Santa Barbara is a tourist-generating machine. When it comes to seasonal parades, cultural festivals, nature preserves, fantastic restaurants or outdoor shopping, Santa Barbara sets the standard. I never grow tired of the spectacular scenery, amazing weather and friendly, laid-back people.
One of the most exciting additions to the Santa Barbara experience is the Funk Zone, several blocks of cool a block off Lower State Street between Highway 101 and the waterfront.
In the early 1900s, the Funk Zone was an industrial area that housed a huge retail and wholesale seafood distribution company, that grew into an insanely successful business developed by the late George Castagnola.
Today, the Funk Zone is home to eight art galleries, more than a dozen new tasting rooms and a handful of airy restaurants catering to a trendy clientele. On any given weekend, there’s a fun, cool vibe in the Zone that beckons visitors from hundreds of miles away.
This neighborhood is like no other. It caters to many different appetites. You can have a fantastic meal at The Lark. Take a stroll and do the “Art Walk.” Hang out at Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.with your friends. Peruse the numerous tasting rooms or find your passion.
On my last visit to Santa Barbara, I discovered the Arts Fund Community Art Gallery at 205-C Santa Barbara St. It offers so much to the community and its visitors, with monthly exhibits featuring artists young and old in an array of mediums.
If you like art and sculpture, you need to see the Art Wall.
The Lark, at 131 Anacapa St., is a great upscale restaurant offering fresh food and a variety of wines, beers and unique cocktails.
The Lark offers fresh food, a variety of beverages and some of the most unique and tastiest appetizers around.
The Lark has a comfortable energy and the food is consistently good. You must order the Crispy Brussel Sprouts appetizer. It sounds unusual, but it’s out of this world.
If you want to sustain yourself while enjoying a cocktail, order the bottomless bowls of the The Lark’s unique seasoned popcorn.
The Lark is a great place to start out on your Funk Zone experience for many reasons, one of which is that it has valet parking. The back patio is inviting … and leads you to a sister business, Les Marchands Wine Bar & Restaurant.
Les Marchands is a beautiful, romantic little place directly behind The Lark. I had an interesting experience there that is a must-share. I ordered a glass of wine and it appeared to be about half of a normal pour. I looked at the beautiful girl who did the pour and she laughed and said, “Wanna see something interesting?”
She proceeded to pour the entire bottle of wine into one glass. It certainly looked like a normal-size wine glass but the entire contents of the bottle fit in the glass. It was a great experience and is guaranteed to not leave your glass “half empty.”
While parking can be a challenge in the Funk Zone, an issue in most coastal destinations, the weather makes parking and walking less of a chore.
In fact, it is the walkability of the Funk Zone that adds to its appeal. Walking from one end to the other will take you less than 20 minutes, although it’d be nearly impossible to do it in less than a few hours due to the inviting establishments lining the streets.
Les Marchands Wine Bar & Restaurant. (Donna Polizzi photo)
Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.,Santa Barbara Winery, Kunin Wines, Area 5.1 Winery … just to name a few, and believe me the list goes on for those who love to sip wine and ingest suds on a crisp, breezy afternoon. The Funk Zone is a winner.
Once the location of industrial buildings from years gone by, Santa Barbara has yet another attraction to bring out-of-towners and locals together.
I highly recommend the Funk Zone, so don’t let another weekend go by until you’ve spent some time there. You won’t regret it.
— Donna Polizzi is a regional travel expert and founder of Keys to the Coast, a free Central Coast travel resource providing honest recommendations on the best places that locals want to go.