presidio motel

Presidio Motel’s sun deck.

We emerged from Carr just as the sun began to slip, and headed for dinner at the Boathouse restaurant at Arroyo Burro Beach. Blessed with myriad tide pools and small waves, the two-mile-long beach promises hours of family-friendly activity. It’s a favorite spot for locals, many of whom had stashed their surfboards and joined the throngs at the Boathouse’s outdoor bar, where mesquite-grilled seafood can be savored beneath a sunset coloring the sky a thousand shades of pink.

The next morning, we ditched the rental car in favor of the Presidio’s free turquoise beach cruisers. (Santa Barbara is laid out in a very bike-friendly grid.) Fortified by French toast from Tupelo Junction Café, we whizzed down State Street, a popular shopping district, to the heart of the Urban Wine Trail.

Here, sandwiched between city and the sea, six wineries perk up five blocks of industrial landscape. Oreana, a cute little tasting room housed in a former tire shop, helped instigate the wine trail in ’06, although back then owner Christian Garvin called it Cellar 205 and several boutique winemakers shared the space. The true original, though, sits across the street: Santa Barbara Winery. At 38 years old, it’s the area’s oldest winery—unless you count the vineyards at Santa Barbara’s Mission, which were planted by Franciscan friars in 1782 for ceremonial wine.


municipal winemakers

Municipal Winemakers

Around the corner, tiki-themed Kalyra Wines claims a large cult following: Sideways fans will remember Kalyra as the vineyard where Miles and Jack met the sexy Stephanie (Sandra Oh). But the sleek, modern space at syrah siren Kunin attracts the biggest crowds. You can take a break from the masses at Municipal Winemakers, whose funky, eco-conscious approach to wine sampling (tasting notes come on iPads at this paper-free winery) woos visitors almost as much as their Dark Red, a full-bodied shiraz-cabernet blend.

By the time we untangled ourselves from Muni’s grapey grip, there was barely time to cruise to East Beach, a popular haunt where dozens of volleyball courts inspire hope of sighting an Olympian. (Rumor has it gold medalist Todd Rogers practices here.) But the only things on display that day were a handful of beautifully bronzed wannabes, picnicking families, and the ever-present oil rigs, hulking two miles offshore and drawing up 18 million barrels of crude annually.

When the sun rose on our final day, Tami and I traded wine for waves, munching breakfast burritos from Ledbetter Beach’s Shoreline Beach Café, with our toes buried in the sand, hardly uttering a word. But as I swilled my last sip of coffee, I spied three dorsal fins offshore and squealed, “Look!”

Just beyond the whitewash, where sunshine winked off the crystal blue waters, three darting, dancing dolphins gracefully sliced through the waves, flipping and grinning, as though they hadn’t a care in the world. And in easygoing Santa Barbara, they surely don’t.