CALIFORNIA: FUSION OF CULTURESCalifornia is a state where major metropolises, trendsetters, captains of industry, and fashion icons all blend together amidst a pristine backdrop of cliff-lined beaches, winding Pacific Coast highways, and expansive blankets of redwood forests.
When it comes to wine tasting in Santa Barbara, there’s only one route to go: the Santa Barbara Urban Wine Trail. Centered around the ever-expanding 10-block “Funk Zone” neighborhood, the trail lets you experience the best wineries to come out of the county’s five AVAs, all without having to leave the downtown area.
What began as an informal grassroots alliance between a few regional wineries in 2006 has now evolved to feature roughly 30 wineries, which range from the Deep Sea Tasting Room on Stearns Wharf to the Funk Zone to the six premium tasting rooms in the historic Presidio neighborhood. So where to start? With a map and this list of top winery experiences.
Fox Wine Co.
This huge tasting room based in the Funk Zone neighborhood evokes a vibe akin to what you’d find in a brewpub with lots of concrete, edgy wall art, and long wooden tables and benches. Which makes sense; set in a warehouse, it shares space with a brewpub, as well as a few art galleries (you can sip while perusing the surrounding shops). Three different tasting lists offer samples of elegant pinot noirs and chardonnays and bold flavorful syrahs, which can be enjoyed over games of cornhole or while perusing the old Model T car on display.
Tucked away in an industrial-looking area east of Santa Barbara’s downtown cluster of urban wineries, this small winery and tasting room may not be fabulously decorated, but that’s because it’s really all about the unique and flavorful syrahs, pinot noirs, and cabernet francs. Winemaker Benjamin Silver, who personally stomps the grapes for his small-batch wines, is usually the one pouring and is a true connoisseur and expert, known to regale customers for hours about the process and nuances. You may even be lucky enough to get a personal tour of the winery and taste right from some of the aging barrels.
You feel a bit like you’re in an episode of The Office in this Funk Zone tasting room, where tasting flights of five small-lot, high-quality wines are printed on index cards and all glasses are located in stacked colorful filing cabinets behind the reclaimed-wood tasting bar. The most photographed statement piece, however, seems to be the giant chandelier constructed entirely of glass bottles that hangs overhead. Settle in at one of the communal tables or other random piece of old office furniture with a glass of one of their popular picks: the called Bright Red (a Grenache blend) or the Dark Red (an earthy syrah and cabernet blend).
The Valley Project
The first thing you see when you walk into Funk Zone’s best-kept secret on East Yanonali Street is the giant chalk-drawn map of Santa Barbara County, pointing out all the different places across the region’s five AVAs where they grow grapes. Following that, jarred soils are displayed next to different wine bottles and other visual guides that give insight into the different AVAs. So when you come to this modern tasting room, you’re not just sitting and sampling the diverse range of small-batch red and whites, but you’re also getting an interactive demonstration of the winery’s ongoing exploration of the county’s terroirs, from unique micro climates to niche soil profiles.
Area 5.1 Winery
As you may have guessed by the name, there’s an undeniable alien theme to this Anacapa Street tasting room: the tasting list comes in a manila folder stamped “top secret,” intergalactic art pays homage to the early days of America’s space program, and the wines feature names like Clouse Encounter, Conspiracy Red, and Declassified. It’s all a play on the fact that the owners are resident aliens from Australia who specialize in unusual blends of grapes that are bolding going where no winery has gone before.
If there’s one thing Beverly Hills is best known for, it’s opulence, from Rodeo Drive’s big-ticket fashion statements to modern-day mega-mansions occupied by celebrities. But this lavishness is anything but new. Here, we go inside a few of the buildings and homes – none of which reside behind impenetrable gates – that reveal interesting tidbits about the history of lavish living in “The Hills.”
Beverly Hills’s most fanciful home is inspired by the sinewy lines and surreal style of Antoni Gaudi. Set on North Rodeo Drive within walking distance of the famous shopping district, the house was owned by an art nouveau art dealer named Don O’Neill who started renovating the property in 1978 to take on fairy-tale-like shapes of snow-white cement and swirling mosaic tiles. The guest house alone took five years to complete, while the main house didn’t finish until 1988 – unfortunately, by then, O’Neill had already passed away.
Built by the son of a prominent oil baron in 1928, this palatial manor home set on 18 pastoral acres off Loma Vista Drive earned its name from its abundant use of stone that is a rather somber gray. Other jaw-dropping features of the 46,054-square-foot mansion – now owned by the City of Beverly Hills – include 55 livable rooms; hand-carved oak banisters, balustrades, and rafters; seven chimneys, each crafted by a different artist; and a grand hall inlaid with black and white marble.
Also known as the “Witch’s House,” this dilapidated-looking cottage just a few blocks from Rodeo Drive on Walden Drive was built by a Hollywood art director in 1921 to be a backdrop for silent films. Today, regular Beverly Hills residents live in the home and choose to retain its haunted look with a roof that appears as if it’s about to cave in (it’s not), rotting shutters (they were dyed to look that way), and a rickety picket fence.
Virginia Robinson Mansion
Surrounded by a six-acre exotic paradise that includes rose gardens, an Australian King Palm forest, and an Italian terrace garden, Beverly Hills first luxury estate was built in 1911 for retail giants Virginia and Harry Robinson. Available for touring by appointment, the 6,000-square-foot Mediterranean Classic Revival–style main house contains all the original furnishings and decorations – down to the dining table’s gold-rimmed wine glasses and silver service bell Mrs. Robinson received as a birthday gift from Tiffany & Co.
Beverly Hills City Hall
Not a residential home per say but a house of local government, this Spanish Revival building and its green-and-gold-tiled dome and gilded cupola has presided over the cityscape since 1932. Then hailed as “the largest and most expensive City Hall of any municipality its size in the country” by The Los Angeles Times, it’s still a wonder to look at today, intact with its original terrazzo floors, a barrel-vaulted ceiling that runs the lobby’s length, and marble walls lined with ornamental plaster cornices.
AQUATIC LIFE ABOUNDS IN THE MAJESTIC CHANNEL ISLANDS JUST OFF THE CALIFORNIA COASTLINE OF HISTORIC SANTA BARBARA
Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Mesa Verde, the list of extraordinary national parks goes on and on. The Channel Islands though? Does that name bring anything to mind? Perhaps, but for many people it’s a national park they’ve never heard of, yet it’s one of the most spectacular of them all....