Your Guide to the Best Wine Tasting in the Santa Barbara Area
A wine lover’s paradise hidden among the rolling hills of Santa Barbara County—perfect for day trippers, weekenders, and every other style of laid-back wine tasting.
Follow country roads through more than 30 tasting rooms, stunning vineyards, boutique wineries, and a thriving culinary scene where you can sip award-winning Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah in a unique and coastal climate. This unpretentious community pairs perfectly with an uncrowded Pacific coastline that delivers a wide range of varietals and experiences. In fact, you can explore Santa Barbara wine country over and over again and never have the same experience twice.
The region boasts seven AVAs (or American Viticultural Areas, which are specific vineyard zones based on area and climate, a.k.a wine regions) and nine distinct wine trails. Whether you’d like to spend the day slow, taking your time on country roads dotted with estate vineyards, want to stroll through some of the area’s fascinating towns and taste your way through charming boutiques and art galleries, or want to experience an edgier, city-centric experience sampling small-batch producers on the Urban Wine Trail, the region offers something for everyone.
Keep Your Glass Half-Full
Santa Barbara County wine tastings are some of the best on the Central Coast, and for good reason! Santa Barbara County has one of the coolest climates in the region due to its rare “traverse” geography. This exceptional climate guarantees the development of complex, flavorful, and exquisitely balanced grapes that have earned the Santa Barbara County area a top-five position in USA Today’s 10 Best Wine Regions.
The wine (and geography) is so distinctive that even Forbes journalist, Kim Westerman, wrote of Santa Barbara as one of “…the most exciting wine destinations in the U.S.,” and we can’t help but agree with her. (If you were us, you’d be a little biased, too.) The area is also in close proximity to many other exquisite wine regions that you can easily explore, with Santa Maria Valley as your perfect home base.
Explore Santa Barbara County’s Wine Tastings & Wine Regions
Get your wine-o palate ready. Because there is so much to see and do in Santa Barbara County, especially when it comes to wine, we’ve put together an overview of all the different wine regions scattered throughout the region and a number of tasting rooms to check out while you’re exploring them. Santa Barbara County’s flagship varietals include the cool-climate Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah (which especially benefit from the ocean’s influence), but there are also Bordeaux-style wines from neighboring regions that offer a vintage for every kind of wine lover.
Pro tip: When folks talk about Santa Barbara wine country, they’re talking about North Santa Barbara County, which means they’re talking about us!
The Santa Maria Valley AVA in North Santa Barbara County
The Santa Maria Valley AVA unfolds along the northern perimeter of Santa Barbara County and is home to the Central Coast’s first official American Viticultural Area (AVA). The region boasts more than 7,500 acres and is one of the earliest and fastest-growing AVAs established in the area. The Santa Maria Valley AVA can be explored easily, too, with 34 tasting rooms within a 30-minute drive from one another.
One of the most popular and unique ways to experience Santa Maria Valley’s wine country is aboard the Santa Maria Valley Wine Trolley. The trolley loops around to tasting rooms in the region every weekend from May to October.
After a day or two of enjoying the beautiful outdoors and a perfect climate, be sure to sink your teeth into some delicious (and not to mention, world-famous) Santa Maria Style Barbecue. Is there anything better to pair with all of those bottles of Pinot you’ll pick up?
The Santa Ynez Valley AVA
The Santa Ynez Valley AVA is located about 40 minutes southeast of the Santa Maria Valley AVA. When exploring Santa Barbara County wine tasting, Santa Ynez Valley AVA is a must-do-and-see. From one-person’s labor of love to multi-thousand case winery operations, you’ll find one of the area’s largest concentrations of wineries in the Santa Ynez Valley appellation near Los Alamos. Santa Ynez Valley is a long, east-west corridor with very cool temperatures due to the coast but does become quite a bit warmer as you make your way inland.
Before Prohibition, this valley had roughly 5,000 acres of vineyards and it took nearly four decades after Prohibition was lifted for commercial viticulture to re-establish itself in the area. Of its 42,000 total acres, about 7,500 of them are currently being used. This AVA grows everything from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Santa Ynez Valley AVA boasts over 20 wineries and offers a variety of tastings and tours. It has four sub-AVAs which include Santa Rita Hills AVA, Happy Canyon AVA, Ballard Canyon AVA, and the Los Olivos District AVA.
The Santa Rita Hills (Sta. Rita Hills) AVA
Located between the towns of Lompoc and Buellton, the Santa Rita Hills AVA is a part of the larger Santa Ynez Valley AVA. With the Purisima Hills on the north and the Santa Rosa Hills on the south, this wine region is exposed to fog and coastal breezes from the Pacific Ocean which creates that cool microclimate many of the varietals in the region love so very much (but the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir love it the most).
Wineries and locations in the Santa Rita Hills AVA were actually featured in the 2004 U.S. film Sideways, which is why Sideways Fest was born. Check out the annual three-day event hosted by the Santa Rita Hills Wine Alliance which celebrates the anniversary of the movie’s filming in the Santa Ynez Valley. A popular driving route to the area is to head west on Santa Rosa Road from 101 to Lompoc, then come back east back through Buellton on Highway 246, to get a real feel for the area. The AVA has more than 10 wineries to choose from and specializes primarily in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
The Ballard Canyon AVA
Although it is the smallest AVA in Santa Barbara wine country, Ballard Canyon AVA gets its cred from being America’s only Syrah-focused appellation. Ballard Canyon is about 7,800 acres total and accounts for about 10 percent of the larger Santa Ynez Valley’s AVA. Though it may be small, it boasts some of the most unique and best wine tastings in the Santa Barbara area. Based on the exquisite quality of wine being produced here, Ballard Canyon’s reputation is continuing to grow within the world of boutique wine, with hopes its varietal will become synonymous with great Syrah.
Its unique weather pattern is perfect for growing Syrah, which accounts for half of the AVA’s growing area. While Pinot Noir and Chardonnay dominate the western side of Santa Barbara County, Ballard Canyon is working to ensure their Rhône variety takes center stage. The remaining acres are planted with other Rhône varietals like Grenache, Viognier, and Roussanne.
There are 18 Vintners and growers in Ballard Canyon and nine Estate Wineries:
Beckmen Vineyards, Jonata, Jorian Hill Vineyard, Harrison Clarke, Kimsey Vineyard, Larner Vineyard and Winery, Rusack Winery, Saarloos & Sons, and Stolpman Vineyard. Make sure to visit their sites to check out tasting times and tours!
The Happy Canyon AVA
The Happy Canyon AVA is the easternmost AVA in the Santa Barbara County wine region. Another sub-AVA of Santa Ynez, its eastern location coupled with its high-rolling terrain makes it perfect for growing warmer-climate wine grapes. Bordeaux and Rhône varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Syrah flourish in this region. The Happy Canyon AVA is relatively small but still boasts about 24,000 total acres.
Happy Canyon AVA is home to six major vineyards: Crown Point, Dierberg, Grassini Family, Grimm’s Bluff, Happy Canyon, and Vogelzang. You will definitely want to add this warm and sunny AVA to your Santa Barbara wine tasting itinerary!
The Lompoc AVA
Lompoc makes up the most western region of Santa Barbara County’s wine tasting. Lompoc area wineries were praised by Sunset Magazine as the “New Wine Country” and are known for exceptional Pinot, Chardonnay, and other cool-climate wines typical of the region and its climate. Many local Lompoc winemakers produce their wines from grapes grown in Santa Rita Hills and have won prestigious awards because of it.
Most of the urban wineries in the Lompoc AVA are located in the Industrial Park and include Domaine De La Cote, Fiddlehead Cellars, Kessler-Haak Vineyard & Wines, Montemar, Sandhi, Sweetzer Cellars, and Temperance Cellars.
Lompoc is considered the western gateway to the Santa Rita Hills AVA. It is known as “The City of Arts and Flowers,” and as soon as you start walking around the area, you’ll quickly learn why (more than 60 murals created by local artists cover buildings throughout the town and the city is covered in flower fields). The Flower Fields generally bloom from April through September and several flower farms even let you pick your own wildflowers! Lompoc can be reached from the South on a scenic drive up Highways 101 and 1 and makes a great midpoint if you’re driving the Santa Rita Hills loop from Buellton.
Los Olivos District AVA
The Los Olivos District AVA is the newest AVA in Santa Barbara County. It’s home to the towns of Los Olivos, Ballard, Santa Ynez, and Solvang and is situated within the Santa Ynez Valley AVA. It also borders neighboring AVAs, Ballard Canyon to the west and Happy Canyon to the east, and is known for its Bordeaux – Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Merlot, but it’s also very well suited for Syrah. Over 47 vineyards call Los Olivos AVA their home, and the town of Los Olivos itself is lined with tasting rooms. Sip your way through the best wine tastings in the Santa Barbara area, with the Los Olivos District AVA at the top of the list.
Stay on Cloud Wine
Don’t run off just yet! As you can see, there are so many different ways to experience wine tasting in the Santa Barbara area that a one-day visit just won’t do it justice. When you plan your wine tasting trip to the Santa Barbara area, consider planning to stay for a few days and enjoy some perks along with it, with Santa Maria Valley as your home base!
When you get to Santa Maria Valley, you’ll notice something different about the community—we treat visitors like family. We simply believe that wine should be paired with a steak and blue jeans–and always shared with friends.
Kick your feet up and stay awhile after you sip and swirl your way through some of the Santa Barbara area’s best wine tastings. After you recharge, head out and explore the Santa Maria Valley area in more depth. With 24 hiking trails, 13 beaches, and a growing selection of local breweries, Santa Maria Valley is the perfect home base to eat, drink, and do more for less.