If one were to describe Santa Barbara, I think the best way to put it would be to say: ‘the one region that exceeds all expectations. For many of our followers across the pond, this will be no news. But for us Europeans, Brits in particular, Santa Barbara is not always on our radar, with the better-known regions of Napa and Sonoma being some of our most visited wine destinations out of Europe.
Although I do not wish to discourage you from visiting California’s Napa and Sonoma, here are few reasons why I think you should add Santa Barbara to the list:
Getting there is actually not complicated
We boarded a morning BA Flight from London which enabled us to arrive in LA for 1pm. From here, the key is to stay awake until 8pm. One way of breaking the journey up would be to stay in LA for a night or to for the must visit tourist sites, adjust to the time difference and then head to Santa Barbara.
And the best way to do so is to Rentalcars.com. Our experience was seamless. Car was booked in advance, we turned up via free 5 minute transfer from the airport, someone greeted us, we presented our reference number and driver’s license, we were taken outside in 5 minutes and were given 3 rows of cars in our selected category to choose from. All cars had the documentation and key ready for us to leave. So after 5 minutes of pointless debating, our son picked a car and off we went.
Worth noting that the return experience was even better (my European travel companions will know why I am so excited about this). We drove into the Rental Cars Driveway, our car keys were collected right on the platform were our transfer to the airport was awaiting. We were boarding our transfer in less than 5 minutes. Customer service at its best and I have never had a car rental experience this smooth, this perfect!
The drive to Santa Barbara is exactly what everyone says and more. An easy, 2 hour cruise on the highway, the Pacific coast on your left and mountains on your right. This is just a taster of what Santa Barbara’s wine country is like. Within 2 hours and 20 minutes (two coffee breaks included) we arrived at our destination.
The hospitality is unrivalled
I am now convinced that the Santa Barbara tourism board is one of the best oiled machines in our industry. From leaflets that can be found in restaurants and hotels, to indicators and information available in every cellar door, there is a real sense of openness, hospitality and collaboration between all the amazing experience providers here.
There is a great selection of hotels that you can choose from – depending on your budget and location interest. And short of calling us and asking us for help, the Santa Barbara Tourism board site has a lot of information if you need help.
My highlights from this trip are listed below. But you can see my Feature on Best Things to Do in Santa Barbara and Best Santa Barbara Wineries for more detailed information.
The Food and Wine Scene is something out of a Dream
If you are travelling with kids or want a hassle free, smooth experience, I would urge you to come here. Here are just a few reasons why:
1. Family friendly Cellar Door Galore.
One of my favourites (also the best wine selection we had) was at The Valley Project. One of the most popular tasting rooms on the Urban Wine Trail, The Valley Project features wines that explore Santa Barbara County’s vast terroir. The Valley Project also has a beautiful hand drawn chalk map of the region which gives you a great understanding of Santa Barbara’s wines and terroir. We also loved the Municipal Winemakers, Kunin Wines and Riverbench for superb sparkling wines
2. Farm to table restaurants and award winning chefs that create spectacular menus!
We loved the quirky, yet delicious menu at The Black Sheep. Latin, European and Asian dishes come together in what seems like an ecclectic menu on paper, but turns out to be spectacular on your palate! Owner Ruben Perez and his father Chef Robert Perez (formerly of Santa Barbara’s respected Seagrass restaurant) have a background in haute cuisine, with stints in Europe and Napa’s Auberge du Soleil. But the food at The Black Sheep has its own identity and it is wonderful and fun!
One other exceptional meal was at The Convivo restaurant, part of the Santa Barbara Inn, and located on the Santa Barbara ocean front. This was one of our favourite dining experiences as a family. The dishes are perfect for sharing, all local, seasonal ingredients and so beautiful too. Edible flowers, wood fired over pizzas and seafood. On the outdoor terrace, lanterns and a fireplace offer the perfect romantic complement to Pacific Ocean views. You cannot get it wrong with this one
3. One of the most beautiful wine regions of the world on your doorstep
The wineries of Santa Barbara are all so beautiful and so welcoming that it is surprising that the world has not invaded this small, yet stunning region. Imagine vegetable gardens, tasting areas hidden under grapevine pergolas, horses in the fields, stunning aromas of flowers and the protected micro climate of Santa Ynez. A highlight was Roblar – one of the family owned wineries of the region and encourage you to drive through the misty mountains of Santa Ynez to witness the beauty of the drive as well as to taste these excellent wines.
And if this has not convinced you yet, here is some more inspiration on My Favourite Hotels in Santa Barbara and my piece on the Best Family Breaks for 2019!