste from five excellent and diverse wineries that each reflects the terroir in their own unique way.

Santa Barbara Wine CollectiveGuiding us through the tasting was General Manager Alejandro Medina who was an absolute delight. His knowledge about the local wine scene (not just what was featured at the SBWC) combined with his enthusiasm and friendliness made for a thoroughly enjoyable and educational experience. Our only regret was that we had dinner reservations elsewhere otherwise we would have loved to have tried some of the dishes we saw being served up from the open kitchen.

Santa Barbara wineThe easiest (and likely most enjoyable) way to get a crash course on Santa Barbara County wines, is to visit The Valley Project. Winemaker Seth Kunin and his wife Magan Eng have set out to educate wine lovers, from wine enthusiast through to oenophiles, on the unique climate and soils that make up the five distinct Santa Barbara AVAs (American Viticultural Areas). Because they produce wine from each of the AVAs, they aren’t just providing a wine tasting experience; they’re taking you on a wine tasting journey through each of the areas, and through your palate demonstrating the incredible diversity between them.

Santa Barbara Wine TourGiven Santa Barbara’s proximity to Santa Barbara wine country, there are no shortage of tasting rooms in and around the Funk Zone and the Presidio neighborhood. We ended up on a fantastic walking tour of the Wine Collection of El Paseo with local company Eat This, Shoot That. Owner Tara Jones is a local foodie with a fantastic knowledge of the history of the area as well as a high level appreciation of wine. As a result, we spent a wonderful afternoon tasting at 5 excellent wineries: Au Bon Climat, Jamie Slone Wines, Margerum Wine Co., Grassini Family Vineyards, and Happy Canyon Vineyards; along with a stop at C’est Cheese, a cheese shop, bakery and café all deliciously rolled into one.

To say we fell in love with Santa Barbara would be putting it mildly. We literally can’t wait to return as despite all that we experienced during our weekend, we know we’ve only barely scratched the surface. So many more AdVINEtures await and you can be sure we’ll be back as soon as possible.



    great post! LOVE SB! So much to do and see! Such a beautiful area.

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    • It was fantastic…we can’t wait to return!

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