Nestled between the vast Santa Ynez mountains and the glistening Pacific Ocean, along the central coast of the golden state of California lies the city of Santa Barbara. For those of us that live in California, often times we take for granted or forget about the cities that surround us; missing opportunities to explore more of our home state. This could not be truer for myself. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in wanting to travel abroad, when we can have a perfect getaway right in our own “backyard”. Some wonderful friends and I did just that! We spent a long weekend in Santa Barbara, specifically the Funk Zone. This district is slightly off the beaten path; however, it has become increasingly popular over recent years. It is wedged between the ocean and the 101 freeway, but don’t let its size deceive you. It may be small, but it really packs a punch!
Walking through Santa Barbara you will immediately notice a change in the atmosphere, which is largely due to the particular style of architecture. In the year 1925, Santa Barbara experienced a devastating earth quake that left the, already dirty and dingy Santa Barbara, in complete disarray. It was none other than Pearl Chase who envisioned more for her home town, appearing before local government and lobbying for the city of Santa Barbara to be recast in the Spanish Colonial Style; paying homage to the Spanish settlers who built the Old Santa Barbara Mission in their distinct architectural style, thus giving Santa Barbara its own unique appearance. Way back when, the Funk Zone was a beat up, run down industrial, marine and manufacturing part of town. This was not the ideal travel destination to say the least. As it goes, some members from city council came to this part of town in the hopes of restoring the area and came back reporting it a “funky” place; hence the name, the Funk Zone. This part of Santa Barbara is small indeed but strewed with untold art galleries and studios, quaint boutiques, local surf shops, mouth-watering restaurants, eateries and bakeries, bustling bars, a hip hostile, a luxurious hotel, and 25 different tasting rooms all within a ten, yes ten, square-blocks! The Funk Zone has created a truly a one-of-a-kind culture within its small confines. You get a splash of high society with a hint of those laid back, hang loose vibes, wrapped up in an old-timey feel while incorporating a dollop of the modern world. There is something for everyone.
If you are unfamiliar with the Funk Zone, as I was, not a problem. There is a free guided walking tour of the Funk Zone offered by Mr. John Ummel. (Simply google Santa Barbara free walking tour and it pops right up; or simply use the link provided below.) For those of you who love to learn and explore new places, this tour, in my opinion, is well worth it. It’s just an hour and a half of your time and you get great background information of the area as well as the current goings-on of the Funk Zone. Not only do you get a great education of the Funk Zone, but you have the opportunity to walk around the area; allowing you to get the lay of the land before you venture out on your own. I would highly recommend it to anyone traveling to Santa Barbara!
A couple areas I would advise you to visit during your time in the Funk Zone are the following:
1. McConnell’s Ice Cream: Founder, Mack McConnell, came back to Santa Barbara after being stationed in Europe during World War II with a dream to start an ice cream shop. After trial and error, he finally decides to churn his ice cream significantly slower than that of other ice cream makers, giving his an incredibly creamy taste. To this day, they make their ice cream the same way. McConnell’s has been consistently ranked as one of the best artisan ice creams in America. At one point, Time Magazine was as bold as to say that McConnell’s was the best ice cream in the world! But don’t take their word for it, go try the cold, creamy goodness for yourself; you won’t regret breaking your diet.
2. Santa Barbara Wines: This winery is located within the Funk Zone and a wonderful place for a wine break. Not only is it the oldest winery in Santa Barbara, it also is the only working winery that creates and bottles their wines on site. They are a very decorated winery, having won many awards for both their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Be sure to give those a try in your next tasting!
3. Dart Coffee: If you need a little pick-me-up, there is a small coffee shop ready to get you energized for the rest of your day. This small shop offers the classic coffee and tea drinks as well as pastries. Whatever your preference; hot or cold, coffee or tea, oat milk or almond milk, you are not without options.
4. Public Garden: Just across the street from Dart Coffee is a small green house with a large side yard. This house has been converted into an art studio and the yard is a public garden. There are indeed trees, flowers, plants and produce in this garden; but what’s more, is the many tables and seating options available to anyone who wants to sit and sip their coffee, meet with friends, read a book or have a little picnic. It is a wonderfully decorated area that gives a rustic, farmhouse chic vibe that just puts you at ease.
5. The Lucky Penny: This small pizza joint makes some absolutely delicious, yet not so typical pizzas. You won’t find your usual pizza “flavors”; you will need to keep an open mind when looking at the menu. If you look at the toppings and know you like them individually, but wonder how on earth it will taste all put together on top of a pizza; my advice, get it. I did just that and was so glad I took a chance; quite possibly one of the best pizzas I’ve had in a while.
6. Test Pilot: This is a Tiki Bar that gives off some serious island vibes with some seriously delicious drinks! Their cocktail menu is extensive, with so many options to choose from; all of them unique and super fun to try out! There are both indoor and outdoor seating options available and is the perfect place to stop by and take it slow for an hour or so.
7. Helena Avenue Bakery: Such a great place if you're looking for a good breakfast/brunch. This homestyle artisan bakery brings homemade baked goods like pastries and breads with gourmet breakfast and lunch items. Unfortunately, they close at 2:30pm daily, so don't wait too long to head over here. I loved getting brunch here, they have so many options to choose from. Anywhere to sweet and savory to a light or hearty meal, you can get it here.
***Pro Tip: Try the Wildflower Honey Ricotta Toast...yum!
8. The Lark: This rustic yet industrial style restaurant serves a new American cuisine that is delightful. The ambience alone makes the dining experience enjoyable, but add the food on top of that and you're in for a treat! This restaurant serves all locally sourced food, using high quality seasonal produce. A truly great menu; you simply can't go wrong with anything you order here. But make sure you make a reservation in advanced to avoid long wait times.
***Pro Tip: Definitely get their crispy brussel sprouts, it's what they're known for.
Though the Funk Zone may seem small, there is much to do. There is so much to discover and explore, these were just some of my favorite spots along the way that I would highly recommend giving a try. Santa Barbara’s rich history, ideal location, ethnic architecture and dynamic culture work together to create an atmosphere that almost transports you to a place far from California, making it a simply wonderful vacation destination.
And that’s the dirt!