Santa Barbara, and its neighboring wine country region, was put on the map over 10 years ago when the cult classic film Sideways hit the big screen and portrayed everything wine. Over a decade later, many of the traditional and long-standing restaurants and wineries in the area are still thriving, while a whole other burgeoning community has emerged.
Take, for instance, The Funk Zone. This 12-square-block area near Santa Barbara’s waterfront has everything a food- and beverage-lover could ever ask for: wine tasting rooms, artisanal food shops, craft breweries, a host of innovative restaurants, and newly-launched hotels like The Wayfarer that are awakening this relatively new neighborhood.
For those looking for a weekend getaway from other parts of bustling Southern California, they may find themselves exceedingly attracted to The Funk Zone’s newest hotel and hostel. The Wayfarer is unlike any other hotel in town and can definitely be described as “hipster chic” with a communal kitchen offering hot and cold beverages 24/7, as well as wine and beer for purchase, and a continental breakfast every morning. Throughout the week it also offers interactive programming where guests and locals can participate in pool parties and yoga classes.
Adjacent to the Wayfarer are a host of tasting rooms, including the tiki-themed Kalyra by the Sea Tasting Room (one of two the winery has in the region), which was prominently featured in Sideways. Winemaker Mike Brown showcases a variety of his wines ranging from rosé varietals to a host of splendid dessert wines. Just down the road is the Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant tasting room that is a must-try for those weary wine-tasters who need a decadent bite or two throughout the day. Shared plates are the thing to do in this beautifully decorated tasting room bursting with bright colors, which pair well with a glass or two of bubbly. The charcuterie and cheese plates are standouts, as is an order of the iconic pastrami fries.
Venturing into town a bit more, we find the El Paseo Shopping Plaza and another slew of incredible tasting rooms, most notably Grassini Family Vineyards and Happy Canyon Vineyard, two vineyards that sit side by side just northwest of Santa Barbara in Santa Ynez Valley. Happy Canyon’s tasting room is inspired by the vineyards’ Piocho Ranch, which was acquired by Tom Barrack, Jr. in 1992 and boasts two regulation-size polo fields on its grounds. While in the tasting room, the mood and décor are reminiscent of Barrack’s stunning property.
While visiting Grassini’s, make sure to taste the Equipo wine. Equipo in Spanish means “team,” and with that name the wine pays homage to the incredible winemaking crew that tends to the vineyards each and every day to produce the wines.
If you want to take an afternoon off from wine tasting, there are several options, including a luxurious trip to Salt, where guests can choose from a variety of spa treatments and finish their experience off with a salt cave ritual in one of two Himalayan Salt Caves. These caves are made out of 45 tons of backlit Jurassic-Age salt blocks and crystals, complete with a crushed salt floor.
Once relaxed and ready to go, try grabbing a bite at the newly-opened Wildwood Kitchen located inside The Mill — a new food and libations center — in the area known as “South of Cota.” The delectable barbecue menu crafted by chef–owner Justin West includes items like pork ribs, Santa Maria-style tri-tip, chicken-fried trout and Frito pie in a bag. Other options that are just as good as the main courses are the BBQ sides like sweet potato salad and homemade pickles.
Don’t miss The Lark for dinner while back in the Funk Zone. The eatery offers a variety of plates from nibbles like deviled eggs with smoked paprika topped with crispy pancetta, to appetizers like the Spanish octopus served in a cast iron pan paired with roasted parsnips, blood orange, sugar snap peas, tarragon, and red wine jus. For the many mains, do not pass up one of the restaurant’s signature dishes: Mary’s Roasted Chicken. The dish could easily serve three to four people, and is a sight to behold. The oversized dish is served with spicy black pepper grits, grilled sweet corn, ham hock, jalapeño, pickled okra, chives, and chicken jus.
When you’re sufficiently full, take a morning or afternoon stroll down by the water, taking in the sights and smells of Santa Barbara, and meditate about all that this unique, wine-loving, food-obsessed town has to offer.