Found steps from your hotel or deep in the rolling hills, vineyards, tasting rooms and sprawling wine estates are a common sight in Santa Barbara, California.
Santa Barbara County is considered one of the chicest wine-growing regions on the planet. It’s also known for having mineral-rich soils and producing grapes with a longer hang time (meaning they’re left on the vine for longer), resulting in world-class wines that rival even those of the French. Wine lovers, rejoice: here is your ultimate guide to wine tasting in Santa Barbara – from renowned wine trails to nearby hotels with their own never-ending wine supply.
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Info and tips
Santa Barbara County boasts nearly 120 wineries, not including tasting rooms and wine shops, and even though the area produces top-notch Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Grenache, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Viognier, there are more than 45 other varietals.
Visitors can book tours, which show you how and where wine is made, and often include tastings – to avoid disappointment, it’s always best to reserve ahead of time.
Many of the vineyards are open for tastings, but some are available by appointment only, so always call ahead, especially if you’re coming as a large group. If you’re keen to try wines from a vineyard without a tasting room, head to a wine-tasting bar or shop such as Los Olivos Wine Merchant Cafe or Santa Barbara Wine Collective.
Where to stay
Once a hillside hideout for stars of the Golden Age, Belmond El Encanto serves up low-key luxury with a twist of 1920s nostalgia. Behind bougainvillea-draped walls, brick paths wind around seven acres (3ha) of manicured gardens and Spanish-colonial-meets-modern-California bungalows. Some of these come with open-hearth fireplaces, bookshelves and plant-laced terraces, while others have deep-soaking bathtubs. Outside, you can see the Pacific from a zero-edge pool, while inside there’s a fitness studio for staying in shape and a spa for winding down. Be sure to visit one of the nearby wineries for a taste of the region’s finest red.
Surrounded by the vine-braided hills of Santa Ynez Valley, the Landsby plunges you right into the heart of wine country. Inside, Scandi-style rooms pair blonde wood, shaggy llama art and handcrafted furniture with a 47-inch TV and Keurig coffee maker – splash out on the two-story Tower suite for undisturbed soaks in a jacuzzi tub. Inspired touches – think a small neon “goodnight” sign above your bed, lavender sachets on the pillows and checkerboards in the lobby – also make it particularly special.
Morning swims in a heated pool, competitive games of giant Jenga and one-sided conversations with resident giraffe sculpture Lloyd are all possible at the Wayfarer. Rubbing shoulders with the microbreweries and wine tasting rooms that span the Funk Zone’s Urban Wine Trail, this characterful hotel has both private and shared rooms. All include kooky decor like retro phones and mermaid wallpaper, as well as a daily continental breakfast. Designed to be social, there’s a shared kitchen and a communal lounge with board games and bulging bookshelves.
Should you opt to tour the region – whether on your own or on a tour – the wine trails are the best way to hit up several vineyards along a designated route. This is especially important for newcomers who are unfamiliar with the region and unsure of where to begin.
Located in the middle of the Santa Ynez Valley, Buellton is a quaint little town just five minutes from Solvang. Situated right off Highway 101, this convenient trail is easily accessible. Plus, most tasting rooms are located within the town, so visitors can walk from tasting to tasting – no previously booked transport is required. And restaurants are close by, so tasters can stop for lunch or stay for dinner. Along the trail, find wineries such as Cold Heaven Cellars, Crawford Family Wines and Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards.
The Foxen Canyon Wine Trail is a beautiful route that travels through the Santa Maria Valley, boasting scenic vistas of the mountains and surrounding wilderness. Here, discover some of the most diverse wines in the region before heading into Santa Maria for some down-home BBQ. Or take a drive down Foxen Canyon on the way to Los Olivos, a picturesque wine town. Along the route, find wineries like Zaca Mesa Winery, Fess Parker and Firestone Vineyard & Winery.
Known as the City of Arts and Flowers, Lompoc is an eclectic town with a bustling wine scene. In the Wine Ghetto – an industrial area filled with wineries and tasting rooms – find names like Palmina, Clos Pepe Vineyards and Turiya Wines. Walking is the preferred method for getting around, especially as a stroll around town gives you the chance to see more than 60 murals by local artists. Lompoc is easily reached via Highways 101 and 1.
Los Olivos is a charming town nestled in the Santa Ynez Valley. Once a stagecoach stop and railroad terminus, Los Olivos is teeming with history, its streets lined with art galleries, boutique shops, chic restaurants and cafés, plus several wineries such as J Ludlow Vineyard, Tercero Wines, and Consilience, Marianello & Tre Anelli. Los Olivos is best experienced on foot, so park your car and stay a while.
Dubbed the American Riviera, the city of Santa Barbara is an affluent enclave with an eclectic restaurant scene, high-end shops and a vibrant downtown. Visitors can head through the Funk Zone – an area filled with tasting rooms, breweries and restaurants – or opt for a tasting at the historic Wine Collection of El Paseo before heading to the beach to catch some rays. For incredible sunset views accompanied by vino, head to Deep Sea Tasting Room located on the wharf.
One of the region’s most popular trails, the Santa Ynez Wine Trail is a peaceful region extending along country roads, dotted with picturesque ranches and rolling vineyards. Many of the wineries are set on massive estates, with manicured gardens and picnic areas for snacking while you taste, so be sure to pack a lunch before popping in. Local wineries include Bridlewood Estate Winery, Rideau and Rusack Vineyards.
Just east of Lompoc, the Santa Rita Hills Wine Trail is famed for its appearance in the film Sideways. With its extremely cool climate, Santa Rita Hills vineyards mostly produce Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – Babcock Winery & Vineyards, Sanford Winery & Vineyards and Lafond are prime producers – but there are many other unique blends up for grabs. This wine trail is easily accessible via Highway 246.
Chloe Byrne contributed additional reporting to this article.
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