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Santa Barbara Shellfish Company at Steadman's Pier perfect place to match a Santa Barbara white.

Santa Barbara County (County Appellation)

Santa Barbara - Still a Classic

Santa Barbara has become a focal point in the southern reaches of the Central Coast AVA in California. Visiting the city presents a rewarding part of experiencing the regional diversity of AVA's that call Santa Barbara County their home considering the depth of urban winery tasting rooms immediately available.

by Carl Ribaudo
March 26, 2013

When I was a young kid growing my Dad used to take us what seemed like every summer Sunday up to Santa Barbara. Each Sunday morning we would pack up for the day and head up 101 to get out of the valley heat in Los Angeles. It was during those days I developed an appreciation for just how beautiful the place was and my view is the same after forty-five years. And yes, it did become a place for the rich and famous but for me its retained that excitement of hanging out on the beach, walking the shoreline and taking in that California beach culture some many years ago.

I still go back there for business and I also show up from time to time on my motorcycle and while the place has changed the fond feeling I have continues. Getting there on a motorcycle is fun and scenic especially coming from the north where from San Luis Obispo you can take an inland route that gets you the famed Foxen Canyon Road. This road is ridden by bicyclists and motorcyclists alike and is a great diversion from Highway 101.

This last trip I stayed at one of my favorite places, The Upham Hotel located on De la Vina Street. The Upham is the oldest operating hotel in southern California (since 1871) it has 58 rooms both hotel and cottages. The place is quiet and comfortable. I enjoy sitting in the garden after a great ride on the coast and at night they always put out some cookies and milk.

If you are hungry it’s a great town, no matter your taste or interest this place has it. For breakfast I Like to get to Esau’s Café, it’s been around since 1939 and it’s great, homemade everything. It’s located on Chapala Street and I’d recommend you get the pancakes as well as anything else you like. One of the more interesting things they sell along with the great food is something called the chef scrambler a unique fork they have developed and that they swear makes a better scrambled egg.

According to Esau’s “The Santa Barbara Chef Scrambler was developed by professional chefs who understand the unique need of whipping air in egg dishes to make them fluffy.”

After breakfast you can check out one of the beautiful state beaches. There are a couple of don’t miss beaches including El Capitan or Goleta Beach, which I favor and can reach easily on two wheels. If you want to just hang out in town head on down to Steadman’s Pier and enjoy all the sights and activities one can enjoy. While you’re down on the pier another favorite spot of mine is the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company. This place looks out over the water and is very casual and while it does cater to tourist I have seen many locals in there. The fish is really good. With fresh specials every day there is a lot of good food on that menu. Don’t miss the shrimp and scallops pasta or the Cioppino. Last time in I had the baked clams and a cup of chowder. Really tasty.

If you are looking for something to do in the evening take a walk down State Street with it's shops and restaurants and all types of people from college kids to talented street entertainers. It’s a great way to spend a few hours and check out the local scene.

Looking for wine? Well old timers will tell you Santa Barbara County has been growing great wine grapes for years but really seemed to get on consumer radar with the advent of the Sideways movie back in 2004. You remember it’s a fun wine tasting road trip by a couple of friends that takes you through the Santa Ynez Valley. The Santa Barbara County appellation - including the AVA's of Santa Maria Valley, Santa Ynez Valley and Sta. Rita Hills - produces a wide variety of fine wines including Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, along with sweet dessert wines. There are unique differencea in the same varietals dependant on their vineyard locations and winemaker approach and each AVA, or appellation, has a signature wine.

A fun way to sample the good is the Santa Barbra Urban Wine Trail www.urbanwinetrailsb.com. The Wine Trail offers an opportunity to taste some of the region’s best wines, such as Au Bon Climat, all within blocks of downtown and the beach. You can still go out and visit the Vineyards and make a day of it but if you are short on time this might be a great option.

Yes Santa Barbara has changed a lot since those early days of my youth but as it has aged so have I so we're still in step. If you haven’t visited in a while or you have never been it might be time to check it out. It’s especially great to see and experience if you're on two wheels as I often am. But you will have just the same great time in a car.

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