Tuesday, September 16, 2014     Volume: 15, Issue: 27
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Santa Maria Sun / Eats

The Funk Zone

BY WENDY THIES SELL

Just a stone’s throw from Stearns Wharf is a soulful area of downtown Santa Barbara affectionately known as the Funk Zone, where “the ocean meets the streets.”

 

The formerly run-down industrial area between State Street, Garden Street, Montecito Street, and Cabrillo Boulevard has undergone a dramatic metamorphosis over the last decade.


Soulful streets
Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone, located between the beach, State St., and Hwy 101, is a thriving collection of colorful tasting rooms, shops, and cool eateries.
PHOTO BY WENDY THIES SELL

A small section of the city that is literally on the other side of the tracks is now home to a vibrant art scene, surf shops, hip restaurants, and wine and craft beer tasting rooms. Santa Barbara’s Urban Wine Trail winds through the colorful, eclectic neighborhood with a dozen tasting rooms in the Zone.

 

Seth Kunin, who handcrafts his Kunin Wines at Central Coast Wine Services in Santa Maria, was among the first to open a tasting room in the Funk Zone, just a block from the beach at 28 Anacapa St. That was in 2008.

 

“There were not very many wineries here in the Funk Zone,” Kunin said. “We live in Santa Barbara and we just like the vibe down here. It’s a little cooler with the ocean, I had a boat in the harbor, and I just like the vibe. In the last six years, it’s really exploded to what it is now.”

 

The zone’s 12 blocks are bustling with activity, especially on the weekends, when a blend of locals and tourists descend on the neighborhood.

 

“It’s a very pleasantly surprising mix of both. I’ve been quite surprised by how many locals come in and join the wine club or just to taste,” Kunin said. “They have friends visiting from out of town, it’s their anniversary, it’s their co-worker’s last day of work, or somebody’s having a baby, whatever. ‘Let’s go wine tasting!’ It’s the thing they do on a Saturday afternoon.”

 

Kunin Wines is open daily from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m.

 

A relative newcomer to the Zone is Riverbench Winery, which has four-decade-old vineyards and a tasting room on Foxen Canyon Road in the Santa Maria Valley.


Tiny bubblesTiny bubbles:
Riverbench Winery produces several different sparkling wines and pours a popular, bubbly flight at its Santa Barbara wine tasting room.
PHOTO BY WENDY THIES SELL

“We had been thinking about opening a second tasting room downtown for a while, but only if it was in the perfect location,” said Laura Booras, Riverbench general manager. “We toured this place when it was an empty warehouse and old fish market before the renovation. It took a year and a half to get things going, but it was worth it. We wanted somewhere approachable where people could enjoy our wines, and we sure found it.”

 

Riverbench opened its popular Funk Zone tasting room last year, located at 137 Anacapa St. 

 

When I visited Riverbench on a recent Saturday afternoon, I was amazed by the dozens of 20- to 30-somethings I saw there—they gave the space a youthful energy. Next to us, several young women celebrating a bachelorette party enjoyed Riverbench’s excellent sparkling wines, toasting the future bride with some bubbly.

 

“Not many people are making so many types of sparkling wines,” Booras explained. “So, we’re the only ones who have an

actual sparkling tasting flight.”

 

“I think it’s the cool vibe at the Anacapa Project that brings people in,” Booras added. “We have beer, a fabulous distillery, and great food and wine, so it’s a perfect destination. We really filled a niche, I think, bringing higher quality wine to the Funk Zone, and it’s been so much fun.”

 

Riverbench’s Santa Barbara tasting room is open daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

 

Other places to taste wine in the Funk Zone include Area 5.1 Wines, AVA Santa Barbara Vintners, Fox Wine Co., Les Marchands Wine Bar and Merchant, Municipal Winemakers, Oreana, Pali Wine Co., and Santa Barbara Winery, and more are rumored to be moving in soon.

 

Prefer brews or spirits? Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co. (craft beers), Corks n’ Crowns (wine and beer from around the world), and Cutler’s Artisan Spirits (American whiskey, vodka, and gin) operate tasting rooms there, too.

 

Foodies can find satisfying meals at the hugely popular The Lark, Lucky Penny, Seven Bar and Kitchen, or Metropulos Fine Foods.

 


Made by Seth
Gewürztraminer, syrah, Rhone blends, and other varieties produced in Santa Maria by Kunin Wines are served and sold in the Kunin wine tasting room in the Funk Zone.
PHOTO BY WENDY THIES SELL

Want art with your charcuterie and counoise? That can also be found in the Funk Zone. The neighborhood’s many art galleries and studios host special events during the Funk Zone Art Walk, the second Saturday afternoon of

every month.

 

And watch out for groups of Segways gliding down the middle of the street; Segway of Santa Barbara, which offers tours of the city, is headquartered—you guessed it—in the Zone.

 

For a Funk Zone directory and more information on all the merchants and happenings there, go to FunkZone.net.

 

And check out SantaBarbaraCA.com for endless ideas before any trip to Santa Barbara.

 

Sun wine and food columnist Wendy Thies Sell can be contacted at wthies@santamariasun.com.