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The Wine Ship's Lauren Cain in Santa Barbara

A Weekend in Santa Barbara Wine Country

california lauren cain santa barbara travel guide Apr 05, 2022

The beautiful, coastal beach town of Santa Barbara is known as the American Riviera for good reason. With an array of restaurants in close proximity to the shore and tasting rooms throughout, the lively downtown scene can keep you quite busy for a weekend. The aptly named “Funk Zone” and the very walkable, Urban Wine Trail, will set you up for some amazing wine-and-shine fun-in-the-sun while staying in the city. If you want the full experience of wine country, away from the urban bustle, you’re not too far off either!

If you came to Santa Barbara by plane or train, want to experience the vineyards, wineries, and tasting rooms, and are down for a mini road trip, I recommend heading 30 minutes northwest into Santa Barbara Wine Country! The region was recently named A Sustainability Leader: Wine Region of the Year for 2021 by Wine Enthusiast - Wine Star Award and there is so much to explore.

The short drive up is beautiful with rolling hills as you head into the beautiful countryside over the Santa Ynez mountains.  Over the pass, views of Lake Cachuma, with scenic turnouts call you to stop and take pictures on your way.

Upon arrival, you will find more than 200 wineries, ranging from small to large production operations.  Most are family-owned and operated boutique wineries and when you’re there, you feel like family as well. 

I love coming up from San Diego because there is so much to explore. I have been up several times and every time, it is a new experience. I try to visit new wineries and restaurants each time (keep an eye on the comments of this post for some new additions and please drop your favorites there also!) but there are a few tried and true ones I'll return to because they are so amazing! If I didn’t love my home in San Diego so much, I’d move up here in a heartbeat.  Sigh, one day…

Pro Tip: Plan Ahead

  • Make reservations ahead of time: Since the pandemic, most wineries require reservations to help with staffing and to create the best experience for guests. If not required, they are highly recommended. I have found that making all your reservations ahead of time is super helpful -- you really get the most out of your day.
  • Check Hours of Operation: Most wineries are only open from about 10:00 am - 4:00 pm each day so plan accordingly. Again, make those reservations!
  • Dining Out: For dining, again, reservations are also a necessity! Even if they are not required, the best restaurants fill up and you don’t want to miss out.
  • Organize Your Route: When planning your trip, I recommend starting from the farthest winery, from your accommodations, and working your way back.
  • Rent Some Wheels: As with many wine regions, it's ideal to have your own vehicle during your visit. We know wine and driving don't mix, but getting around is tough without a car. Lyft and Uber are few and far between in this area, as are Taxi services. The best approach is to take turns as designated drivers each day. Besides, when you spit your wine you'll have a much clearer memory of the trip!
  • Join The Wine Ship Club to access the interactive Google Map I created to help organize your trip! Just locate your lodging and plan your route accordingly. You can click on each pin to access my notes, recommendations, and important info on each winery, restaurant, and key point of interest!

About the Santa Barbara County Wine Region

Remember the movie Sideways? You know, the one that led to the unjust decline in Merlot sales. This movie heightened the popularity of this region, and Pinot Noir became King. The region itself is literally “Sideways”, as it is the longest transverse valley (running East to West) on the entire western Pacific coast, from Alaska to South America.  This is unique because, while most mountain ranges trend North to South, the East to West valley allows cool, coastal winds to funnel further inland – Perfect for Pinot!

Although Pinot Noir may be thought of as King, Santa Barbara County is not just a one-trick pony!  The transverse orientation of the valley enables a large diversity of grapes to thrive here.  Microclimates and soil variety aid in this unique terroir. 

The cooler climate on the west end, produces beautiful Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, in Santa Rita Hills and Santa Maria Valley, which lie on the westernmost edges of the county.  Bordeaux varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as, Rhône varieties, like Syrah, Grenache, and Viognier are grown further inland where warmer temperatures facilitate ripening. There is something for everyone here!

Are you ready to go? Let me help you plan your trip!  I've highlighted my favorite places including wineries and tasting rooms, restaurants, and some great places to stay. Follow my lead!

Member of The Wine Ship Club? Click to access the complete guide and interactive Google Map!

Not a member yet? Sign up here!

About the Author

Lauren Cain is the Director of Marketing and Business Development at The Wine Ship. Lauren has earned her Level II certification through the Wine and Spirits Education Trust and brings her passion for wine and travel to our Cru. Lauren is based in sunny San Diego, California. Learn more about Lauren here and be sure to follow along on all her adventures on Instagram @yourfavoritewino

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