Though Santa Barbara’s diverse neighborhoods each offer a different taste of Santa Barbara, there are a few main areas ideal for eating and drinking.
Right off of State Street, near the ocean, is what is known as The Funk Zone neighborhood. What was once an abandoned warehouse district is now a popular place to get your drink on, thanks to the two dozen tasting rooms and several breweries all within walking distance. At The Valley Project, you’ll find a minimalist tasting room with an impressive focal point: a floor-to-ceiling chalk art mural depicting Santa Barbara County’s winegrowing areas. Acquaint yourself with the lay of the land as you taste through the small-lot wines, then head next door to Pali Wine Co., known for chardonnay, pinot noir, and their line of natural wines under the label, Neighborhood. Nearby, Riverbench Winery‘s Santa Barbara tasting room specializes in flights of sparkling wine, and is next door to Santa Barbara’s first distillery, Cutler’s Artisan Spirits. Down the street, Municipal Winemakers offers a funky, retro vibe in which to enjoy a bottle or tasting. It’s the sister winery of Potek, an urban winery and tasting room located at The Mill.
If a cold brewski is all you’re after, take advantage of the sunny patio, regular live music, and beer selection at Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co., a casual brewery in the heart of the Funk Zone. Or, head a block away to The Waterline, where you’ll find two beer drinking spots under one roof: Topa Topa Brewing Co. and Lama Dog Tap Room + Bottle Shop — the latter of which offers 20 revolving beers on tap and many more to-go. For tasty fare to nibble on while you sip, order a burger or lobster mac n’ cheese from Nook, also inside The Waterline, where comfort food is both creative and delicious.
For more eats in the Funk Zone, stop by Shalhoob Meat Co., which has a massive patio and plenty of mouthwatering grub to keep you satiated between all that beer and wine. Or pop by the new XO Burger for burgers, fries, and a wedge salad. The hospitality group behind XO Burger is also responsible for Funk Zone restaurants Lucky Penny, a casual pizza and sandwich spot covered in — you guessed it — pennies; the Spanish tapas-focused Loquita; and the uber-popular The Lark, which specializes in family-style, globally-inspired dishes using local and seasonal ingredients. While it’s best to make a reservation at The Lark, the restaurant has a 24-seat communal table available for walk-ins. They also recently launched weekend brunch.
In downtown Santa Barbara, several eateries and watering holes have added new life to State Street in recent years, making it a worthy destination again. At Shaker Mill and Broad Street Oyster Co., pair oysters and lobster rolls with a boozy tropical concoction (they also have a fantastic burger), or head up the street to Institution Ale, where craft beers, pizzas, and pretzels are served in a lively, open space. Also found along downtown’s main drag is Joe’s Cafe, a Santa Barbara institution for dining and drinking since 1928, known for its old school atmosphere and classic American fare. Nearby, Bibi Ji attracts locals and tourists for its approachable and modern twist on traditional Indian cuisine and exciting list of hard-to-find wine and craft beer, served in the playfully exotic atmosphere.
Further up State Street you’ll find the newly opened Hook & Press Donuts, a must-stop for gourmet donuts in such flavors as apple pie and earl grey tea, as well as the natural wine hot spot Satellite, which attracts a hip crowd seeking funky wines and delicious, farmers’ market-inspired vegetarian fare. Just a couple of blocks up, in the Arts and Theater District, is the Santa Barbara Public Market, a dining destination that will appeal to every budget and taste. Inside, you’ll find vendors churning out market-driven tacos, curry noodle bowls, sushi, gourmet pizza, artisanal ice cream, and more.
Of course, no visit to Santa Barbara would be complete without some Mexican food. At Santo Mezcal, you’ll find a menu of modern Mexican cuisine, including a large selection of seafood-influenced fare, and thoughtfully composed cocktails. Carlitos Café Y Cantina, which has been around for over 40 years, also specializes in flavorful Mexican food, along with handcrafted margaritas that are best enjoyed on the spacious outdoor patio. Julia Child’s love for La Super-Rica Taqueria may have popularized this no-frills establishment (to the point where it’s hard to find a time where there isn’t a line out the door), but the sizzling meat and charred pasilla peppers folded into warm tortillas keep everyone coming back for more. Lastly, if you’re looking for casual tacos, you can’t miss Corazon Cocina (in the Public Market), Mony’s (in the Funk Zone), Lily’s Taqueria, and East Beach Tacos.
Lastly, when all you crave is fresh seafood with a view, you can’t beat a visit to the happenin’ Brophy Bros. in the harbor. It’s always busy, so if you don’t feel like braving the crowds for a table, hop aboard the Lil’ Toot water taxi over to Stearns Wharf to enjoy lobster rolls and clam chowder at Santa Barbara Shellfish Company. It may not have stiff drinks (just wine and beer), but it does have equally lovely ocean views and a casual vibe.