By Elizabeth Cutright
If you’re visiting Santa Barbara – or are a permanent resident with a pair of sturdy walking shoes and a taste for adventure – there’s no need to drive outside the city limits to find a crisp Chardonnay or a velvety Pinot Noir. Clustered in packs or standing a solitary vigil, there are tasting rooms galore in downtown Santa Barbara; most of them mere blocks from State Street.
The Funk Zone
If you’re short on time, it’s best to start in the “Funk Zone.” Beginning a block from the beach, the Funk Zone inhabits about one square mile of city streets peppered with surf shops, galleries, restaurants and tasting rooms. You can begin your journey through the Funk Zone by either starting at Sterns Warf and heading inland, or – conversely – by starting just off State Street and snaking your way back to the beach. Either way, tasting in the Funk Zone is an easy introduction to wine tasting – most of the tasting rooms are right next door to each other, and all make a concerted effort to make the tourist or first time taster feel welcome. And because there are so many eateries nearby – from pizza parlors to sandwich shops to high-end restaurants – you can spice up your afternoon with a picnic, a pepperoni slice or fresh seafood delivered right from the source to your plate.
But the urban wine trail in Santa Barbara is not confined to those few blocks North of Cabrillo Blvd. If you’re feeling really adventurous – and have access to a bike, a car or a bus pass – you there are many other tasting opportunities spread out throughout the city. Head east towards Milpas Street, and you’ll find a cluster of three or four tasting rooms, all ready, willing and able to give you a taste of the white and red varietals common to the Santa Ynez and Santa Maria valley. And just like the Funk Zone, the wine tasting zone of East Santa Barbara lies in close proximity to a variety of restaurants, including lots and lots of Mexican food, but also Italian delis, fast food and even Vietnamese specialities.
If you’ve got a car, a designated driver, and a desire to spend your entire day sampling vintages, there are a few extra stops to the urban wine trail that, while outside the main tasting clusters, are still worth a visit. Some restaurants just off of State Street now have tasting menus along with their traditional fair, and a quick drive South on the 101 freeway will take you to Milpas and Summerland where there are even more interesting wine shops and tasting opportunities.
The Urban Wine Plan:
If you have a couple of hours: Turn East off State Street onto Yanonali Street, where you can hit up three wineries in a three-block radius.
Alternate plan: Turn east off State Street onto Haley Street and head towards Milpas. Although not as “walkable” as the funk zone, three tasting rooms make up a triangle of goodness just off Hayley Street and Milpas.
If you have half a day: Start at State Street and Yanonali Street and head towards Anacapa Street, which will take you south towards Cabrillo Boulevard. From there, walk out on Sterns Wharf, where you can taste some wine and then top off your afternoon with fish tacos, clam chowder or a scoop of ice cream in a waffle cone.
If you want to picnic: Stop at a nearby supermarket or deli and stock for your al’ fresco meal – don’t forget the water – and head on out to the Funk Zone. After a few tastings, pick the perfect picnic spot (several of the tasting rooms are set up for just that purpose) and play at being European for the day.
If you’re determined to hit every tasting room within the city limits: Well, for starters…good luck with that, I hope you’ve got enough cash for cab fare (or a kindly partner willing to play sober chauffeur). You can hit most of the big tasting rooms in Santa Barbara by making a loop that Starts at State Street and De La Guerra Plaza, loops over to Milpas St. and ends up back in the ever-present Funk Zone.
For a great map of the urban wine tail, go here: Map
–While your tramping along on your urban wine adventure, don’t forget to take a breather and explore some of the interesting sights along the way.
–In the Funk Zone: The Surf Museum, The Ty Warner Sea Center, or try the “little toot” for a quick sea trip around the harbor.
–In East Santa Barbara: Get a carne asada taco at the world famous (and Julia Childs beloved) Supericas.
–In downtown Santa Barbara: The Santa Barbara Courthouse with its Sunken Gardens is a must see.
Car – Just designate a driver and keep an eye out for one-way streets and permit only parking.
Trolley – The downtown trolley travels up and down State Street at regular intervals, starting at Micheltorena Street and ending at Sterns Wharf. It’ll cost you 25 cents per person, and on weekends the trolley arrives about every 15 minutes. Another trolley travels east and west down Cabrillo Blvd and can be picked up at State Street and Cabrillo for a quick trip to the harbor or points in between.
Bus – For the Metropolitan Transit Department (MTD) schedule, to here: Bus
Biking – Several hotels offer bike rentals to guests, but if cycles aren’t available where you’re staying, then go here for the latest information on bike rentals as well as bike path information and safety tips for urban cycling. Just remember, it’s just as easy to crash – or get a DUI – on a bicycle as it is in a car, so stay safe.
Walking – The sidewalks are spotty in the Funk Zone, but the traffic is almost nonexistent. In East Santa Barbara there are sidewalks a plenty, but the traffic’s a bit heavier. In both cases, remember to wear comfortable shoes and keep an eye out at crosswalks.