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Last weekend, I hopped on a plane to Southern California to visit one of my very best friends in her current city of Santa Barbara. Located about an hour and a half north of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara is the definition of an idyllic California beach town. Surrounded by the Santa Ynez Mountains on one side and the glittering Pacific Ocean on the other, Santa Barbara is full of picture-perfect views in every direction. While we only had two short days together to explore Santa Barbara, I wanted to make the most of our time by combining a few of my favorite things: food, wine, and interesting information. Enter: Taste Santa Barbara Food Tours!
Founded by a local foodie in 2014, Taste Santa Barbara Food Tours is a 3.5 hour walking tour through downtown Santa Barbara, stopping at 6 fabulous, locally-owned restaurants and wineries to sample some of Santa Barbara’s best food and wine. Our tour was led by a lovely woman named Brittany, who was very knowledgeable about the stops and sights along the way, and whose energy was infectious. The tour consisted of around 10 people total and I really enjoyed getting to know the others as we walked and ate together.
A World Tour: Flavors from France, Thailand, Italy, and Mexico
Our first stop and meeting point was Renaud’s Patisserie to start our tour off with one of my favorite snacks: macarons! Our tour guide, Brittany, told us the story of Monsieur Renaud’s journey from France to Santa Barbara where he opened his first bakery. The macarons (baked fresh daily!) are one of their specialties and it was easy to see why — they were absolutely irresistible. Perfectly crisp and colorful on the outside with a yummy fruity filling, the macarons were the perfect sweet treat to start our day and set the bar pretty high for the rest of the tour. If I were a Santa Barbara resident, I would absolutely be popping into Renaud’s for a coffee and macaron whenever I could.
We then walked over to the Santa Barbara Public Market, a building I wish I had more time to explore! The public market is set up with dozens of mini restaurants inside, offering everything from desserts to Asian food to barbecue. Everything looked and smelled fantastic. The Taste team could probably set up a tour of just the public market food offerings and it would be a hit!
We made two stops in the public market, with the first being one of my favorite stops of the entire tour. Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar specializes in Thai noodle dishes such as the Pad Thai we sampled (with chicken and tofu options). Pad Thai is one of my favorite foods, and Empty Bowl’s recipe was amazing! The flavors were authentic and the tofu was cooked so well that I actually preferred it to the chicken. I would have been happy to halt the tour and sit in the public market eating bowls of noodles for the rest of the afternoon!
After devouring the Thai noodles, we walked over to Il Fustino to sample their olive oils and balsamic vinegar. Their oils are made from fresh, local ingredients and meet California’s highest standards to be certified as true extra virgin olive oils. We learned a bit about the process of creating olive oil and learned how to properly taste and grade the olive oil. My favorite was the basil olive oil, which was perfect over a bit of warm baguette!
After walking a few blocks to Los Arroyos, we were presented with our choice of taco and a glass of house-made horchata. I chose the al pastor taco (marinated pork) which was topped with pineapple – a unique flavor that complimented the pork so well! Being from Texas, I have certainly eaten my fair share of tacos and Los Arroyos offered some of the best I’ve ever had!
Tasting Local California Wines
Our next stop on the Taste Santa Barbara Food Tours was to head over to our first winery of the day – Grassini Family Vineyards, a local Santa Barbara winery and chocolatier. We sampled several wines, both red and white varieties, along with two chocolate truffles designed to compliment the flavors of the wine. One of the truffles had a unique rosemary flavor which matched perfectly with the red wine I was drinking at the time. The second winery we visited offered a choice of white or red (I chose white and sampled a lovely Sauvignon Blanc) along with a light spinach salad and a prosciutto and avocado panini. The light flavors made a perfect late-afternoon snack and left me just the right amount of full.
We ended our tour at Cebada Winery where we sampled several more wines. One in particular stood out as my favorite: the Forbidden Fruit Libation, made with blueberries! I’ve never had a blueberry wine before but I certainly hope that I do again. It was easily my favorite wine of the day and the perfect way to end the tour – on a sweet note!
The Taste Santa Barbara Food Tour was the perfect way to sample some of Santa Barbara’s best food and wine destinations on a time budget and a money budget. For $99, we ate at all the places listed above and were able to explore Santa Barbara’s downtown in the process. My friend Jennifer loved the tour as a Santa Barbara resident as well, so it’s not just for tourists! She said that she really enjoyed being able to feel like a tourist in her own city and get out of the bubble of places she tends to frequent. The tour stops do change now and then, so I definitely plan to sign up for another tour the next time I’m in Santa Barbara.
I’m actually a very picky eater, and thoroughly enjoyed everything we ate with Taste Santa Barbara Food Tours. Dietary restrictions can be accommodated (Jennifer is a vegetarian and had no issues), so don’t feel left out if you have allergies or other food restrictions. There is also an alcohol-free version of the tour if you don’t drink. In addition to the tasty flavors of the day, Brittany’s bubbly and fun personality added so much to the quality of the tour. I enjoyed spending the afternoon walking through Santa Barbara with her and learned a lot about the historic buildings and locations that we passed by. She even offered us great tips for photography locations after the tour ended.
Taste Santa Barbara Food Tours has a solid 5-star rating on Yelp and they completely deserve it! If you will be in Santa Barbara for even one day, this is the perfect way to sample the best food and wine the city has to offer.
Book Your Santa Barbara Food Tour
With Alcohol: $99 | Without Alcohol: $79
Thank you to Taste Santa Barbara Food Tours for offering me a free tour in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my review in any way and all opinions are my own.
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