California’s beautiful wine regions offer a wide variety of wines and experiences to enjoy and are a key reason that many travelers choose the Golden State as a vacation destination.
To help visitors learn more, Wine Institute’s California Wines Road Trip series highlights different regions. This month, take a trip toSanta Barbara County, a region with a 200-plus year history that was put in the spotlight by the indie hit film, Sideways, and travel magazines worldwide. Santa Barbara’s “mountains meet the sea” picture-postcard geography produces diverse microclimates, making it possible for winegrowers to grow dozens of winegrape varieties – especially Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Santa Barbara County contains six American Viticultural Areas (AVA) and is part of the larger Central Coast AVA. Located about 90 miles north of Los Angeles, this wine region hugs the Pacific coastline and visitors can enjoy sun, scenery, excellent restaurants, boutique shops, art galleries and outdoor activities as they explore the region’s wineries.
SIP: Nearly 200 wineries call Santa Barbara County home. Browse this list of Santa Barbara County wineries or use thediscovercaliforniawines.com interactive map to search wineries by amenities such as tours, gardens, picnic areas, food for purchase, concerts, art and more. The Santa Barbara County Vintners Association also features an in-depth wine country touring guide and two-for-one tasting passes for purchase online, as well as free tasting route maps to nine wine trails. These include downtown Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone urban wine trail, a dining, nightlife and arts scene where entertainment in the waterfront district is within walking distance of more than two dozen tasting rooms. Movie buffs can follow in Miles’ and Jack’s footsteps along the Sideways Wine Trail. Other wonderful wine routes include the Santa Ynez Wine Trail and Foxen Canyon Wine Trail—with beautiful estate wineries—and the town of Los Olivos, boasting 20-plus tasting rooms as well as charming shops and artisanal eats.
STAY: Those looking to stay in the Santa Barbara County wine region can choose from charming inns in the historic Danish town of Solvang or upscale boutique hotels in downtown Santa Barbara to luxurious beach resorts. Notable wine-centric hotels include Bacara Resort and Spa, The Landsby and Santa Ynez Valley Marriott.
PLAY: One “must see” is Old Mission Santa Barbara, a picturesque mission where wine was originally made by Franciscan monks two centuries ago. The site, considered one of California’s grandest missions, is the 10th of 21 built along the state’s “mission trail” and features a museum, docent-led tours and 12 acres of gardens. Stearns Wharf offers seaside restaurants, a fishing shop, old-fashioned candy store, wine tasting and shops, close to the beach where visitors can surf, play volleyball, rent bicycles, paddleboard and more. Or visit the historic Danish village of Solvang, known for its authentic architecture and bakeries, the latter of which you can explore on the Sweet Treats Trail. Sip and stroll along the Solvang Wine Walk to get a full taste of the town.
MAKE: A fun experience is Santa Barbara’s Market Forays, where every Saturday attendees shop for seasonal local ingredients with a chef and learn how to use them to easily create delicious meals paired with local wines. Creative wine consumers can sip and paint at The Painted Cabernet, an urban studio on State Street where an artist gives one-on-one instruction while guests enjoy local wines. Learn to make great food and wine photos while consuming the subject matter with the Eat This, Shoot That! Tour.
GROW: Santa Barbara County’s geography and climate is unique because of its transverse mountain range that runs east to west rather than north to south. Many of the vineyards sit open-mouthed to the Pacific Ocean. This maritime climate sweeps into the western part of the county with a daily influx of fog and cold ocean wind, while inland brings more sun and warmer temperatures. These diverse microclimates produce more than 50 winegrape varieties, from Riesling, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the west to Bordeaux and Rhone grapes in the warmer east.
EAT: Santa Barbara serves up a good portion of farmer’s markets, celebrity chef restaurants, and wine and food events. In October, visitors can partake in the Celebration of Harvest, where nearly 150 wineries pour at the Santa Inés Mission and food purveyors and winemaker dinners abound. See the best throughout October in local cuisine, libations and culture. Other standouts include the Santa Barbara Vintners Spring Weekend in April and the California Lemon Festival in September
Visit discovercaliforniawines.com for information on wine regions, wines and wineries throughout the Golden State and for planning a trip to California wine country. California is the number one U.S. state for wine and food tourism with dozens of distinct wine regions, 138 American Viticultural Areas and 4,600 wineries that produce 85 percent of U.S. wine. Established in 1934, Wine Institute is the public policy association of nearly 1,000 California wineries. See: wineinstitute.org.