The dozen-plus wineries on this low-key wine trail, looping through rolling hills dotted with live oaks and fruit orchards, benefits from the region’s legendary marine effect—hot sunny days slide into cool nights thanks to the fog that drifts in from the Pacific Ocean during the late afternoon. This one-two meteorological punch creates deliciously balanced wines, most notably Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vintages, but also Viognier and Syrah.
As you drive along the gorgeous byways that snake through the region (map), don’t limit yourself to just the higher-profile wineries, whose tasting rooms are often open seven days a week. Keep your eyes peeled for more subdued, improvised signage as well—some of the region’s wineries that aren’t on the designated wine trail keep unpredictable hours, so if you do see a sign on a sawhorse that says “Open,” pull into the drive. You might be there on one of the few days when the tasting room is pouring. But dependable experiences await at trail mainstays like Lafond Winery and Vineyards, the first post-Prohibition winery in Santa Barbara County, and Melville Winery where, in addition to sipping wine, visitors take a 90-minute educational outdoor tours.
Leave time to visit the elegant La Purísima Mission State Historic Park, protecting the 11th and arguably best preserved of California’s 21 original Spanish missions. Fans of elaborate gardens should pay a visit to Lotusland (for its lotus pond and cycad-, bromeliad-, and fern-themed gardens) and Alice Keck Park Memorial Garden, where turtles, ducks, and a butterfly garden make it a popular refuge from downtown Santa Barbara.