What should two parents do when both kids go away to summer camp for the first time? Go to wine country of course! That’s exactly what The Husband and I did this past month as we entered the new era of sleepover summer camp. We dropped the kids off on the side of a mountain with “adult supervision” (18-20-year-old camp counselors) then headed home to pack our bags and catch a flight to Santa Barbara. The next five days were spent sunning on the Southern California beaches, sipping our way through the Santa Ynez Valley…but first we hit the Funk Zone in Santa Barbara.
It made sense to start here since we were flying in and out of Santa Barbara. It was also an excuse to get to see some good friends who drove in from LA to sip through the Funk Zone with us.
What is the Santa Barbara Funk Zone?
What was originally an abandoned industrial area filled with warehouses a few blocks off the waterfront, has been transformed into a hip, artistic neighborhood with 20 wine tasting rooms, a dozen art galleries and studios, delicious restaurants and great boutiques. The Funk Zone is one of the coolest areas in Santa Barbara to hang out in…and the best for sipping through all six AVAs in Santa Barbara County while never having to leave the city.
It used to be that if you wanted to visit a winery you had to drive into the hills and seek out the tasting rooms at working vineyards. Santa Barbara is now home to nearly 30 tasting rooms, which make up the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail. The highest concentration of tasting rooms along the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail is the Funk Zone. Many of these tasting rooms are second tasting rooms from wineries located in the six AVAs in Santa Barbara County.
Located just two blocks from the beach, between Cabrillo Blvd. and Highway 101 you can surf or SUP in the morning and then head over to the wineries for the afternoon.
I’ve noted a few of my favorite places to sip, savor and stay here AND mapped out (literally) a few itineraries for you guys below. Go get your funk on!!!
Map of the Santa Barbara Funk Zone
Where to Sip in the Santa Barbara Funk Zone
A few suggested wineries in the Funk Zone include, Pali Wine Co., Kunin Wines, Santa Barbara Winery, Melville, Area 5.1, The Valley Project, The Santa Barbara Wine Collective and Riverbench Winery. See the suggested itineraries below for more ideas.
TIP: Arrange to be at Deep Sea Tasting Room at sunset, you’ll have a better understanding of why Santa Barbara has been dubbed the American Riveria.
Where to Eat in the Santa Barbara Funk Zone
- Chad’s Cafe (formerly named Sambo’s)
- Helena Avenue Bakery – The bakery is a great spot to grab a picnic lunch too!
- Shalhoob’s Funk Zone Patio – This is a great spot to sit back and enjoy just being outside. Oh, and the food makes for a perfect paring for a day of wine tasting. From tapas to salads to burgers and BBQ, everyone will love it.
- Lucky Penny – Hello, pizza!!!
- Blue Water Grill – Get a table on the waterfront patio and indulge on the variety of seafood options. This spot is also great for dinner, think ocean sunset view…
- While Sterns Warf isn’t technically in the Santa Barbara Funk Zone, it is home to some amazing views and seafood restaurants. If you’re up for it, head over to the Warf and try lunch at the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company or the Harbor Restaurant (the seafood tower is amazing!)
I love The Santa Barbara Wine Collective. I wasn’t sure where exactly to fit this place into the following itineraries but it’s a must visit. The patio makes for the perfect spot for an afternoon flight and charcuterie board.
For dinner in the Funk Zone, hands down is The Lark. Named by Wine Enthusiast at one of America’s top 100 Wine Restaurants in 2016, you will not only be sipping through a wide selection of Central Coast wines, but indulging on artisanal and seasonal ingredients that showcase the region. To say the food is delicious is an understatement. TIP: Make reservations for the patio.
Where to Stay in the Santa Barbara Funk Zone
There are several lodging options in Santa Barbara but I personally wanted to stay in the Funk Zone at a hotel where I could walk to the beach, restaurants and wine tasting rooms. The area is 100 percent pedestrian friendly. Since I was planning to test out UberWINE during our stay, renting a car wasn’t in the cards.
During our stay, we did Santa Barbara on both the front and back end of the trip, enabling me to try out TWO different hotels – Hotel Milo and Harbor View Inn. I recommend both! They’re equally as nice and both are pet friendly.
The two things I liked about Hotel Milo over the Harbor View Inn were the wide selection of outdoor patio options overlooking the waterfront. Hotel Milo also has two pools, versus one at Harbor View Inn. This is nice since the pool areas do fill up in late afternoon. (Why? The ocean is right across the street, come on people!)
While I didn’t stay at Hotel Indigo it is highly rated and in the heart of the Funk Zone. It’s an IHG hotel so you can earn rewards and trust that the quality of the room is going to be top notch. The one drawback, you’re a few blocks away from the ocean. However, this can be a plus if you’re looking to save a few bucks since you won’t be paying for a waterfront hotel.
Santa Barbara Funk Zone Itinerary: Day One
Start the morning off with a run or walk along the beach. If you’re staying at Hotel Milo or Harbor View Inn, you’re literally right across the street from the ocean. If you’re opting to walk, I suggest you grab a coffee at State Street Coffee then make your way along the shore.
Pack a light jacket – even in the summer – as the mornings can be crisp! Also, be on the lookout for sand dollars. I found eight one morning under the pier of Stearns Warf.
Make your way from West Beach over to East Beach and up to Santa Barbara’s Chromatic Gate (East Cabrillo Blvd and Calle Puerto Vallarta. While it’s technically outside of the Funk Zone, it makes for a great walk and even better Instagram shot.
After your morning walk, you have to hit Chad’s Cafe for the best breakfast sandwiches. The menu offers a lot more than sandwiches but the two times I visited, I couldn’t help myself. AMAZING!!! The place fills up so you can always place a to-go order and do a picnic at the beach and then walk.
Most tasting rooms in the Santa Barbara Funk Zone open about 12 pm, giving you plenty of time to enjoy your morning. (Closing time is between 6-9pm.)
Moving into the second part of your day, I recommend you start at The Valley Project. This tasting room strives to educate visitors and take them through all six of Santa Barbara County’s AVA – one glass at a time. The huge map on the wall provides an excellent backdrop to set the stage for your educational tasting where you’ll learn about the regions’ topography, soils and microclimates.
Next up, lunch. There are a variety of dining options in the Funk Zone (see above), but for this itinerary I suggest Shalhoob’s Funk Zone Patio. (Its location is perfect for where you are and where I want you to go.) This is a great spot to sit back and enjoy just being outside. Oh, and the food makes for a perfect paring for a day of wine tasting. From tapas to salads to burgers and BBQ, everyone will love it.
After lunch it’s time to sip more wine and explore the dozens of galleries and studios in the Funk Zone. Head over to the Arts Fund Gallery, where local painters and sculptors rotate their work each month. Then it’s time to do a bit more sipping.
From the Arts Fund Gallery, you’re about a block from Pali Wine Company, LaFond Winery and the Santa Barbara Winery. Pick one – maybe two – and then start walking down Anacapa St. towards the ocean because you must visit Kunin Wines and DV8 Cellars.
Right next door is Municipal Winemakers and Corks and Crowns which are two great alternatives or spots to tack on for Day Two. I’ve read great things about both but wasn’t able to get into either since they were closed. (Municipal Winemakers was having a private event.)
For dinner definitely make a reservation for a patio table at The Lark. This is hands down my favorite spot in the Funk Zone. It’s also just a block up from Kunin. Named by Wine Enthusiast as one of America’s top 100 Wine Restaurants in 2016, you will not only be sipping through a wide selection of local, Central Coast wines, but indulging on artisanal and seasonal ingredients that showcase the region. To say the food at The Lark is delicious is an understatement. It’s just so much more.
The night is now yours to get your funk on…
Santa Barbara Funk Zone Itinerary: Day Two
After a long day of wine tasting, sleeping in might just be the best way to kick things off. Followed by a breakfast sandwich at Chad’s Cafe. Seriously guys, it’s the best!
In Santa Barbara the sun doesn’t tend to make its appearance until about 10am each morning. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s risen and there but the cloud coverage keeps the mornings cool and hazy. By lunch time the sun is out and in full force, making it the perfect time to hit the beach.
Head over to West Beach to rent a paddle board or kayak for a few hours and explore the shores. If you’re uncomfortable doing this on your own you can always pay for a private tour guide who can help you with your techniques and give you a lay of the land. You can also do boat rentals or join a boat tour. I personally prefer to SUP. Great exercise and a fun way to spend time at the beach.
After a few hours at the beach you’ll be ready for a late lunch. You have a few options here.
If you’re not ready for sipping, head over to the Stearns Warf for seafood at the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company or the Harbor Restaurant (the seafood tower is amazing!). Pop into the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center to get educated on the waters that surround you.
Did you know some of the most extensive submarine forests in the world lie off the Santa Barbara coast in 30 to 50 feet of water? One forest lies just beyond the Santa Barabara breakwaters. Giant Kelp is the dominate plant in these submarine forests, which explains all the kelp along the shores.
When you’re ready to get your funk on, head over to Lucky Penny for lunch. Its known for its wood-fired pizza, but for sure check out the small plates and sandwiches. OMG – the Muffaletta… From here you’re in the heart of the Santa Barbara Funk Zone, with tasting rooms, shops and galleries galore. The Santa Barbara Wine Collective is a great place to start the day.
The wine flights offered at The Santa Barbara Wine Collective take you through all of the AVAs in Santa Barbara County, along with a cheese board you are setup for an amazing start of the day. You may find yourself wanting to just sit back on the patio and simply sip in the rest of the day. Which is totally fine, BUT, there’s so many more things to go and sip.
Walk around the corner to do a tasting at Area 5.1. It’s a fun play on the alien theme of Area 51, all the wines play into this theme as well. The rose is delish! I enjoyed both the wine and the fun play on things.
Afterwards, head next door to Riverbench or Oreana Winery. Then across the street you’ll find the Grapeseed Company, the first vinotherapy line upcycled from the byproduct of the California wine industry. (WHAT?!?) Ok, they make skin, hair, bath and body products utilizing fresh, local ingredients – aka red grape seeds. They’re natural anti-oxidants so makes sense.
For dinner make a reservation for a waterfront patio table at Blue Water Grill. Try to plan for 6pm so you can catch the sunset over the ocean. Then sip in the night while indulging on the variety of seafood options.
If you’re in Santa Barbara for a third day, I highly recommend you get out into the wine country, specially the Santa Ynez Valley. Take a look at the Santa Ynez Valley hotel I recommend and suggested itineraries.
Have you visited the Santa Barbara Funk Zone? What were your favorite things to do? Let us know in the comments.
Elaine Schoch (pronounced the German way – Shock) is the editor and founder of Carpe Travel as well as an award-winning travel writer, wine judge, certified by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 and certified American Wine Expert. She is married to The Husband and has two kids, Princess One and Two – who’s interest and knowledge in wine is quite extensive. Not to mention the stamps in their passports.