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What to do in Santa Barbara

My family has been taking long weekend trips to Santa Barbara for many years, going back to when are kids were little. Recently, two of my sons attended UC Santa Barbara, so we have had plenty of opportunities to spend long weekends there. Santa Barbara is a beautiful seaside community with lots of things to do and great places to eat. So today, I share with you our favorite things to do in Santa Barbara.

The Urban Wine Trail - Wine tasting on foot

This wine bi-ped trail was a genius idea. Wine tasting can be a lot of fun, but driving between vineyards is not. Enter Santa Barbara's Urban Wine Trail, with 25 wine tasting rooms mostly located within walking distance of each other. The majority of the wine tasting rooms are centered in what is known as The Funk Zone, 9 adjacent blocks (3 blocks wide and 3 blocks deep between State St., Cabrillo Blvd., Gray Avenue and the railroad tracks), with a few wineries scattered a little further inland and south. One wine tasting room, Deep Sea, is located on the pier and another one, Happy Canyon Vineyards, is tucked in the harbor. Here is the map of the winery locations. Each winery is independently owned and sets their own hours and pricing. Hours do vary considerably, with some closing as early as 4 or 5 p.m. There are several, however, that stay open later, particularly during the summer. Our personal favorites include:

Municipal Winemakers - Housed in an old dive shop just off the train tracks. Dave Potter makes very good wine at reasonable prices. Try their Kook Zinfindel, Bright White and Bright Red. If you can get your hands on it, try their Fizz, a sparkling Shiraz, which is a style rarely seen outside of Australia. Fizz is made in very limited quantities and goes quickly around the holidays. Municipal Winemakers offer cheese platters, unless they have run out, and sometimes a food truck is parked in their driveway, if you need a little food to go with your wine. BTW, per my graphic designer daughter Margo, their labels are gorgeously designed.

Kunin Wines - a family-owned winery, is located right next door to Municipal. Seth Kunin, the founder, is extraordinarily knowledgeable about wine and very willing to share his knowledge. I have really enjoyed talking with him about his business. Kunin makes a wide variety of wine, but is known for their Syrah, Zinfandel and Viognier. We find it hard to pick a few bottles, because we like just about everything they make.

Carr Winery - is on the other side of the railroad tracks from Municipal and Kunin, but provides a good opportunity to walk a bit of your winetasting off. The winery is located in a 1940's quonset hut. They use this enormous space for wine tasting, live music, events, parties and winemaking.

 

The Funk Zone grows each time we go. There are now several beer tasting spots tucked in amongst the wineries, including Figueroa Mountain Brewery and Corks n Crowns which offers both beer and wine tasting.

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Sunday art walk

We have been going to The Santa Barbara Arts and Craft show for 20-some years. It was established to showcase residents art in 1966 and is now the longest running continuous non-juried arts festival in the world. About 200 artists show their pieces every Sunday, including paintings, ceramics, jewelry and handicrafts.

Our favorite breakfast spots

East Beach Grill - Is located on the beach boardwalk, is very casual and superbly located right on the beach. You order at the counter and the food is delivered to your table. This was a big favorite when my kids were little. We would ride bikes or roller skate to breakfast. Recently my husband and I stand-up paddled there from the pier and back, a very fun breakfast outing. Located at 1118 E Cabrillo Blvd.

Shoreline Beach Cafe - Tucked away on the beach, north of the harbor, this little casual restaurant is a gem. There are a handful of tables right on the beach, so you actually get to wiggle your toes in the sand while you dine. They specialize in Mexican food, but also have a broad offering of traditional American recipes on the menu.  My son Ryan introduced us to this casual spot.

Our favorite dinner spots

Toma - This intimate Italian/Mediterranean restaurant located in a historic beachfront building has a great ambiance and serves terrific food. The chef, Nat Ely, sources his ingredients from local farmers, fishermen, foragers and food artisans. If it is just the two of us, my husband and I enjoy sitting at the bar for dinner. Try their tuna cone appetizers, their steamed clams & chorizo or their braised short ribs.

Cielito - This upscale Mexican restaurant specializes in seafood, a raw bar, small plate tapas and hand-crafted margaritas and cocktails. I recommend ordering family-style so you can sample lots of dishes.

Two hotel recommendations

Harbor View Inn - is located across from the beach on the corner of Cabrillo and State Street. It is close to the Pier, the harbor, the art walk, and State Street shopping and restaurants.

The Canary Hotel - Located just off of State Street, in the heart of the restaurant and shopping district, this hotel is housed in a beautiful Spanish Colonial style building. The rooms are beautifully appointed and the rooftop bar and pool are spectacular.

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