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Word of Mouth: Santa Barbara

Wine tasting, farmers markets and local secrets in our guide to this city by the sea

by Julie Wolfson in Travel on 21 April 2014

In the Southern California city of Santa Barbara, exploring the picturesque mountains, surf beaches and harbor only tells part of the story. The town boasts a world-class museum, lush botanical gardens and a historic mission; plus its close proximity to fruitful farmlands and ideal climate for vineyards has made the area known for high-quality produce and coveted wines. Now, as the artisanal food movement gains momentum with more restaurants opening and the success of the wine tasting rooms in the Funk Zone, a new major player in the local food scene has just opened their doors: the Santa Barbara Public Market echoes the full-service marketplace of bygone eras including a butcher, fishmonger and bakery all housed under one roof. Michael Palmer (winemaker and owner of McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams) truly loves Santa Barbara and shares his excitement by listing his favorite places and ways to experience the best of the city.

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C’est Cheese

The cheese selection and marketplace make C’est Cheese the perfect place to pack up for a picnic to one of the many local parks, hiking trails or beaches. “When Michael and Kathryn Graham first opened their tiny temple to cheese and charcuterie, locals crossed their fingers, hoping for their success,” shares Palmer. “A decade later, C’est Cheese is the spot if it’s late Christmas Eve and nothing but an entire Jamon Iberico will do.” Fine California-made cheeses from Mt. Tam by Cowgirl Creamery and Seascape from Central Coast Creamery are on offer alongside hand-picked delicacies from around the world. This fantastic cheese shop soon will be expanding to into their new café space.

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McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams

When in Santa Barbara, don't miss Palmer’s all locally sourced and crafted artisanal ice cream. Made from milk and cream pasteurized in The Old Dairy, new McConnell’s flavors include Eureka Lemon with Marionberry and Toasted Coconut Almond Chip added to their classic lineup of Golden State Vanilla, Sweet Cream and Turkish Coffee. All ice cream recipes are now carefully watched over by Chef Eva Ein who has added several new flavors since she and her husband Palmer bought the company a few years ago. The McConnell’s scoop shop is located in the middle of the bustling State Street shopping area.

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Santa Barbara Public Market

Launching this week, the long-awaited Santa Barbara Public Market part of The Alma del Puebo has already become a symbol for the burgeoning artisanal food scene. Palmer refers to the opening of the Santa Barbara Public Market as the, “answer to San Francisco’s Ferry Building." The market’s developer Marge Cafarelli spent three years carefully selecting purveyors for the market. “Having 15 merchants under one roof, everyone is going to really have to get along,” explains Cafarelli. All vendors are local to the Santa Barbara area except for Belcampo Meat Co. from the Bay Area and Santa Monica Seafood from the Los Angeles area. The market also plays host to Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar, JuiceWell and Green Star Coffee among others. Cafarelli developed the project with seven residential units and additional commercial space. “We knew we wanted a market that represents the current state of artisan foods, creating a full grocery experience,” she says. Ultimately, the market's goal is to create a community gathering space celebrating the best foods in the region.

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San Ysidro Ranch Plow and Angel

Locals love the dining room for special occasion and celebration meals but are likely to be found downstairs at the Plow and Angel. Nestled in a quiet Monecito hillside, the San Ysidro Ranch continues to be one of the most iconic Santa Barbara luxury hotels. Inside a 19th century citrus packing house, "the real treat’s in the basement,” says Palmer. “The Ranch’s bar and more casual dining spot, the Plow & Angel is where we can cruise in any night of the week and usually score a table, eat from either menu, and sample from a wine list that goes on forever. Order the Wagyu hangar steak.”

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SB Farmers Markets

Tuesday nights on State Street and Saturday mornings next to The French Press Santa Barbara farmers show off their abundant produce offerings at the weekly farmers markets. “Santa Barbara was super early to the game when it came to local farmers markets,” says Palmer. “Probably because when we say ‘locally’ grown, it’s not just marketing. We actually mean it. Take Sierra Brown’s incredible cherimoyas, from her family’s 100-year-old Carpinteria Ranch, California Tropics, just up from Rincon Point, or Jay Ruskey’s exotic fruits and vegetables like their famous finger limes at Good Land Organics, in the Goleta foothills.”

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Wine Tasting

Just west of the State Street shopping area, the Funk Zone has quickly become a Santa Barbara institution as a destination for wine tasting and dining; including Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant, opened by Eric Railsback and Master Sommelier Brian McClintic. Also worth visiting, Municipal Winemakers tasting room and a curated selection of instruments at Guitar Bar. “The Funk Zone hosts Seconds Saturday as another way to experience some of our local artists, restaurants and galleries,” shares Palmer. With the many wine tasting opportunities in the area including the Lompoc Wine Ghetto, Palmer is often asked for advice on where to go. “Head to the Santa Rita Hills wine region, to Alma Rosa, Sanford, Melville and Babcock. Then head into Buellton to Hitching Post or the new Industrial Eats.”

Public Market image courtesy of Santa Monica Public Market, Les Marchands courtesy of Doug Washington Photography, all others by Michael Palmer

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