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Santa Barbara Funk Zone Photo and Food Tour

Santa Barbara Walking Food Tour
As our Uber pulled up to the friendly Dolphin statue nestled in the center of Stearns Wharf, a wave of questions rushed through my mind. Although I am a frequent patron of the Funk Zone, Santa Barbara’s dynamic new adult playground bustling with 20 wineries, a brewery, distillery, gourmet restaurants, and art galleries, we were now official guests on the Eat This, Shoot That Funk Zone Photo and Food Tour in Santa Barbara. I’d never been on a three-hour excursion like this!

Group getting ready to do the food tour in Santa Barbara

Sip, Savor, and Snap Pics in Santa Barbara

What would our tour group be like? Exactly how far would we have to walk? Just how funky would we get?

Hopping out of the car, greeted by the gentle breeze and the breathtaking trifecta of massive mountains, miles of ocean, and blue skies, my inner soundtrack of Gilligan’s Island’s “Three Hour Tour” was gently replaced with Bob Marley assuring me that “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.”

View from the pier in Santa Barbara

When our friendly, young tour guide, Graham, greeted us and led us up the pier to sample some of Santa Barbara’s stellar Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, I knew Bob had it right.

Wine tasting in Santa Barbara

The cozy ambiance of Deep Sea Wines, decorated with cheery Christmas wreaths and scarlet Poinsettias perched atop wine barrel tables, seemed to welcome us in with a hug. However, any day spent at this scenic gem feels celebratory.

Sipping on wine while enjoying the views of Santa Barbara

The tasting room opened in 2011, serving Conway family wines and featuring sweeping shots of the Santa Barbara coast. The timing of the tour was ideal as we arrived around 2:00 so not one glimpse of our lovely seaside town was obscured by a crowd. Favorite wines included the crisp Deep Sea Sauvignon Blanc and the rich Conway Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford, although anything would go down easy with that view.

Fresh Ceviche

You can’t have a trip to a pier without sampling some seafood, and the local and seasonal rock fish ceviche from the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company was delectable. The family-owned Shellfish Company has been around since the 1970’s, is a family-owned local favorite, and has survived getting burned down twice. After sampling a few bites their fresh fare, you’ll be glad they stuck around. Since part of this adventure was to learn how to take better pictures of food, we learned that ceviche really sparkles if you drizzle it with lemon.  He was right!  A couple squeezes and the fish was ready for its close-up.

Rebecca Horrigan in Santa Barbara

Along with the panoramic view of the Channel Islands and delicious seafood, Graham peppered in some light and intriguing history about the oil spill of 1969 and subsequent founding of Earth Day in Santa Barbara in 1970. The factoids, food, and views all complemented each other perfectly and left our appetites and minds piqued for the next stop.

Walking food tour in Santa Barbara

We made our way down the pier to the recently opened, Lucky Penny, which lives up to its name for the fact that the exterior is covered in 120,000 pennies. Luck is also definitely on your side with any item you order. We sampled the Milpas Pizza, which is tastefully covered with fingerling potatoes, Mexican chorizo, sunny side up egg, spicy tomatillo marinara, cotija and cilantro.

The Lucky Penny in Santa Barbara

Pizza with egg on top

From there, we paid a visit to pizza’s natural partner – beer! Conveniently located next door, Figueroa Mountain Brewing Company’s casual and bustling, wood paneled family-owned taproom had us feeling jolly before we’d even had a sip of one of their subtly powerful brews. Their Lizard’s Mouth, a fruity, crisp and deceptively light IPA (for a 9% ABV), is one of their most popular. The brewery is consistently coming out with different concoctions to try, so I sampled their rich and chocolatey Five Year Anniversary IPA. With a hint of espresso, this was the ideal little sampler to put a spring in my step as we headed out of this friendly neighborhood hub.

Beer tasting in Santa Barbara

Figueroa Mountain Brewery

Mony’s Mexican Food was the foodie highlight of the day and has aggressively taken the throne as my now favorite spot for tacos and chips. Mony’s began as a humble food truck and gained such popularity that the husband and wife team were able to open this hole-in –the-wall haven a few years ago. Their lengua taco (cow tongue!) was lauded by our tour guide and the go-to dish. I ordered a Chilean Sea Bass taco and was taken aback by the succulent and flavorful fish. The lengua was also mind-blowing wrapped in warm handmade tortillas.

Chips and a variety of salsas

As a condiment fiend, I was in salsa bar heaven filling those unlimited little plastic cups to the brim with their salsa selection that ranged from peanut and pistachio, to mango and an other-wordly avocado. Thankfully their fresh-baked, thick cut tortilla chips were plentiful enough to soak up all those amazing salsa flavors, although I would have happily spooned the stuff straight into my mouth if left to my own devices.

Cutler's Alcohol

We were now fully ready for the strong stuff and made our way into Cutler’s Artisan Spirits, Santa Barbara’s first legal distillery. In the small and intimate room we were lead through a sampling of their finest spirits. Highlights included their gin which featured bright citrus and floral tasting notes, and their apple pie liqueur, which was basically liquid apple pie – hard to argue with that!

Toffee Tasting

Our last stop was a sleek new tasting room, Riverbench, where we were greeted with a celebratory glass of Blanc de Blancs sparkling wine paired with homemade toffee whipped up by the owner’s wife. A nibble of toffee, sips of the bubbles and a warm and vibrant atmosphere after a relaxing day in the American Riviera put me on another level of luxury. As we were treated to a glass of their Sparkling Blancs de Noir, with its light cranberry hue and sweet sparkly flavor, my party-planning mind started its holiday shopping list, fixing it into the evening menu, as it’s the ideal beverage for a festive holiday shindig. However, if the Funk Zone Food & Photo Tour taught me anything, it’s why think about tomorrow? When you’re exploring the epicurean delights of Santa Barbara, every present moment is a celebration!

Champagne Toast

For the perfect activity to truly savor your next S.B. experience, visit: http://eatthisshootthat.com/ to purchase tickets and book a tour!

Rebecca Horrigan has always loved writing and food. She found her niche in college writing for the food section of UC Santa Barbara’s newspaper. Since then, she’s been published in the Los Angeles Times and in OC Menus. She also worked in food public relations. She now resides in Santa Barbara where she’s working on inspiring a hunger for reading, writing and life-long learning in her students as an English teacher. She blogs at flavorandsubstance.wordpress.com.

We attended the tour as a guest of the venue

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