10 Best Wine Bars in Santa Barbara: Why Not Sit and Sip Awhile?
By Geneva Ives
Santa Barbara Local Expert
Here in Santa Barbara we may not have any champagne bars and we may not have any piano bars but what we do have... well, we have wine bars. Excellent bars that pour (area) wine by the glass that you'll be dreaming of long after your stay. Pinots, Sauvignon Blancs, Cabernets, you can try them all if you just know where to go.
Fortunately, we here at 10Best know exactly what an explorer like you wants from a wine bar - local, affordable and choc full of friendly strangers. This list has plenty of venues to suit your uncompromising needs. Do you want to be downtown? Try the Blue Agave for great vintages and a fun night out. Feel like sampling local varietals somewhere intimate? Then Louie's California Bistro is your place.
Whether you're overnighting within Santa Barbara city limits or visiting one of our beloved neighbors, this list will help you find the place that's just right for you. Staying in Goleta for business? The Mercury Lounge is where you'll want to wind down after a long workday.
Just be sure to make note of your favorite glasses or bottles wherever you go. Many area vineyards have their own tasting rooms or offer their wines for sale at local merchants. Take home a bottle of your favorite wine as a souvenir of your night out.
Yes, Sly's is a fantastic steak and seafood restaurant, but - what most people don't know - is that it's also a great place to stop in for a glass, or bottle, of wine. In fact, Sly's wine list has even received the Wine Spectator "Award of Excellence" for 2011 and for 2012. From lighthearted whites to rich, complex reds, there's something for everyone on Sly's menu. Great wines from Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez and France, served at the right temperature and for the right price. What could be better than that? Oh, maybe pairing your wine with an order of traditional mussels and fries, that's what! (8056846666)
9 Arnoldi's Cafe
Arnoldi's Café has an extensive wine list that highlights the best Italian and Central Coast wines, for a night of wine tasting you're certain to remember. Start your evening with a glass of white or an aperitif at the classic wooden bar (presided over by Bucky the Tule Elk) before moving on to a table -- and perhaps some richer red wine -- in one of the formal dining rooms or out on the patio. Covered tables are available, or sit directly under the stars. Two bocce ball courts allow for a little friendly competition. Arnoldi's is located a few blocks away from busy State Street, so take a cab, bicycle or prepare for a brisk walk. ((805) 962-5394)
8 Milk & Honey
Lipstick on your glass is not a faux pas at Milk & Honey. This dark little hideaway encourages dressing up and feeling fancy, although you're free to come as you are, too. Rock walls, dark wood, gleaming candles and a patio fireplace set the scene. White, rosé and red are all available by the glass here. Many wines are local, but France and Italy are also represented. Have something to celebrate? Order a glass of sparkling wine or champagne. And, should you start to feel a little peckish, Milk & Honey has a great tapas selection boasting both meat and vegetarian specialties that are perfect for sharing. (8052754232)
7 Blue Agave
For an evening filled with wine and romance, pop into the Blue Agave. Tucked down a quiet side street right off the main downtown road, this Santa Barbara staple has been repeatedly voted as one of the most romantic restaurants in the area. Their wine list features both local favorites and offerings from other classic wine regions. Grab a glass of red or white and settle in by the Blue Agave's fireplace with your sweetheart. Or share a bottle with some friends in one of their cozy velvet booths. There is also an upstairs balcony that accommodates smokers and loud conversations. (805-899-4694)
6 Mercury Lounge
Sometimes you want to get away from it all... all the downtown noise, crowds, and traffic. For times like these, head to Goleta and pay a visit to the Mercury Lounge. A hidden gem in an unassuming strip mall, the Mercury is something of a haven, a dark velvet calm of a wine and beer bar complete with low couches, a single pool table, vintage glassware, and a cozy rear patio. With dozens of beers to choose from and a wine list that leans local, it's a connoisseur's type of place - perfect for intimate conversations or dark solo musings. ((805) 967-0907)
5 Elsie's Tavern
If you're in the mood for a relaxing night spent conversing with a few close friends - or making new ones - Elsie's Tavern is the place to go. A neighborhood hangout right in the heart of downtown, this lounge style beer and wine bar consists of a few rooms and a back patio, all with ample seating. Beers on draft range from classic to local to Belgian specialties and there's even more available by the bottle. There's also wine by the glass (the kind that won't give you a headache the next morning) and snacks, like chips and even cup o' noodles. And when you get tired of small talk? Why, there's an old style Pacman table waiting for you to take your opponent to town! ((805) 963-4503)
4 Municipal Winemakers
Municipal Winemakers is the brainchild of Dave Potter, a well-traveled winemaker who also produces wine for one of the area's largest commercial vineyards. Potter's efforts for Municipal are more intimate, producing 600 or so cases of wine a year, with the goal of making bottles that are both delicious and easily guzzled. Wines you'll want to bring to your friends' houses and buy by the case to serve at parties. Or even by the growler. Municipal Winemakers features a Wine Fountain allowing for the fresh glass of your choice OR a refillable growler option that's oh-so-tasty and oh-so-good for the planet. Visit Municipal's lively tasting room in the Funk Zone for a fun wine drinking experience you won't soon forget. ((805) 931-6864)
3 Hitching Post II
Although the Hitching Post II may have achieved international fame when it was featured in the film Sideways, it has always been a favorite of Santa Barbara locals. The Hitching Post specializes in their own Hitching Post wines made from Central Coast grapes since 1984. Winemaking occurs just a mile from the restaurant and winery tours are available. You can taste all the Hitching Post Wines at the restaurant bar before 6 PM for a nominal fee. Other carefully selected Santa Barbara County wines are also served at the restaurant. Designated drivers receive complimentary non-alcoholic beverages. The dinner menu highlights a combination of Santa Maria style BBQ and contemporary cooking techniques. (805-688-0676)
2 Opal Restaurant & Bar
Opal Restaurant and Bar is a popular local's place with an astoundingly lengthy wine list. This upscale casual dinner and lunch spot has received the Wine Spectator Award every year for the last twelve years in recognition of their continued efforts to offer diners the best of the best, from beloved classics to unusual finds. At any given time, forty or so wines are available by the glass and over three hundred can be purchased by the bottle. Opal is also working to incorporate a number of half-bottles into their list, allowing patrons more flexibility when sampling and sharing. New to choosing wines? Fear not, Opal's dinner menu offers pairing suggestions for many of the most popular dishes. (805-966-9676)
1 Louie's California Bistro
Perhaps home to the smallest wine bar in town, Louie's Bistro at the Upham Hotel seats exactly three, so it is ideal for small parties and peaceful moments. Louie's has a well-curated wine list, serving up both Central Coast and Sonoma Valley selections. There are wonderful wines by the glass -- great for exploring a variety of flavor profiles -- and even more wonderful wines by the bottle. A recent visit revealed two hidden bottles of an area wine that was long believed to have been entirely sold out! Louie's also serves great California cuisine made from fresh ingredients. Moderate portion sizes and moderate prices make for a very satisfying evening. Eat at the bar or take your wine to a table. (805-963-7003)
About Geneva Ives
Geneva Ives moved to Santa Barbara in 2000 on a whim (ok, and to go to college) and never looked back. She loves Santa Barbara because it’s really one of America’s greatest small towns - it just happens to have glorious beaches and celebrity residents, too! Geneva spent a decade managing an adorable, locally owned boutique in downtown Santa Barbara and met her husband when he was working as a waiter at the Cajun restaurant right next door. Together they go on many adventures trying to find the best activities, drinks and dining experiences in the tri-county area.
Read more about Geneva Ives here.