One perk of living in Los Angeles is the pretty decent list of weekend getaway options. Santa Barbara is an obvious choice for its coastal allure and close proximity. If you mention to anyone that you’re going up there, you will inevitably hear the words “wine tasting” and “you should totally go” inevitably come out of their mouth. So last month, taking advantage of the long weekend the Husband and I packed up the Prius and drove north on the 101 with hopeful visions of bikes, beaches and bottles of wine.
For the past decade in my life, Santa Barbara has been a popular bachelorette party locale so I now strangely equate it with inebriated females and nonstop group pictures. Now that I am a (questionably) mature adult, I decided to explore Santa Barbara with the Husband who’s never been and see what else the town had to offer. What follows is our list of favorite fish, frijoles and fermented grapes.
The Biltmore/Four Seasons Sunday Champagne Brunch at Bella Vista. So much for saving the best for last. Spurred by a beyond mediocre seafood experience the evening before (we need not mention the name of the place), the Husband and I decided to go big and try the seafood brunch at the Biltmore. At $70/person, it ain’t cheap, but the ocean views from their outdoor dining patio and the caviar selection alone made it worth our while. Nevermind that we spent more on brunch than our oh-so-tiny room at the charming Montecito Inn, we did not regret this splurge for one minute.
Since Julia Child firmly placed La Super-Rica Taqueria on the Santa Barbara cheap eats scene, I knew we would have to try it for ourselves. We decided to stop for lunch on our way up to Santa Ynez (what better way to wine taste than with gurgling beans in your estomago?) but alas, we were greeted by a CLOSED sign. Walking dejectedly back to our car, we spotted a colorful Mexican food joint a few doors down that looked good, and better yet was open so we gave it a go. (We would later have a successful meal at La Super-Rica the next day). Where La Super-Rica is traditional, bare bones and obviously a mom and pop institution on Milpas Street, Los Agaves is colorful, modern and boasts an equally devoted clientele drawn to their huge chalkboard menu, bold regional flavors and delightful presentation. The salsa bar alone is worth a trip.
Los Agaves: The Bold and the Beautiful.
Later that weekend, we did go back to La Super-Rica. The guacamole and tamale were standouts, but sadly it did take quite awhile to get our food, taking three attempts to get our order correct (and the three people in front of us), and as I ran to use the restroom at Los Agaves (no bathroom at La Super-Rica), I seriously contemplated pocketing a few of their salsas since the selection at La Super-Rica paled a bit in comparison. It’s certainly not apples to apples however, and we did enjoy our meal very much.
La Super-Rica: Old School.
3. Fermented Grapes.
No trip to Santa Barbara is complete without a day trip to the vineyards. Paso Robles and the Santa Ynez region are the closest thing Southern California has to Napa Valley. Wanting to keep our driving to a minimum, we decided to focus on the Santa Ynez/Los Olivos wineries as they were less than an hour away from Santa Barbara. Our first stop was Sunstone which I remember being a pretty picturesque winery back in the days of female inebriated bonding. It was a good place to get warmed up, but I was a little dismayed to see that they didn’t allows us to taste in the cave in the back. The Husband and I were able to sneak back to their private tasting room though and were able to get some good shots (photographic shots, that is):
Next up, was Beckman, which wasn’t too memorable and pretty perfunctory. There must be severe punishments if they overpour since they were very careful to give us JUST the bare minimum. It’s a pretty small tasting room with not much to look at outside (it was also the middle of January to their credit). I gather that the wine must have been pretty good though since I now notice we have a bottle on our wine rack that we must have purchased.
Going further north, was the too-cute-for-words section of downtown Los Olivos. First a bite to eat at Panino, a simple sandwich place that did the trick. I would include a picture of our salami panini but unfortunately it was consumed before I remembered I was blogging…
A few paces away, we ended up at Artiste, the sister winery of Sunstone. This was our unexpected favorite. With couches, artwork on the ceilings, impromptu canvases should you feel artistic (or a little buzzed), and wine that was surprisingly delicious, we felt right at home. I don’t know why art and wine aren’t combined more at tasting rooms. We appreciated the impressionist artwork each varietal had on its labels as well as the chance to create art of our own as well. (Disclaimer: the last picture is our masterpiece and required a two drink minimum to create).
4. Honorable Mentions:
Non-commercial Coffee: Jitters (State Street).
Plebian Brunch: (Four Seasons alternative) Jeannines’s (Santa Barbara and Montecito locations).
Too lazy to drive and wine taste: Conway Deep Sea Tasting (Wine Tasting on the Santa Barbara Pier).
Broke and Bored: Santa Barbara Courthouse for its breathtaking view of the surroundings and beautiful staircases (free!).
What I want to try next time: San Ysidro Ranch for accommodations (unrealistic) and dinner (more realistic).