Santa Barbara is fast emerging as California's hottest new wine country destination, thanks to its world-class grapes, foodie-friendly restaurants, and vinotherapy-inspired spas. Below, our essential guide to eating and drinking in the region, plus the best places to stay.
San Ysidro Ranch
Throughout the 1800s, this 500-acre property in the lush foothills of Montecito served as a working citrus ranch. The ranch hosted its first guests in 1893, and has since transformed into a gorgeous retreat with cottages, hot tubs, a spacious spa and two standout restaurants. Bonus: it's just a one hour drive from wineries in Los Olivos and Santa Ynez, and 15 minutes to downtown Santa Barbara.
The chic Scandinavian-inspired decor at this Solvang hotel draws inspiration from the small California town’s Danish roots. Solvang sits in the heart of Santa Ynez Valley, and is surrounded by some of the region’s best vineyards and tasting rooms. Bring back a bottle or two from a nearby winery like Dragonette or Stolpman to enjoy in the hotel’s garden.
Bacara Resort & Spa
This luxurious resort—complete with Spanish-style villas, three saline swimming pools, and a 42,000 square-foot spa—is conveniently located on the outskirts of Santa Barbara wine country, just steps away from the Pacific Ocean. Wake up and take a stroll along the beach, vineyard hop in the afternoon, then return in time for a deep-tissue massage on the spa’s rooftop terrace. The resort’s on-premise steakhouse, Angel Oak, turns out a mean shrimp cocktail and dry-aged New York steak—both of which taste extra delicious after an afternoon of wine tasting.
Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort
If horseback riding and spa treatments sound like ideal between-wine-tasting activities, look no further than this dude ranch and spa in Solvang. The decor here is pure California ranch-style, featuring Spanish-tile floors, wood-burning fireplaces, high-beamed ceilings and Western art.
Au Bon Climat Tasting Room
When it comes to Santa Barbara winemakers, Au Bon Climat founder Jim Clendenen is a legend. He and the ABC team produce immaculately balanced, Burgundian-style wines ranging from Chardonnay to Pinot Noir to an exquisite blend of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Aligote. At ABC’s tasting room in downtown Santa Barbara, you can sample Clendenen’s new releases and select library bottles. (While you’re in downtown, also check out Kunin Wines Tasting Room, Jaffurs Wine Cellars and the Santa Barbara Wine Collective tasting room.)
Brothers John and Steve Dragonette and close friend Brandon Sparks-Gillis founded Dragonette Cellars in 2005 with a focus on minimal-intervention winemaking. The trio grow small lots of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah at their winery in the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley. Their charming tasting room in Los Olivos offers regular and reserve tastings, and if you’d like to check out the winery in Buelton, you’re welcome to schedule a private tour. Stolpman Vineyards and Lompoc Wine Ghetto are two nearby tasting rooms also worthy of a visit.
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Gainey was the first winery in Santa Barbara County to own vineyards in both the warm, eastern end of Santa Ynez Valley and the cool, western region of the valley in the Santa Rita Hills appellation. This enables the winemakers at Gainey to produce beautiful and complex Bordeaux and Burgundy varietal wines (think Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), which you can sample at daily wine tastings held at Gainey’s scenic Santa Ynez Valley tasting room.
At this essential Santa Ynez Valley restaurant, the Verona, Italy-born Crestanelli brothers use the region’s finest ingredients to create dishes like orecchiette with short rib ragu and wild mushroom pappardelle. The pastas are made by hand, the wine list is a synthesis of local and Italian bottles, and the cocktails are some of the finest in the area. The S.Y. Julep—featuring herbaceous Cynar, mint, grapefruit and housemade bitters—is a must, no matter how much wine you’ve previously consumed that day.
Sides Hardware and Shoes
Meat reigns at this Los Olivos restaurant, housed in a historic building dating back to 1901. The restaurant’s house-cured bacon steak appears on several menu items, including the bacon burger, fried chicken sandwich, tonkatsu ramen, sourdough grilled cheese and Bloody Mary. Trust us, this is the kind of hearty sustenance you’ll crave after a day of sipping Pinots and Cabs.
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Cold Spring Tavern
Built in the 1860’s as a stagecoach rest stop, Cold Springs Tavern is a verified Santa Barbara institution. Every Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 5pm, the folks at the saloon barbecue Tri-Tip outdoors while live bands play and patrons sip local wines. The smoky Tri-Tip is piled onto a crusty bolillo roll and served with barbecue sauce, fiery salsa, and an addictive apple-horseradish sauce on the side.