Santa Barbara Vegan Wine Trail + travel guide
Your guide to the best vegan-friendly wineries and food in Santa Barbara. I've also built an interactive map, the Vegan Wine Trail, that shows you where all these gems are for easy drinking as well as plant-based dining...plus some of the best where-the-locals-go shopping so you won't get caught in any tourist traps.
Santa Barbara is an incredible destination for many reasons—the beach, the hiking…and of course the award-winning wine.
Whether you’re vacationing, or a local wanting to venture outside of your go-to spots, this vegan-friendly Santa Barbara wine guide has you covered. (And, we even made a Vegan Wine Trail on a handy Google Map linked below.) And what better way to discover some of the best wine being produced in California than to create your very own urban wine tasting adventure.
Drinking wine is nice, but that’s only part of the experience. The other part is the experience itself: learning a wine’s unique history; absorbing a bit of wine education; and taking a moment to slow down and partake in the art of the taste. For this, you must go wine tasting. Santa Barbara is arguably the best place to do exactly that.
First, a quick important fact about wine: not all wine is vegan. Winemakers commonly use “fining,” which is a process in which agents are used to achieve a certain color or clarity, to remove unwanted substances, etc. These agents frequently include egg whites, casein (a milk protein), bone fragments and fish bladder. So the reality is, many things lurk in your wine that you might not be aware of. What’s more, current labeling laws do not require any disclosures on wine, beer, or liquors about ingredients or processes. There are more than 70 commercial additives allowed in wine. While some wineries may in fact be vegan, most don't lead with it on their labels, websites or tasting rooms.
To make vegan wines easy to find, I created the "Vegan Wine Trail" which maps out the best wineries and wine tasting experiences that you can trust are pouring animal-free products in your glass. Plus, some bonus recommendations; vegan restaurants and eateries—and even a few shopping hotspots—that are a must-try as part of your adventure.
The Santa Barbara Vegan Wine Trail
Santa Barbara is known for being home to some of the best, small-batch wine producers in California. While you can venture about 35 minutes north of central Santa Barbara to hit many vineyards in wine country—referred to by locals as “the valley”—there is an urban wine tasting adventure that awaits you right in the city.
In the quintessential beach town of Montecito you’ll find upscale shopping and dining along the modest Coast Village Rd. corridor. You’ll also find a tasting room from one of the newest Santa Barbara winemakers on the scene: Folded Hills. Don’t let their youth deceive you; their wines are some of the best in the region. From their award-winning 2016 Lilly Rose to their 2016 August Red, you’ll taste a diverse wine line-up from crisp whites to full-bodied reds. If you do venture out to the valley, visit the Folded Hills vineyard, it’s the first winery you’ll hit going inland from the coast. Folded Hills Co-owner Kim Busch explains that a delicious, cleaner wine starts in the vineyard; carefully grown high-quality grapes need little intervention. The quality Folded Hills’ small batch artisanal wines from their own organic grapes, grown following the biodynamic calendar, prove their staying power in the glass.
After your visit at the Folded Hills Montecito tasting room, stroll down the main strip about a mile and you’ll reach the 100% plant-based Oliver’s Montecito, one of the city's best restaurants, vegan or not. Also, a short jaunt from Folded Hills is oceanfront dining at The Four Seasons at the Biltmore’s Bella Vista restaurant. They have a number of plant-based options created for the restaurant in partnership with vegan chef Leslie Durso. Dishes are all clearly marked and labeled making it easy to dine no matter what your dietary preference. The Bella Vista also has a curated wine list, heavily leaning towards California winemakers. Some notable vegan wines on the menu include varietals from The Hilt, Star Lane, and Grgich Hills.
Santa Barbara - Funk Zone
In an area dubbed the “Funk Zone,” just below downtown Santa Barbara, an urban wine-tasting mecca awaits you. The Funk Zone is the hotspot in Santa Barbara right now, dominated by tasting rooms, restaurants and shops—all just a few blocks from the beach. You may experience choice paralysis when trying to figure out where to taste since there are nearly 20 tasting rooms in the ‘hood. This below should help you narrow it down.
A top tasting room on your list to visit should be Margerum (pictured here). The sophisticated yet unpretentious vibe will make any wine taster from novice to experienced feel right at home. They also have a small food menu with a few vegan options, and they can make any of the pizzas vegan by nixing the cheese. Both indoor, upstairs and outdoor space makes it easy to find a comfy area to lounge. Margerum’s wines are made up of grapes from their estate vineyard and various Santa Barbara County growers, demonstrating Santa Barbara’s finest grapes in the glass.
For an upbeat hotspot, hit Pali Wine Co. (pictured here). Its industrial modern feel is open and airy with seating indoors and out.
Flights are served in a beer-like tasting fashion; mini glasses spanning a long wooden paddle, making for easy tasting at your own speed. Their wines are well-balanced, easy to drink at an affordable price point, like their 2017 Huntington Pinot Noir. Make sure to try some of their newer, natural wines, including a recently released natural rose that hits all the right notes. There’s not much in the way of food options—although they do serve a delicious vegan popcorn from Hippy Pop—but you can bring in your own eats. They also have live music on Friday evenings. (Plus, if you like what you taste you can go to one of their other tasting rooms in DTLA, Anaheim, San Diego - Little Italy, or Lompoc.)
If you are into aliens, Sci-Fi or X-Files, then you’ll appreciate the no frills extraterrestrial-inspired vibe at Area 5.1. Another of note is Melville, one of the newer tasting rooms in the area. Modern, sleek and family-owned that exclusively produces estate wine from their vineyard in Santa Rita Hills.
After you’ve worked up an appetite jumping around tasting rooms, checkout the nearby hip yet casual (order-at-the-counter) Tyger Tyger. They specialize in Vietnamese and Thai-inspired street-food and have a few dedicated vegan options on the menu.
After satiating your senses, hopefully you’ve left room for some Funk Zone shopping. There is an excellent vintage, second-hand home goods and furniture store called The Blue Door on the main Funk Zone street to visit and peruse. There are also two boutiques of note: Sirena which embraces a boho-chic vibe carrying a small but effective collection of the latest trends for women. (It's located just above Pali Wine Co.) For a larger more diverse selection, the near by Dylan Star carries women's (and some men’s) clothes, shoes, gifts, accessories and other items.
Santa Barbara - State St.
If you head up State St. to venture outside of the Funk Zone, in a less than .5 mile easy walk you’ll hit Modern Times, The Academy of Recreational Sciences, a 100% plant based restaurant and brewery that serves some of the best elevated bar-food Santa Barbara has to offer. Finally, about another mile up State St. is Satellite (pictured above), a natural wine bar (so you can trust all their wine is also vegan) with a small but impressive vegetarian (nearly all-vegan) food menu. For a more casual quick bite, around the corner you’ll find Fala Bar, a LA-originated vegan falafel spot, located inside the Santa Barbara Public Market, which houses a collection of casual eateries and serves wine and beer at its mainstay bar.
If you want a deeper dive on plant-based dining and drinking in Santa Barbara, check out this story I did for The Beet that gives details on some of the top restaurants and wine tasting rooms, plus highlights a few additional!