Santa Barbara, California
Santa Barbara, both the city and the county, certainly captures the imagination. That’s thanks in equal parts to its Hollywood-style glamour, palm tree-fringed sandy beaches, fashionable resorts, great cuisine, endless shopping and one of the most beautiful wine regions in California. The city itself, with a population of 90,000, is famously seaside, stretching from the Pacific Ocean onto the slopes of the soaring Santa Ynez Mountains. The county’s most famous wine region, the Santa Ynez Valley, is on the other side of the mountains, a 45-minute drive inland. —Steve HEImoffWhere to taste: Gainey Vineyard has one of the biggest, friendliest tasting rooms in the valley. It’s easy to find, right on Highway 246. Gainey’s wines, from Merlot and Chardonnay to Pinot Noir and Riesling, always earn top scores at fair prices. Foxen is one of the best producers in Santa Barbara, offering terrific single-vineyard Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc. The rustic little tasting room is off the beaten path, on the winding, scenic Foxen Canyon Wine Trail. Rusack’s beautiful tasting room is in a spacious, hacienda-like main house on a pretty little road above the nearby towns of Los Olivos and Ballard. Rusack is crafting some of the most spectacular wines in the valley. You might even meet the winemaker himself, John Falcone.
Prominent wine varieties:
Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah feature in the cool parts of the valley, while Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Rhône varieties dominate the warm areas.
Where to dine:
Trattoria Grappolo is the winemaker favorite in the valley. It offers traditional Italian dishes, a boisterous atmosphere and great local wines. La Super-Rica, in downtown Santa Barbara, is a top draw for locals, who line up for bacon-infused bean soup and the best $2.50 tacos in town. Bella Vista at the Biltmore Four Seasons Resort is on the beach; don’t miss the Sunday brunch.
Where to stay:
The Santa Ynez Inn is a small, prestigious hotel in quiet Santa Ynez, and it offers a great French-country-style breakfast. At the Canary Hotel in downtown Santa Barbara, don’t miss the Slow Down Saturday dinner. And if you’re on a budget, the Wine Valley Inn in touristy Solvang is pet-friendly and offers rooms starting at $89.
Dieter Cronje, winemaker at Presqu’ile Winery, says: “We like to go on dawn patrol—early morning surfing—out at Jalama Beach. Then, in the rainy season, we’ll go up in the nearby hills to look for giant California chanterelles. I can’t tell you my secret spot, but there are lots of places if you know where to look.”
In the city, the beaches rule for swimming, whale watching and all water sports. Inland, go bass fishing on Lake Cachuma. It’s pristine country and a beautiful lake. The Wildling Art Museum, in Los Olivos, showcases the area’s artists and sculptors, as well as more traditional works.
The self-guided Red Tile Walking Tour, in downtown Santa Barbara, leads you through the city’s Spanish-influenced classical architectural district. Don’t miss the Santa Barbara Courthouse at 1100 Anacapa St.
When to go:
Santa Barbara’s climate is equable year-round; there is no off-season.
Bella Vista: fourseasons.com/santabarbara
Gainey Vineyard: gaineyvineyard.com
Jalama Beach and Lake Cachuma: countyofsb.org/parks
Santa Ynez Inn: santaynezinn.com
Trattoria Grappolo: trattoriagrappolo.com
Wine Valley Inn: winevalleyinn.com
Here are some more places to visit in Santa Barbara:
Where to drink:
Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail: A dozen or so winery tasting rooms call this gritty area on the beach side of town home. Separated by the 101 Freeway from the more fashionable downtown, it’s a spunky neighborhood to stroll though, dine in and taste wine on warm Santa Barbara evenings.
Elsie’s Tavern: “We certainly do not have a Web site!” says the bartender at Elsie’s Tavern, the quintessential dive bar that lacks outdoor signage. Regulars include bikers, pool players, cellar rats and other denizens of the night. And you can forget your credit card since it’s cash-only. (117 W. De La Guerra St.)
Where to dine:
Julienne: This gem opened three years ago by California Culinary Academy grad Justin West and his wife, Emma. West describes his cooking as “progressive American,” relying heavily on ingredients from local farmers’ markets. Everything’s fresh and seasonal, and the wine list is creatively eclectic (thanks to Sommelier Graham Tatomer).
Where to stay:
Fess Parker’s Doubletree Resort: At about $300 a night for a room, this hotel has the advantage of being right across the street from the beach, and just a few blocks away from the action-packed downtown area. There’s a spa, tennis courts, bike rental stand and a fitness center, plus it’s pet-friendly.
One budget tip:
The Blue Owl: This Thai restaurant by day turns into a jostling after-hours joint from Thursday through Saturday from 11:30 pm to 2:30 am, when it serves what it calls “gourmet grub”—hearty dishes like red curry shrimp and tri-tip sandwiches, both only $8.