Food, Fun, and Funk: A Santa Barbara Funk Zone Food Tour
The seaside city of Santa Barbara lies about two hours north of Los Angeles and is picture perfect in just about every way: colonial Spanish architecture at each turn, buckets of sunshine, and beaches for days. With a population of around 90,000 people, it’s no small village, but it offers a quieter, laid-back alternative to L.A.’s sprawling city life. When the time came to choose a place to celebrate my birthday, a wide array of Southern California’s prime destinations lay before me, but Santa Barbara seemed like the perfect pick.
I’ve never thought of myself as a foodie, but after getting a taste for food tours in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, Malaysia and then checking out my city’s culinary scene in Downtown Los Angeles and later through L.A.’s international neighborhoods, I have to consider myself hooked. So how better to celebrate my birthday and make the most of a weekend up north than by exploring Santa Barbara’s cuisine? I headed to TripAdvisor Attractions for inspiration, and one option immediately jumped out at me: the Santa Barbara Funk Zone Food Tasting Tour. A tour combining food, wine, an eclectic neighborhood, and photography lessons? Sign me up, please!
Day one in Santa Barbara was spent strolling past the shops and cafés of State Street, diving into the city’s history at the Santa Barbara Mission, and enjoying a sunset dinner along the beach. But the real fun started the next day as we joined our small group and our guide Andrew to start the Funk Zone tour.
As we learned from Andrew, Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone—named not for its quirky vibes but for the fish smell that lingered there in a past life—is the city’s coolest up-and-coming neighborhood. In recent years, it’s done a complete 180 from the dirty, industrial area it once was, and today, many of Santa Barbara’s trendiest restaurants, bars, art galleries, and wine tasting spots can be found there.
We kicked off the tour at the Enterprise Fish Co, one of the city’s top seafood and happy hour spots since 1977. Our first tasting of the day was a lobster bisque. While I don’t eat seafood, I did nibble on its puff pastry coating, which had me wishing I could eat the whole thing, and the bisque received rave reviews from all other members of the group. While we tasted, Andrew provided photography tips to make sure we were getting the best food shots throughout.
From there, Andrew led us past Santa Barbara’s historic train station, where he shared an overview of the city’s long history. We then landed at the stop I was personally the most excited for due to my years of living in Spain: Spanish fine dining restaurant Loquita. We sidled up to its pintxos bar and sampled gildas (a pepper wrapped around an anchovy wrapped around and olive) and dátiles (chorizo wrapped around blue cheese wrapped around dates) while sipping on vermouth. It took me right back to my days in Northern Spain, and I’d love to return to try more of their pintxos and dishes!
It wouldn’t be a sunny Southern California Sunday without a pint or two, so our next stop was local craft brewery Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company. There, we sampled a flight of their best beers while enjoying their lively patio and taking in the Funk Zone crowds. And, to perfectly complement the drinks, we hopped on over to Shalhoob Meat Company’s own sunny patio and sampled a brilliantly-smoked tri-tip sandwich with crispy fries.
I had already been thoroughly convinced of the Funk Zone’s culinary splendor, but the mouthwatering samples didn’t stop there: at Lucky Penny, we admired the restaurant’s exterior, lined head to toe in copper pennies, and then dove into their Milpas breakfast pizza, topped with fingerling potatoes, Mexican chorizo, a sunny-side-up egg, cotija cheese, and cilantro. Andrew also shared stories of how the Funk Zone really became the core of Santa Barbara’s culinary scene and the politics that have made it what it is today.
It’s no secret that California is one of the world’s top wine destinations, and the area surrounding Santa Barbara is replete with vineyards and wineries. As many are too small to host their own tasting room, they’ve joined forces in the Funk Zone to open the Santa Barbara Wine Collective. In its modern, sunlit space, we sampled some of their best local wines accompanied by homemade bread and butter. A full wine tour of the Santa Barbara region is now high on my bucket list.
Our last stop of the day was Cutler’s Artisan Spirits, a local, family-owned distillery that has been sharing its liquors with California since the 1910s. There, we tasted gin, vodka, and whiskey while learning about the family’s history and how the spirits are made. Happy and full, we ended our tour there, said goodbye to the group, and took our own stroll down the Santa Barbara Pier.
Santa Barbara is easily one of California’s most charming towns, and you could spend months doing nothing but trying all of its restaurants, cafés, and bars. Eat This, Shoot That’s Funk Zone Tour was the perfect opportunity to sample some of its best and explore a side of the city I’d never seen before. Our host Andrew, as a Santa Barbara local and world traveler, was incredibly enthusiastic and knowledgeable. And TripAdvisor Attractions made it super easy to find and book the tour and discover other activities and sights to visit while in Santa Barbara. A very happy birthday to me, indeed.