Wine is a staple of the Santa Barbara lifestyle—locally made vintages are accessible at every turn whether you’re by the beach or in the countryside. With more than 200 local wine producers to choose from, dozens and dozens of tour companies specializing in guided day trips and countless restaurants hosting winemaker dinners on the regular, our wine-infused adventures run the gamut from immersive and offbeat to adrenaline-fueled and ultra-luxe. If you’re looking to elevate your sniff, swirl and sip experience to a new standard of memorable, here are more than ten anything-but-ordinary ways to wine when you’re on The American Riviera®.
Sip & Sail
Take your sipping to the sea on a customized Sip & Sail tour with Coastal Concierge. The six-hour experience starts with wine tasting along the Urban Wine Trail in downtown Santa Barbara. Then you set sail on a private Catalina yacht where a gourmet lunch is served with a bottle of local bubbly. You’ll even have the option to play deck hand if you want to learn how to sail—otherwise, you can kick back and enjoy the views of The American Riviera® while your captain charts the course.
Sip & Cycle
Burning calories never tasted so good! Santa Barbara Wine Country Tours offers a full-day wine country bike tour with round trip transportation to the heart of wine country and all cycling gear provided. Your guides will lead you on a scenic 10 to 15 mile ride through vineyards and ranch lands with two tasting stops and a picnic lunch. Don’t worry about tiring out or getting stranded—the van follows as a support vehicle the whole time!
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Hot [Green] Wheels
Ride in sustainable style and get down to earth with Sustainable Vine Wine Tours who offer a deluxe experience in their all-electric Tesla Model X SUV that can accommodate up to five guests. The private tours via Tesla grant exclusive access to by-appointment-only, private wineries and biodynamically-farmed vineyards. You’ll feel really good about your investment because every aspect of the experience takes the health of the planet and community into consideration. Not to mention you can learn the ins and outs of what goes into eco-conscious wines.
Horses and wine? Yee-haw, we do. In fact, several Santa Barbara outfitters offer horseback riding and wine tasting tour combinations, each with its own unique twist. Captain Jack’s Horseback Riding and Wine Tasting Tour keeps the two activities separate with a trail ride on a privately owned ranch followed by lunch and a wine tour in the Sta. Rita Hills. Vino Vaqueros leads private horseback rides through Estelle Vineyards followed by a tasting in their barn.
Get Your Om On
Yoga and wine are another unexpected match made in wine pairing heaven. Vineyard Yoga Santa Ynez Valley hosts a monthly class in different vineyards throughout the valley. The morning yoga classes are followed by a well-earned tasting flight of wines made by the host winery.
What if you could (a) go wine tasting while (b) sampling a handful of restaurants, (c) getting your daily steps in and (d) upping your food porn photography game—all at the same time?! Eat This, Shoot That! does just that. Guests on their small group walking tours get digital photography tips while visiting eight food and wine tasting locations and exploring local culture in downtown Santa Barbara.
For those whose artistic ability extends further than an iPhone, Gypsy Studios equips guests with the supplies and tutorial needed to sip and paint a piece of wine country. With a glass of wine in one hand, and a paint brush in the other, you’ll be inspired by the vineyard tranquility to channel your inner Picasso. In just 2-hours, you’ll have created a masterpiece to be hung at home upon your return.
Embrace your inner explorer on a one-of-a-kind vineyard tour in a rugged yet comfortable all-terrain vehicle. The Sanford Winery All-Terrain Vineyard (ATV) Experience & Tasting gives up to four guests at a time exclusive access to their estate vineyard blocks—including some of the region’s oldest pinot noir plantings. With a knowledgeable wine educator at the wheel of the Polaris ATV, you’ll learn about the growing process and the unique Sta. Rita Hills terroir while taking in stunning views. There’s nothing quite like sampling wines standing in the very vineyards where the vintages originated. The immersive adventure is available seasonally, depending on the vineyard conditions, and should be booked at least a week in advance.
Embrace the life bucolic with a wine-fueled picnic in the countryside. Folded Hills Estate Winery, Farmstead & Ranch serves up all the ingredients for an idyllic day of dining alfresco. Wines are available by the glass, bottle and tasting flight at “The Homestead” tasting room, set in an historic 1898 dwelling. So spend the day sipping and snacking from your perch on the inviting terrace appointed with ample outdoor seating. You can’t bring outside food but that’s not a problem because the tasting room sells artisan eats and charcuterie boards made to order. On weekends, grab-and-go Bob’s Well Bread Bakery sandwiches are also available. If you want to uplevel your picnic spread, contact the winery in advance to arrange a fully catered meal prepared by their house chef. The dining and picnicking options expand further on weekends between March and November thanks to The Farmstead part of their property, located on the other side of the road. It boasts a seasonal retail shop where you can purchase delicious baked goods and organic produce grown onsite and nearby. If you want to get hands-on, harvest fruits and veggies from their u-pick fields across the way. No matter what time of year you visit, you can wander among the organic row crops and meet and greet with the menagerie of farm animals who call Folded Hills home.
Make Your Own
Do you secretly dream of becoming a winemaker? Try your hand at blending to get a feel for that aspect of the process. Artiste Winery & Tasting Studio celebrates the art of blending—and art in general—and the Los Olivos tasting room offers blending workshops by appointment. Not only do you get to experiment with your own blends, but you also get to create your own label.
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By Appointment Only
Pull your VIP card and make a booking at wineries that offer tastings exclusively by appointment. These are places that aren’t open to the general public on a daily basis. In some cases, you’ll be the only clients and will get to have the undivided attention of the winemaker or owner. Sanguis Wine in downtown Santa Barbara offers tastings by appointment in their Funk Zone production facility. Over the hill in wine country, make an appointment and spend the afternoon with winemaker Deborah Hall who shares her exquisite Gypsy Canyon wines produced with grapes grown on her historic 1887 vineyard in Lompoc’s Sta. Rita Hills. In the same area, Pence Vineyards & Ranch is open for private tastings and tours of the working 200-acre ranch. Over in Los Olivos, Demetria Estate is open daily—just call or email ahead to book your reservation. The stunningly beautiful winery has one of the most picturesque settings in the entire Santa Ynez Valley so you’ll want to bring a picnic or snacks to settle in for a while. Plan at least two weeks in advance to reserve a private tour and tasting at Happy Canyon Vineyards located on the easternmost edge of the Santa Ynez Valley. The polo-themed winery on Piocho Ranch represents Santa Barbara Wine Country’s warmest growing region where Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc thrive.
If you love Santa Barbara County wines or want a crash course to get to know them for the first time, there’s no better way than to attend one of the region’s marquee wine festivals. Santa Barbara Vintners hosts two major events each year—Taste of the Santa Ynez Valley (November 5-8, 2o2o) in the fall and Vintners Spring Weekend. Each extended weekend line-up features multiple events over the course of four days. Winemaker dinners, open houses, seminars, vineyard hikes and more bookend the grand tasting events that feature numerous wineries and restaurants in one glorious venue. Held every June, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History’s annual Santa Barbara Wine & Food Festival™ showcases more than 100 local wineries and restaurants under a dreamy canopy of oak trees. All proceeds from the popular community fundraiser benefit the museum’s science and education programs. The California Wine Festival brings the tasting extravaganza to coastal Chase Palm Park every July with two ticketed events. The Sunset Rare & Reserve Tasting opens the festival with an exclusive tasting opportunity, while the Beachside Wine Festival the following day draws thousands who come to taste the wines, craft beers and gourmet bites.