If tasting your way through a destination is your kind of adventure, then you definitely qualify as a Food & Wine Vacationist. And Santa Barbara is your dream culinary paradise. Between the organic farmers, boutique cattle ranchers, award-winning olive oil producers and salt-of-the-sea fishermen, our regional ingredients are ridiculously fresh and lovingly cultivated. Local chefs, bakers and artisanal producers have a field day creating delicious masterpieces with the seasonal bounty at their disposal. As do the brewers, winemakers and distillers, who craft exciting wines, innovative beers and ciders and the smoothest of spirits. For foodie visitors, the biggest challenge is narrowing down the must-eat, must-sip list, all the while keeping things at a civilized, unhurried pace. On a recent visit, our friends Andrew (@lifetailored) and Stephanie Wise (@ThreadTherapy) of @meetthewises perfected that balance. Here’s how they did it:
Check into The Leta Hotel, just north of Santa Barbara proper in chilled-out Goleta. The hip, playful boutique hotel is a dining and drinking destination in its own right, with many locals among its loyal patrons. After settling into your surfer-chic room, belly up to the Good Bar for a cocktail. Play a game of pool or backgammon as you sip on a house cocktail like the “Bitter-Sweet Dreams are Made of These” or “Vacation Mode.” After your aperitif, settle into a table at the hotel’s restaurant, The Leta Restaurant, for a dinner of elevated comfort food with a coastal twist.
The next morning, it’s time to head over the hill to Santa Barbara wine country. With Sustainable Vine as your guide, you’ll tour through the Santa Ynez Valley in an eco-friendly Tesla Model X SUV and visit small production wineries, some of which are not generally open to the public.
Make Brave & Maiden your first stop. Savor a leisurely seated tasting flight of their estate wines while overlooking the sustainably farmed vineyards. When hunger strikes, S.Y. Kitchen is a delectable lunch spot in the charming little western town of Santa Ynez. The chefs—brothers Luca and Francesco Crestanelli—are transplants from Verona, Italy who prepare a rustic, modern interpretation of Italian cuisine. Take a spin through the back roads to visit Happy Canyon Vineyards at the source, the family’s Piocho Ranch (their public tasting room is in downtown Santa Barbara). The winery and vineyard specializes in varietals that thrive in the region’s hottest grape growing micro-climate, and many notable winemakers also source grapes from their revered vineyards.
Back in Santa Barbara, if it’s a Tuesday, stop by the Downtown Farmer’s Market to partake in the popular weekly ritual. Stroll along the 500 and 600 blocks of State Street, where upwards of 60 sellers showcase their goods in colorful stalls. Meet the growers, learn more about what’s in season and shop alongside celebrated local chefs as they fill their wagons with produce that will inspire that week’s menu. While you’re in the neighborhood, pop into Oat Bakery to pick up a loaf of their artisan superfood bread. The Scandinavian-style bakery has special extended hours on Tuesdays just for farmers’ market shoppers. Otherwise, you can catch them during their regular weekday hours, 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Cap your day off with dinner at Sama Sama. The bright, inviting space has a cool bar and a killer back courtyard for meals alfresco. True to Santa Barbara form, the Southeast Asian cuisine is inspired by the offerings from our local farms, so you can feel good about every bite.
Start your last day with a cup of locally-roasted coffee at one of the two Handlebar Coffee Roasters cafes (downtown and uptown). Head to the Harbor for a breakfast sandwich at On the Alley, which you can enjoy while watching the fishermen bringing in their haul—if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see the sea urchin divers unloading their nets filled with the spiny, deep purple beauties that thrive around the Channel Islands 25 miles off shore.
Spend the afternoon walking around the Funk Zone, browsing the shops and galleries and perhaps doing a bit of libations tasting. You’ll have dozens of urban wineries to choose from, as well as local spirits maker Cutlers’ Artisan Spirits and a few breweries—all centrally located in this dynamic neighborhood filled with makers. You’ll be in no shortage of lunch options when dining in The Funk Zone. Enjoy the fresh air while enjoying a meal alfresco at local favorites like Mony’s Mexican Food, Shalhoob’s Patio, or Lucky Penny.
At dusk, head up State Street to the Historic Theatre District. Your destination? The Good Lion, a speakeasy-style lounge where the premium hand-crafted cocktails are among the city’s best. Palate piqued, walk over to Bibi Ji for an unforgettable final dinner featuring “New Indian” cuisine as the star of the show. Go big and opt for the chef’s tasting menu—exquisitely paired with natural wines hand-selected by Bibi Ji’s co-owner Rajat Parr, an award-winning Sommelier and accomplished winemaker.
Cheers to making your next visit extra delicious!