10 Best Wine Bars in Santa Barbara: 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 Wine + Beer for a great selection and fun night out. Feel like sampling local varietals somewhere luxe and a little intimate? Then Les Marchands 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 "wine" 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. Taking home a bottle of your favorite wine is (we think) the best souvenir!
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 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)
7 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)
6 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)
Intermezzo is a fun little wine bar with the added benefit of food! If you're in the mood for something good but don't know what to choose - perhaps you're hungry, but your date isn't, or you want wine, but your companion wants a cocktail - Intermezzo is the answer to all of your problems. Want to sit inside? Great, you can choose to belly up at the bar, sit a table, or lounge by the romantic fire. Outside? Well there's a front patio if you want to people watch or a back patio if you prefer the relaxing sounds of the fountain. Fancy a glass of wine? Or perhaps a bottle but can't commit? Intermezzo serves up local wines on tap, so you can have as much or as little as you want. And the regional, wine country inspired cuisine is scrumptious, whether you choose to indulge in only an appetizer or an entire meal. ((805) 966-9463)
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 liter bottle 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 Armada Wine & Beer Merchant
Armada is a beer and wine bar with a fun assortment of craft beverages from near, far and everywhere in between. This hidden gem is tucked just behind the main shopping area of State Street in downtown Santa Barbara. It's an ideal place to catch a little refreshment while doing some major splurging or to take a date before or after dinner. In addition to red, white and pink wines, they also have an effervescent selection of bubblies available by the glass. Pull up a seat at the bar, tuck into a lounge area inside or catch some sun on a patio table. Armada is pet-friendly, too. (805-770-5912)
2 Wine + Beer
Wine + Beer is a great wine and beer bar and shop located in the Santa Barbara Public Market, a collection of stores and restaurants gathered under one roof in downtown Santa Barbara. This is a wonderful place to go and meet friends, sip wine by the glass or order from a wine range of beer on tap. They also sell bottles of wine, beer and champagne. You can take them home with you to enjoy at your leisure or drink them in store. Long tables make for a communal, fun atmosphere. You can also order food from any of the restaurants in Public Market and have it delivered to Wine + Beer for a perfect pairing. Might we suggest a plate of oysters from Santa Monica Seafood? (805-770-7701)
1 Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant
A fun wine bar and merchant located in the heart of Santa Barbara's Funk Zone, Les Marchands offers a mix of local and international wines for tasting and for sale. There is also a menu with a selection of elegant nibbles, like a sandwich au jambon and a charcuterie plate served with pickled vegetables. Cool decor and high ceilings will make you feel like you're in a hip neighborhood in a big, urban city. Enjoy complimentary valet parking or park in a nearby city lot. Many other restaurants and wine bars are within easy walking distance, as are the train station, beach and a few hotels. ((805) 284-0380)
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.