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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Chasing Comets at Malibu Café

The sun sets before 5pm in SoCal this time of year, so by the time we made our way down the Pacific Coast Highway en route to Malibu, the only light left was a thin stretch of pink lining the horizon. After following the PCH past Paradise Cove, we ventured up a long, winding mountain road with random mega-mansions coming into sight every few minutes, ears popping as we climbed in elevation. Finally, we reached the expansive grounds of the Malibu Café at Calamigos Ranch, white twinkling lights that seemed to be dripping from the trees our only clue we were in the right spot.

Described as a nouveau barbeque experience, the first thing that struck me as we moved past the pool tables and outdoor cocktail bars was the smell of the trees. Nothing makes me miss living in British Columbia like being deprived of an old-growth forest and people in plaid. Here, though, I felt right at home.

The only way to properly describe this place is to call it camp for adults. There are games to play – ping pong, cornhole and giant jenga – and craft cocktails to be had, not to mention a wine list showcasing some of the regions best. It’s basically paradise for a nature loving wino like me. The beach is great, but give me 150-year-old coulter pines and gnarly old oak trees any day.

We were there to meet friends for the first annual harvest dinner, a four course feast with wine pairings from Napa’s Regusci Winery. While enjoying a pre-dinner libation, a massive light in the sky appeared out of the nowhere and began to grow, spraying behind it what looked to be stardust or sparks until it exploded and dissipated, leaving a long blue trail of light in it’s wake. One of our servers suggested it might be a comet smashing into the atmosphere, as celestial events were a lot more visible from where we stood. Our group marvelled at our luck, as most people didn’t seem to notice the magnificent explosion. Of course, as noted by every major media outlet in the country the next day, our magical comet turned out to be the military, you know, testing a missile launch. I’m grateful we didn’t know it at the time.

It’s best to bundle up, despite the grounds being equipped with heaters, fire pits and complimentary blankets. Evenings are finally chilly in LA, especially in the mountains. It’s easy to get there by taxi or Uber, but don’t count on it the other way around. I would recommend driving or carpooling with friends. Either way, the trek is well worth it. Next time we plan to go for brunch to enjoy the grounds by day, or a late lunch to experience the best of both worlds.

Visit themalibucafe.com for more info.

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