Best Wine Tasting Experiences in Santa Barbara

Just as Santa Barbara has many varieties of landscapes – an elegant mesh of sea, mountains, and urban terrain – the grape varieties produced in the region are equally remarkable.

While the region is renowned for its masterpieces of Syrah, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, there are many unique flavors from its seven (yes, seven!) Federally Designated Wine Regions (also known as Zones American wineries or AVA). . A fun fact for your next quiz night, these areas are Ballard Canyon, Los Olivos District, Happy Canyon, Santa Maria Valley, Santa Rita, Santa Ynez Valley, and, officially added in 2020, Alisos Canyon.

There are many ways to experience wine in Santa Barbara County. From estate tastings in movie sets to a small tasting room-covered town nestled in the Santa Ynez Valley to an urban wine route, you can take your pick of wine adventures on the American Riviera. This is where your vino will come first.

For the best Santa Barbara wine experience, plan a visit to a few area wineries © Jayme Burrows / Stocksy United

Explore several stunning vineyards with estate tastings

For a typical Santa Barbara County wine experience, there’s nothing like going straight to a vineyard (or five), with tastings typically ranging from $20 to over $30. Many are accessible within an hour’s drive from the urban limits of the city of Santa Barbara.

If you’re making your own adventure, pick a vineyard that matches the vibe and varietals you’re after, as each has its own flavor, literally and figuratively. Be sure to call ahead to see if reservations are needed.

At the end of the modern domain of the spectrum is the Peninsula of Santa Maria. Opened in 2013, this 13,000+ square foot stone tasting complex — with wine cellars, walls of windows, and light wood accents — stands out amid its seemingly endless rows of vines. To optimize a visit, book a horseback riding tour of the estate or a “Wine & Bocce” experience – yes, there is a regulation-sized pétanque court here.

Vines at harvest time, Los Olivos, Santa Barbara County, California.
The Santa Ynez Valley is full of vineyards waiting for you © Kurt Preissler / Getty Images

Melville of Santa Rita Hills offers a variety of 90-minute “Beyond the Barrel” tours that will appease novices and wine lovers alike. Beyond just swirling glasses, you can usually venture into the vineyards, learning about the soil, climate, process and more along the way. After the hike, head to the huge Mediterranean-inspired tasting room and park it on the terrace to admire the view of the verdant mountains.

For Bordeaux and polo lovers, Happy Canyon Vineyard – which is nestled at the eastern end of the Santa Ynez Valley – is a bliss with two regulation-size polo fields on-site serving as icing on the cake. Private tastings are available at his Piocho Ranch, but you’ll want to book such an exclusive experience more than two weeks in advance.

In the Santa Maria Valley, Foxen has become a multi-faceted powerhouse, with two unique tasting rooms, one of which was once known as “The Shack” (an old wooden blacksmith) and the other being a modern solar power plant. complex completed in 2009. Aside from the impressive buildings, its hearty Pinot offerings also dazzle.

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The exterior facade of the Refugio wine tasting store in Los Olivos, CA
The streets of Los Olivos are full of gems like the wine tasting room and the Refugio store © csfotoimages / Getty Images

Discover small-town charm and new-world wine in Los Olivos

You don’t have to dream of a magical little town with streets lined with tasting rooms and local bistros – that exists in Los Olivos. Geographically in the middle of Santa Barbara County and about 40 minutes northwest of Santa Barbara’s epicenter, you’ll find this easily walkable and navigable wine utopia.

Besides having a designated driver for your own vehicle, you can easily take a Lyft/Uber, or companies like Golden Rooster have private shuttles for larger groups.

To get the most out of your adventure in Los Olivos, be sure to ask your favorite tasting room for all in-house and city-wide offerings. As with many wine-focused estates and businesses, if you buy a bottle, your tasting (often over $20) can be free or discounted. There are also money-saving programs between partner tasting rooms (for example, if you buy a tasting at one location, you get a half-price ticket at another). The bottom line: just ask! This town of around 1000 people is as friendly as it gets.

Wine tasting with chocolates
Head to the tasting room-rich neighborhoods of Santa Barbara for wine and charcuterie © Getty Images / Westend61

Leave the car at home on the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail

While the dream estates of Santa Barbara County and Los Olivos provide an opportunity to explore the region’s terrain, you don’t need to leave town to get your wine fix. In fact, there’s a Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail centered around Santa Barbara’s tasting room-rich neighborhoods — including the Funk Zone and Presidio — as well as some nearby spots in Summerland and Goleta.

In a generally refined city, head to the avant-garde, warehouse-covered Funk Zone for a true urban experience.

Margerum is tucked away just off State Street, and you’ll probably want to take home a bottle or two of its famous M5 Estate White Rhone Blend. Be sure to indulge in its mega platter of cheeses and charcuterie, while you’re there. The municipal winemakers cater to younger people, with old conglomerate filing cabinets as decor, interior bistro lighting, and a big, colorful brand often draping its bottle offerings.

For a bit of all the latest Santa Barbara wine buzz all under one roof, head to the Santa Barbara Wine Collective, which builds flights with hotspots all over Santa Barbara County.

Tasting fees — often in the $20 to $30+ range — can add up. If you plan to visit several places in the city, the Urban Wine Trail membership card can save you a lot of money in the long run. For $200, he gets you a free tasting at all 33 wineries along the trail as well as bottle discounts. You can order one before your trip or pick one up at a participating winery.

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