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9 Ways to Sample Santa Barbara Wine


If the arrival of summer conjures images of sipping wine al fresco with the backdrop of California’s Pacific Coastline, travellers should look no further than Santa Barbara – also known as the American Riviera, especially with the recent rebranding of Wineries of the Presidio Neighborhood and the California Wine Festival from July 19-21.

From champagne accompanied sunset sailing to visiting vineyards by helicopter, here’s nine different ways to enjoy Santa Barbara wine summer.

Take the Santa Barbara Wine Trail

Santa Barbara Wine
Urban Wine Trail, photo c. Blake Bronstad

Featuring more than 30 wineries and tap rooms, Santa Barbara’s Urban Wine Trail blends traditional wine making facilities, such as the Santa Barbara Winery, established in 1962, with specialists in sparkling wine, Riverbench, and renowned producers, such as Jim Clendenen and his tap room, Au Bon Climat. Recent additions to the Wineries of the Presidio Neighbourhood – a cluster of wineries in the historic district of the trail – include Silver Wines, Cebada Wine and Standing Sun Wines. Visitors can enjoy the region’s wine without the need for a car, taking the Amtrak direct from Los Angeles, which stops in the city’s Funk Zone – home to Santa Barbara Winery, Municipal Wines and Riverbench, amongst other tap rooms.

Go eco with Sustainable Vine

Sustainable Vine Wine Tours has created a luxury wine experience, with sustainability at the core. Transported to appointment-only wineries and bio dynamically-farmed vineyards in an all-electric Tesla, up to five guests will sample and learn about eco-conscious wines from the owner or winemaker. Sustainable winery tours are available daily, including a gourmet picnic served in a scenic location with views across Santa Barbara’s wine country.

Sip and sail at Santa Barbara harbour

Santa Barbara Wine
Santa Barbara Center Cruise, photo c. Blake Bronstad

Coastal Concierge welcomes visitors aboard a private Catalina yacht to sail the waters of the Santa Barbara harbour and channel, in which coastal views can be paired with a bottle of local bubbles, produced by Riverbench. The six-hour experience commences with wine tasting along the Urban Wine Trail, followed by lunch on the ocean and the option to play deck hand or to relax during a two hour sail. For those seeking a shorter sunset cruise, Santa Barbara Sailing Center has a year-round Double Dolphin Sunset Cruise in which a two hour sail will likely pass California sea lions, dolphins and whales, which can be accompanied by local wines from an on-board bar.

Vineyard Vinyasas Yoga

Travellers can combine warrior pose and wine in a Vineyard Yoga session in the Santa Ynez valley. With a surround of oak trees, vines, rolling hills and blue skies, yogis can relax amongst nature before enjoying a flight of local wine. As the practice of yoga enhances the senses, wine can be experienced more deeply. Classes take place on selected dates, with online booking available in advance.

Explore the wineries by helicopter
Santa Barbara Wine
Nanco Helicopter ride

Visitors can try a ‘wine flight’ whilst in Santa Barbara – and not just a line-up of tasters. Nanco Helicopters takes passengers on a three hour chartered wine and helicopter experience, with a tasting at Sanford Winery paired with aerial views of the region’s vineyards and coastline. A 25-minute helicopter ride provides views of the untouched Gaviota territory, including mountains and ocean, followed by the rolling Santa Rita Hills before parking up at the private onsite landing spot at Sanford Winery. Producing wines exclusively for their two estate vineyards for over 40 years, the winery was the first vineyard in the region and has some of the oldest vines in Santa Barbara County. Guests can enjoy a guided tour with an estate tasting, followed by a beach picnic lunch in the scenic vineyard before taking off again in style.

Savour the rooftop views

Amongst the terracotta roof tiles that are synonymous with Santa Barbara’s Spanish colonial architecture, are some of the finest views of the city for savouring a glass of local Santa Barbara wine. Usually reserved for guests of the hotel, the rooftop of the Kimpton Canary hotel is open to locals and visitors in a Sunset at the Canary series on 22nd August and 19th September, with happy hour prices as the sun sets.

Sip to your favourite songs

Santa Barbara Wine
Sanguis Wine table-setting, photo c. Jessy Lynn Perkins

Santa Barbara’s Sanguis Winery is tucked away in an unassuming neighbourhood within the city of Santa Barbara. After ringing a bell, founder winemaker, Matthias Pippig – who moved to the US aged 18 with dreams of becoming a famous drummer – draws back a large door to welcome visitors for a tasting of his wines, created and barrelled on-site. The big differentiator of Sanguis wines from any other bottle or brand is that tasting notes suggest pairings with music, as well as foods, for a complete sensory experience. Wine tasting at Sanguis is by appointment only, for which library tastings can be booked to include wines not in current release.

Pair with a horseback ride

Visitors can ride through the vineyards on horseback before sampling Santa Barbara wine created on site at Estelle Vineyards. Lasting 90 minutes Vino Vaqueros operates a private horseback ride every day of the week through the estate’s vines with views across the rolling hills, after which travellers can kick back and enjoy a glass of wine in the vineyard’s barn.

Sample a variety at California Wine Festival

One of the largest outdoor wine festivals in the state, the 15th California Wine Festival in Santa Barbara takes place 19th – 21st July. Hundreds of Californian wines can be sampled to the sound of live music and backdrop of Santa Barbara’s waterfront. Events throughout the weekend include an Old Spanish Nights wine tasting, blending Californian flavours with Spanish wines – a nod to the city’s Spanish colonial influence; Sunset Rare & Reserve Wine Tasting, including a Champagne reception and the main event – the Beachside Wine Festival (July 21).

For more information about Santa Barbara Wine


Photos courtesy of

Visit Santa Barbara, unless otherwise stated.

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Mark Bibby Jackson

Mark Bibby Jackson

Before setting up Travel Begins at 40, Mark was the publisher of AsiaLIFE Cambodia and a freelance travel writer. When he is not packing and unpacking his travelling bag, Mark writes novels, including To Cook A Spider and Peppered Justice. He loves walking, eating, tasting beer, isolation and arthouse movies, as well as talking to strangers on planes, buses and trains whenever possible. Most at home when not at home.

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