Santa Barbara is one of the premier wine destinations not just in California, but in the world. The first tasting room, Santa Barbara Winery, opened in downtown Santa Barbara in 1962, and for 40 years, it was the only tasting room in the city.
Around the turn of the millennium, many of the wineries that grow grapes in the surrounding mountains began opening tasting rooms in the city. The Urban Wine Trail refers to over 20 tasting rooms located within just a couple blocks from each other in the downtown area. It’s not only an excellent way to try the spectacular wines this area is known for, but it’s also a treat to get to know what defines this exciting and beautiful city.
The first wine grapes were grown in the Santa Barbara region by the missionaries in the late 18th century, and the unique climate and two coastal mountain ranges have continued to produce some of the highest quality of viticulture in the country. The Santa Ynez Mountains and the farther inland San Rafael range create a series of transverse valleys and microclimates, making this region well-suited to grow a diverse range of grapes.
The pinot noirs from this region receive a lot of praise, and the range of warmer temperatures in the lower valleys to the cooler weather in the mountains means you’ll see a ton of variety here when it comes to wine selection. You’ll see chardonnays, cabernet sauvignons, syrahs and nearly 50 other interesting and unusual varieties as you taste your way through Santa Barbara.
The Urban Wine Trail is popular for wine enthusiasts who want to taste this region’s spectacular wines without having to drive about 45 minutes northeast of the city to visit the wineries themselves. Instead, you can head just downtown and taste your heart out while enjoying the art, culture, food and beer of Santa Barbara in addition to the wine.
The concentration of wineries, fine dining and West Coast vibes make for a very interesting culture in downtown Santa Barbara. Most wineries offer four to six tastings for around $25-$35. One of the most eclectic spots where you can start tasting is a neighborhood referred to as the Funk Zone. It’s very modern, featuring converted warehouses, graffiti murals and other unique art pieces. When your taste buds need a break, pay a visit to area boutiques and art galleries.
If you crave a more mellow and traditional experience, head up Anacapa Street to the Presidio Neighborhood, where you will be surrounded by Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. There are plenty of pinot noir, chardonnay and some Bordeaux wines served in this part of town.
It’s impossible to fully savor all wineries along the Urban Wine Trail in just one day, but here are some of our favorites, where the ambiance and fine wines are exquisitely paired.
Definitely a must-see on any Urban Wine Trail list, Santa Barbara Winery is not only the oldest winery in the county—it practically put this area on the map as an international wine destination. Located directly on State Street amidst the downtown atmosphere, sip and savor a stunning array of pinot noir, chardonnay, and pinot blanc from J. Wilkes Wines and other cool-climate varietals at Melville Winery. Out on Stearns Wharf, you can wander into Deep Sea Wines, which offers a stunning grenache blanc, or head out to The Valley Project for a spectacular sampler of Santa Barbara County terroirs.
The Aussie winemaker at Area 5.1 is known especially for his phenomenal dessert wines, and Au Bon Climate is praised for its chardonnays and pinots. The fresh, youthful atmosphere at Municipal Winemakers pairs nicely with the lighter rosés, dark reds and grenache. The Grassini Family Vineyards focus on Bordeaux varietals. And last but not least, cheers with a refreshing rosé at Margerum Wine Co.
There is also a burgeoning craft-brew scene in Santa Barbara, and if you have some beer drinkers in the group, a great place to make everyone happy with their stunning beer and wine selection is Corks and Crowns.
Pick up a map at the Downtown Visitor Center and plan your trip around upcoming events. Parking downtown is about $2.50 per hour (the first 75 minutes are free!) and if you plan on purchasing several bottles, but not drinking much, it’s worth driving so you can stash your wine in the car. Otherwise, we recommend checking out the list of transportation options or guided wine tours. The most popular time to visit Santa Barbara is during the summer, but the temperate climate and friendly locals make it a wonderful year-round destination.
Santa Barbara culture is an interesting blend of new, laid-back traditions and the finest quality of living. There’s no greater way to get to know the city than by taking a stroll along the Urban Wine Trail and mixing with the locals. Enjoy the avant-garde art, soak in the surfer culture and sip a world-renowned vintage as you take it all in.