Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone

The beautiful thing about living in LA is the number of cool neighbouring communities reachable by short road trip. The fact that I can bomb up to Big Sur after work in time for last call or be in Palm Springs within one rotation of Exile on Main St. is kind of epic.

While on a flight home a few weeks ago, I struck up a convo with the fellow seated next to me after he looked visibly concerned when our plane hit some bad turbulence. I reassured him it was the just the Santa Ana winds and tried to distract him by mentioning my plans to head to Santa Barbara the next day. As he loosened his sweaty grip from our mutual armrest, he suggested I look into the Urban Wine Trail while I was there.

Santa Barbara always seemed like a place for romantic mini-breaks or an opportunity to meander in a Montecito farmer’s market in hopes of bumping into Oprah. So when we stumbled upon this emerging scene of hipster sommeliers redefining Santa’s Barbara’s downtown core, we knew this must be the wine trail my nervous seat mate was on about.

Aptly named the Funk Zone, about 20 wineries from Santa Barbara County have opened tasting rooms within a 3-block radius, creating a unique way to experience California wines on the cheap. Tastings are about $12 a pop, and can be shared between two people. It’s also a good way to prevent day drunkenness, unless a) that’s your objective or b) you’re one of those people who actually discards their wine into a spittoon.

If you just have an afternoon to get your Funk on, hit up these four spots first:

Area 5.1 – owned by an Aussie who named the place after his ‘alien status’ when first arriving in the US, the blends will seem bizarre at first but also kind of genius.

Riverbench Winery – you’ll be drawn in by the chards by you’ll stay a little longer for the bubbles.

Oreana Winery – cool outdoor space, some well-versed vintners with very creative tasting notes and the only California winery I’ve found (so far) with a good Verdelho.

Santa Barbara Winery – start with an olive oil tasting and follow the patio lights to the back for a glass of pinot in the barrel room.

Be sure to give yourself time for the drive along the PCH between Santa Barbara and Santa Monica. It’s desolate landscapes and pop-up sand dunes make for a dreamy trip.

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