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.
Numbers on the map correspond to listings below and appear in alphabetical order instead of order of preference.
Longtime Funk Zoners Erika Carter Dart and husband David are aiming for caffeinated bull’s-eyes at their Santa Barbara coffee bar/roastery. Dart Coffee Co is part of a new triumvirate with Monkeyshine and Tyger Tyger and hits the mark. Dart occupies both ends of the shared space. A white Diedrich roaster and packaging line operates in back. The coffee bar resides up front, past a ceiling full of pink paper lanterns. The couple brews fair-trade beans for use in espresso drinks, drip coffee, and cold brew. They also serve balanced specialty beverages. Corena Cortado is basically a liquid churro with cinnamon and brown sugar syrup. I like their Beach Brew even better. Iced cold brew incorporates milk, sugar, and salt. This is hardly like swallowing a wave, but the hint of sea salt complements the coffee and mitigates sweetness. Corena Cortado, named for Luis Corena, who works at First Village Coffee in Ossining, New York, is a soothing cortado seasoned with cinnamon and brown sugar simple syrup.
MUST ORDER: Beach Brew, Corena Cortado
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 their original location and now run a larger spinoff in a former Safeway that houses a roastery and bakery-cafe with a surprisingly ambitious food program.
MUST ORDER: Iced Coffee, Mocha
Les Marchands is a charming Funk Zone bar and store behind The Lark featuring worn brick walls, exposed wood rafters, a copper bar, grand steel globe chandeliers, marble tables, and wood shelves loaded with wine. Their menu 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 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