Santa Barbara is an idyllic coastal city that resides just 90 miles north of Los Angeles, near one of the world’s great wine, vegetable and fruit growing regions. The city has roots with Native Americans called the Chumash. Spanish Missionaries arrived in the 1780s, Mexicans grabbed the reins in 1826, and 20 years later, Colonel John Fremont claimed the city for the United States. Since then, the culinary landscape has of course grown and shifted many times. Learn about 10 places you must drink when visiting Santa Barbara at this moment.
Numbered establishments on the map correspond to information below for easy reference. Establishments also appear in alphabetical order instead of in order of preference.
Fig Mountain is a wildly ambitious Central Coast brewery from Jaime Dietenhofer + Meighan Dietenhofer that started in Buellton, expanded to Santa Barbara, Arroyo Grande, Buellton, Los Olivos, Santa Maria, and Westlake Village, and has plans to branch out to…Germany. At their Funk Zone brewpub, reclaimed wood predominates. Wild West wagon wheel and horseshoe imagery joins a plant-lined patio with red umbrellas. Mugs from regulars kept above a bar that showcases house beers on tap and beer floats made with hyper-local McConnell’s ice cream. Before committing to a full pint, start with a $6 beer flight, which allows for four tastes, which could include Lunatic Soup, Headless Horseman pumpkin ale, or Olé Mole, brewed with cumin, coriander, cinnamon and chocolate, to mimic Mexican mole.
MUST ORDER: Beer Flight, Headless Horseman, Lunatic Soup
Since 2009, The French Press has been a driving force in Santa Barbara’s specialty coffee scene thanks to Julia Mayer and partner Todd Stewart. They started small on State Street before expanding with a larger, more industrial cafe. Mayer and Stewart, who attended UC Santa Cruz and were living in the city when Verve Coffee Roasters opened, first brewed their friends’ beans. The French Press came closer to vertical integration by launching Castle Coffee Roasters and opening a QC lab. In 2016, they rebranded the roastery as Dune Coffee Roasters and opened a branch near UC Santa Barbara in Goleta’s Storke Plaza.
MUST ORDER: Cappuccino, Coffee For Here, Zip Zinger Espresso
Former professional cyclists Aaron Olson and Kim Anderson have proven there’s room for more than one specialty coffee presence in Santa Barbara. The couple runs a small café and roastery across from El Presidio State Historic Park, Santa Barbara’s birthplace. Their 1993 Probat coffee roaster sat in a Southern Oregon roastery for 12 years and is now the space’s centerpiece. Handlebar has a cycling images indoors shimmering silver tables outside. They expanded to include indoor seating and still offer a casual meeting place for locals.
MUST ORDER: Iced Coffee, Mocha
This charming Funk Zone bar and store behind The Lark features worn brick walls, exposed wood rafters, a copper bar, grand steel globe chandeliers, marble tables, and wood shelves loaded with wine. Their food menu changes has become much more substantial under executive chef Weston Richards’ watch since I tried their smoked local mussels, which are sadly no longer available. Instead, you’ll find mix-and-match cheese and charcuterie by day and dinner after 5 p.m. That vision translates to toasts on Helena Avenue Bakery bread, salads, and entrees like butter-poached shrimp with hand-torn noodles, chorizo, and red pepper sauce; and lemon-brined fried chicken with sourdough waffles and house hot sauce. Ned Creed currently manages the Les Marchands wine cellar, which divides into categories like White Burgundy Red Burgundy, Other France, Austria, and Rosé. Local options from Santa Barbara County might include 2014 Tyler Chardonnay from Zotovich Family Vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills or 2012 Notary Public Cabernet Sauvignon from Happy Canyon.
MUST ORDER: Wine, Sizzled Padron Peppers, Smoked Local Mussels
5. Rebar Coffee
Matt Chrestenson and brother Ben previously owned Union Ale, American Ale, and Yankee Noodle in Santa Barbara. Rebar Coffee currently runs on caffeine just south of the train tracks. The impressive space features reclaimed wood and brick, high-top seating indoors and communal picnic tables on the patio. Rebar showcases seasonal beans from Stumptown Coffee Roasters and serves a standard roster of hot and cold drinks. One differentiating factor is their cold brew flight, four different glasses served with a refreshing sparkling green tea. During my visit, the line-up consisted of Stumptown Rwanda Huye Mountain, Stumptown Guatemala Santa Clara, Refugio Roasters Ethiopia, and sweet cold brew vanilla latte.
MUST ORDER: Cold Brew Flight