Have you seen Sideways? This 2004 film brought a lot of attention to the Santa Barbara wine country. At the time I did not think this was such a good thing, although I loved the film! You see, I felt that Santa Barbara was my secret wine country escape. I worried the popularity of the film would bring hordes of tourists to the quaint and quiet area.
Indeed Santa Barbara’s wine country became a little busier after the film came out. But at the end of the day the increased popularity has been a huge benefit to us wine lovers in Southern California.
There are now many more tasting rooms and independent wineries in the area, including the awesome Urban Wine Trail. So let’s start exploring some of the best places to go wine tasting in the Santa Barbara area, shall we?
Wine Tasting in Downtown Santa Barbara
One of the best developments in recent years is the Urban Wine Trail in downtown Santa Barbara. It used to be that you had to drive up into the hills to sample the wines of the region. We’ll discuss that below and believe me there is nothing wrong with it. However, drinking and driving is not a good idea, and it can get a little expensive to hire a chauffeur.
Now you can taste a wide variety of local wines just by hopping on your bike or walking. The tasting rooms are clumped together. Some have regular opening hours and others can be visited by appointment only. You can check out the map and read all about the wineries of downtown Santa Barbara on the Urban Wine Trail website.
Some of the wineries and tasting rooms have special events, wine clubs and other cool things you will want to check out like wine and watercolor painting night at Municipal Winemakers or sip wine on the wharf with a spectacular view at Deep Sea Tasting Room. There’s a great mix of fun young startups like Area 5.1 and award-winning favorites like Au Bon Climat.
Many of the wineries are within the area now called The Funk Zone, with lots of dining and artsy locations in addition to the wine tasting rooms.
Santa Barbara Wineries: Head for the Hills
While we are very pleased with the many options for wine tasting in town, nothing beats an excursion to the vineyards. The Santa Barbara hills are absolutely gorgeous and worth a visit even without the promise of their wonderful wines.
Start by checking Santa Barbara Vintners website for a visitors guide and map. They have kindly provided several wine tasting routes to make it easier to decide which tasting rooms to visit on your day trip.
There are a few great restaurants and places to get a bite to eat in the area, but we suggest grabbing fresh ingredients for a picnic from one of the area farmers markets or some prepared food from a local cafe before heading for the hills. Just as this area is amazing for growing grapes it also has some of the world’s best produce.
The wine routes include several areas where you can walk from tasting room to tasting room such as in Buellton and Lompoc. It may not be as picturesque as the rolling hills and vineyards but one of my favorite local wineries, Palmina, has their tasting room in Lompoc. The charming town of Los Olivos is also a great place to spend the day with plenty of dining and wining options including favorites Qupe and Kaena.
As mentioned earlier, driving and wine drinking do not mix. So assign a designated driver or find a tour or transportation company to take you around.
Santa Barbara Wine Festival
If you can, try to make it to the Santa Barbara wine festivals in the spring and autumn. They are super fun events and a great way to sample many of the area’s wines in one place.
The Santa Barbara Vitners Spring Weekend is a fun event that takes place in April. Hop from tasting room to tasting room with the Vintners Visa or just go to the festival itself and sample from around 100 area wineries.
Welcome autumn at the Celebration of Harvest Weekend. The Festival is tons of fun with a wide variety of wines and usually plenty of sunshine. In previous years the festival was held at Rancho Sisquoc deep in the hills. But this year the event will take place in Solvang at Mission Santa Ynes on the last weekend of September. It’s an amazing opportunity to meet the winemakers, find a new favorite and make friends.
Where to Stay in Santa Barbara
The city of Santa Barbara is filled with hotels, both big and small, expensive and budget. Here are a few of our favorite lodging options in the Santa Barbara area.
- Just steps from the marina is the cute Marina Beach Motel. Rooms have recently been updated and it is ideally located for exploring the city.
- Always wanted to stay in a vintage Airstream trailer? Check out Santa Barbara Auto Camp! Borrow their bikes to explore the area or just lounge around and fire up the BBQ.
- Nestled in beautiful lush gardens but only a few blocks away from Santa Barbara’s main streets, Simpson House Inn is a splurge worthy lodging.
- If wine and beer tasting is your plan, stay in the Funk Zone for easy access. Check out the cool Wayfarer Hotel.
- Get that surfer vibe at laid-back The Goodland hotel in Goleta. Or stay at the beautiful Canary Santa Barbara. Both are owned by Klimpton so you know the beds are comfy and the service is good!
- How about a weekend of glamping or camping while you explore the Santa Barbara area? For those who like a touch of luxe when in the wild, check out El Capitan Canyon just up the coast. If you are toting your own tent, check out Carpinteria State Beach and El Capitan State Beach.
- Spending most of your time in the wine country? Look at lodgings in Los Olivos. Solvang is another excellent option, and you can have a great time checking out the Scandinavian kitsch.