Travels in Central California: Santa Barbara

This week I’m traveling through central California.  Starting just northwest of Los Angeles in Santa Barbara, I’ll be working my way up to Santa Cruz, visiting wineries, farm stands and other unique attractions along the way.  Check back over the next week as I share some of my adventures.

Santa Barbara is a charming city on a relatively quiet stretch of the Pacific coast.  Off the beach you’ll find shops, a few tasting rooms, and restaurants that feature fresh seafood and Mexi-Cali cuisine.

If you visit be sure your stay includes a Saturday — you’ll definitely want to check out the Downtown Farmers Market.  It’s held rain or shine on Saturdays from 8:30am to 12:30pm at the corner of Santa Barbara and Cota Streets.  Arrive early to beat some of the crowds.

carrotsI have been to many farmers markets around the world and Santa Barbara’s Downtown Farmers Market ranks way up there among my favorites.

The variety and quality of fresh produce is incredible and there are tons of great locally-made products and locally-grown flowers.

berriesWhen I visited the farmers market I had almost as much fun taking photographs as I did picking out fruits and vegetables to eat.  On the morning I went I tasted fresh and juicy strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and boysenberries.  I saw orange, yellow and purple carrots, as well as purple onions that were larger than softballs.  One stall had such fragrant basil that I was able to smell it several stalls away.  I just wished I had a full kitchen to take advantage of all the fresh ingredients!

lavenderThough Santa Barbara has several wineries and tasting rooms I only got to visit one: the Santa Barbara Winery.  It’s the oldest winery in Santa Barbara County, established in 1962.  They make several whites (Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris), and a range of reds that include Pinot Noir, Syrah, Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon.

My favorite wine was the 2007 Santa Ynez Valley Sauvignon Blanc.  It is a crisp and refreshing mix of tropical fruit with well-balanced acidity that adds texture.  As someone who tends to stay away from Sauvignon Blanc, I found this wine to be quite tasty.  I bought a bottle and enjoyed it at dinner a few days later.  It was delicious with raw oysters and ahi tuna.  The wine costs $16.

Santa Barbara WineryOn the red side, I really enjoyed the 2007 Pinot Noir from Santa Rita Hills.  When you see this AVA on the label you know it’s going to be a tasty Pinot — and this one delivers.  This wine has juicy red fruit flavors with a hint of cedar and spice from aging in French and Hungarian oak barrels.  A bottle of the Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir costs $25.  Santa Barbara Winery makes a Central Coast Pinot Noir as well.  It’s lighter in flavor and lacking some of the complexity of the Santa Rita Hills Pinot, but it’s a very food-friendly wine.  A bottle costs $16.50.

Santa Barbara Winery has a great deal for shipping — it’s a flat fee of $9.50 anywhere in the U.S.

With one winery under my belt I’m warmed up for several full days of wine tastings.  Next up: Los Olivos.