Ten things to see and do in this hip, fun neighborhood that features wineries, breweries, art and more.
By Hudson Lindenberger
Santa Barbara’s State Street, long known for its restaurants and shopping, now has a hip new competitor, and lately the area, known as the Funk Zone, has been attracting some of the best of them. Home to numerous tasting rooms, microbreweries, trendy eateries, art houses and surf shops, these 12-square blocks bordering the Pacific Ocean are a great place to spend an afternoon or evening.
The Funk Zone is housed in an old light-industrial region right across Cabrillo from the Santa Barbara Pier, sandwiched between the Pacific and US 101. The collection of historical marine structures, older houses, industrial buildings, condos and storefronts spanning the train tracks seems like an unlikely place to find a burgeoning cultural district. But just like New York City’s Hells Kitchen and Washington D.C’s Foggy Bottom one can find a gem if you look past the name. The origins of the Funk Zone name are murky, ranging from the fish smell that used to permeate the area when several fishing conglomerates were based here to the fact that Santa Barbara politicians used to call the area “Funky.”
Here are 10 things not to miss:
1. Municipal Winemakers: This local winery is housed in an old scuba shop that still has the old sign outside for The Divers Den Dive Shop. The tasting room has a Funk Zone-worthy vibe with the back wall dominated by old file cabinets and repurposed signs hanging on the walls. They focus on approachable wines for the masses and don’t take themselves too seriously. Chances are the guy with the beard working the counter is Dave Potter, the owner and vintner.
2. Channel Island Surfboards: Indulge your inner surf bum at a Santa Barbara landmark where Al Merrick has been making some of the most sought after boards on the planet for the last 43 years. Some of the biggest names in professional surfing use his boards and the shop is a mecca for surf aficionados.
3. Wall Space Gallery: This gallery, with a second location in Seattle, is known for fine art photography and has some truly outstanding pieces in it’s collections. They focus on the art of photography and are continually on the lookout for cutting-edge artists. The gallery is located above the tasting rooms for the Pali Wine Company and Anacapa Vintners.
4. Santa Barbara Surf Museum: One of the older residents of the Funk Zone, the museum has been here since 1992 and houses a treasure trove of classic surf memorabilia and a diverse assortment of beach-themed objects. The surfboard collection is impressive, but don’t miss the skateboards, large musical instrument collection and, my favorite, the Hula girl exhibit. It is safe to say that the place does not take itself too seriously; it has the feeling of a great Tiki bar party.
5. The Lark: One of the newest sensations to open in the Funk Zone, The Lark, along with it’s sister restaurant Lucky Penny has brought top-notch dining to the area in the old Santa Barbara Fish Market building. The restaurant is the brainchild of Dan Washington (owner of Town Hall and Salt House restaurants in San Francisco) and features locally sourced seasonal ingredients with an urban, eclectic atmosphere. The Lark is open for dinner only while the Lucky Penny provides walkup service all day that can be enjoyed on the large deck it shares with its neighbor.
6. Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.: This brewery offers a whopping 32 beers on tap, focusing on California favorites and their own diverse stable of beers! The location tries to stay true to its Santa Ynez Valley roots so a large deck, raw wood and concrete floors dominate. They are quite dog friendly and welcome you to bring the pooch while you grab a cold beer and enjoy the views of the area.
7. The Urban Wine Trail: There are 17 more great tasting rooms open in the Funk Zone and its neighboring area, and the number keeps growing. All of the tasting rooms feature award-winning wines from the region and you will truly get a feel for what the Santa Barbara area winery’s are about.
8. Reds Bin 211: Located in a beautiful bungalow that has an updated, funky vibe it is a perfect place to relax and refuel after walking around the Funk Zone. The restaurant and bar has been operating in the same location since 2002 when the first Reds was opened as a local coffee house. They offer a full menu with a great outdoor deck to enjoy your libations and meal while listening to live music.
9. The AMASS Gallery: located along Mason Street between State Street and Helena Street: AMASS stands for Artists Making a Street Scene and is dedicated to locating areas that would otherwise be blighted by random graffiti and instead creating large outdoor wall murals. The art is on the side of a large building and is on display 24 hours a day. They refresh the installations throughout the year during a public festival where the street artists whose work was chosen create their urban art visions.
10. The Hotel Indigo: This new addition to the area, which opened in 2012, is a boutique 41-room hotel located on the edge of the Funk Zone. The hotel was awarded a Top 10 Buzz Worthy hotel award from Trip Advisor and is a welcome addition to the area. The vibe is modern with art installations throughout and rooms with large murals covering the walls. You can definitely feel the energy of the neighborhood throughout the building and it’s interior courtyard.
While Santa Barbara is best known for it’s beautiful beaches, Spanish-style buildings, high-end shopping districts and vibrant night life, it is comforting to know that there is one area that forces it out of it’s comfort zone. Every metropolitan area should have an eclectic area that does not take itself too seriously and the Funk Zone is just such a place.
For more information on the Funk Zone, visit www.funkzone.net
All photos taken by Hudson Lindenberger.