Santa Barbara Food Tour: Taste the City from a Local's Perspective
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Food is the key to any culture around the world. Period. When you try the local food, you're immersing yourself into the culture. But what if you're pressed for time? Or what if you want to experience and taste a lot in a shorter period of time? A local food tour just might be the answer to all of your problems.
Anytime I travel somewhere new, I'm so eager to try the food. And based on some of my previous posts, you'll know by now that I absolutely love getting local recommendations on where to eat. When you want to taste the best a city has to offer, there's nothing better than doing it from a local's perspective. When I knew I was coming to Santa Barbara for a few short days, I immediately set up a food tour with one of the city's finest: Taste Santa Barbara Food Tours.
The fabulous, local foodie, Evan Elizabeth Berger, officially founded Taste Santa Barbara Food Tours back in 2014, after spending years conducting smaller, private tours of her own. Evan and her wonderful team of expert guides lead you on a 3.5 hour walking tour of Santa Barbara, where you'll eat, play, and love local. Evan and Aiyana (who was our other guide for the day) were so welcoming, knowledgeable, and passionate about what they do that it made the entire experience so much more enjoyable than it already was. Read on for more details on our adventure!
A Little Something Sweet to Start the Day
Evan mentioned that she had found some research that stated that starting out your meal with something sweet is actually good for you because it can help the digestion process along (plus it's just really fun). Now, I'm not sure of the validity of that statement, but I'm 100% NOT arguing with it. I will always start my meal with sweets if someone tells me to--especially FRENCH sweets. UGHHHH.
Renaud's Patisserie & Bistro, 1324 State Street
Our first stop of the day began at the deliciously tasty Renaud's Patisserie & Bistro. Our friend Emma at RP&B brought out a variety of Parisian Macarons in different flavors for us to sample. Up until this moment, my favorite macarons were none other than the original Parisian heavy hitters: Ladurée and Pierre Hermé (coming in at a very close 1st and 2nd place, respectively).
After I tried the Parisian Macarons from Renaud's Patisserie & Bistro, I was left speechless. I honestly don't know how to rank my favorite macarons anymore! These were incredible!!! AND they were a really nice size macaron, not leaving you feeling like you just ate a small crumb. *I actually went back after the tour and bought a big bag to take home with me! :)
To say that I loved starting at Renaud's is an understatement. They set the bar for the tour pretty high. I'd recommend coming here any day of the week to enjoy a morning coffee and breakfast! Their entire bakery selection, which is baked fresh every day, looked amazing.
Pre-Lunch Snacks 'n Apps
After our little sweet treat, we were off to the next stop of the day! What I loved about walking from location-to-location with Evan and Aiyana was that they kept us so entertained with fun facts and trivia about Santa Barbara throughout the day. They taught us about the history, the architecture, the hot spots around town to know about, and a ton more. It definitely kept us on our toes!
But by now, our bellies were ready for round 2!
Santa Barbara Public Market, 38 West Victoria Street
Our next stop was at the Santa Barbara Public Market, which is kind of like the hip, new kid on the block in this city. This trendy, urban marketplace is home to a wide range of restaurants, shops, and merchants all operating within one communal space. You can hop over to the bar at Empty Bowl for some Asian Fusion cuisine, buy a bottle of wine at Wine+Beer, try some seafood at I`a Fish Market & Café, or grab some cupcakes at Enjoy Cupcakes. There are lots of unique options to choose from!
We had a taste of the popular noodles from Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar, where they specialize in authentic noodle dishes and small plates from Thailand and Taiwan. It was so good that I had to stop myself from eating too much Pad Thai and not sharing with the others... Oops (sorry, not sorry...)!
Cielito Restaurant and Tequila Bar, 1114 State Street
After having a little taste of Asia, it was time to try another style of food. Enter Cielito's: the Latin American Inspired Central California Cuisine. Cielito Restaurant and Tequila Bar is a lively spot in the heart of the historic La Arcada courtyard.
Here we had a little tequila tasting, some fresh guacamole and salsa, and quinoa-kale fritters to eat. Everything was very fresh and very delicious. I'm pretty sure everyone at our table kept eyeing the mango habanero glaze and avocado aioli to see who would actually step forward first to lick the plate (yes, it was that good). Hint: It was Jay...
Just around the corner from Cielito's is the adorable Isabella Gourmet Foods. This one-of-a-kind downtown spot is a boutique artisan grocery that focuses on serving its customers the best and most unique local foods. You'll find so many wonderful things in here from cold-pressed elixirs to fine chocolates, exotic cookbooks, to savory nuts and superfoods. I could have spent all afternoon admiring every little corner of goodies in this picturesque boutique!
Upon entering the shop, we walked up the stairs to the Cebada Winery Tasting Room. This petite tasting room sits in the open loft-space area within Isabella Gourmet Foods. It was the perfect combination of merchants: unique foods with unique wines.
At this stop, we had some gourmet popcorn from Isabella's and a flight of wine from Cebada (one of those wines being a blueberry one, which I was very pleasantly surprised with...). Both offerings were creative and tasty, just as you would imagine!
Persona Wood Fired Pizzeria, 905 State Street
I'll totally admit this: When I walked by Persona Wood Fired Pizzeria when I first arrived in Santa Barbara, I totally thought it was some common pizza chain and completely overlooked it. Now, I actually sort of feel like how the sales women in Pretty Woman must have felt when Julia Roberts came back in and said "Remember me? BIG mistake! HUGE!" So wrong of me to think that. BAD ANA!!!
Alright... This place, my friends, is still stuck in my mind. What have you done to me, Persona Pizzeria?! This popular "fast-pizza" place is a wonderful DIY pizza joint that allows you to pick and create your own pizza from scratch (which is ready in 90 seconds!), or order from the expert's award-winning pizza selections. *And OMG I just found out it's coming to Chicago! Yeeeeee!
We had the pleasure of trying their award-winning pizzas with a side of beer. The Chipotle Chicken Pizza was the shining star of the show here. It was even the Winner at the International World Pizza Competition in Napoli, Italy (that's how you know it's serious)! This baby came fully loaded with chipotle dressing, shredded mozzarella, roasted chicken topped with crema, more chipotle dressing, and fresh pico de gallo. Ay dios mio! My mouth is still watering from this pizza.
Quite the French Way to End a Meal: Cheese, Sweets, & Wine
As the tour began coming to an end, it was time to enter the final courses of food. In true French style, we ended the day's meals with a round of cheese, a round of sweets, and a bonus round (or two) of wine.
C'est Cheese, 825 Santa Barbara Street
The first stop after our pizza lunch was the gourmet food and cheese boutique, C'est Cheese. How can you not love a place with a name that cute and clever?! I never thought I would see a cheese shop with so many authentic and artisanal cheeses outside of Europe, but this place proved me wrong.
We tried a few different samples of their best cheeses while learning a little background info on each one! We were even able to head inside and taste some other ones at our leisure. It was a super cute spot to check out, and definitely a downtown SB staple.
McConnell's Fine Ice Creams, 728 State Street
Last (but certainly not least) on the incredible Taste Santa Barbara Food Tour was the world-famous McConnell's Fine Ice Creams. I would say that they saved the best for last, but that might be too bold of a statement to make on a list as good as this one. However, I can say this: a trip to Santa Barbara is absolutely NOT complete without a stop at McConnell's.
McConnell's is a locally owned ice cream company that was founded in Santa Barbara almost 70 years ago. Today, they are still making ice cream exactly how they started making it back in the day: in small batches, all from scratch, and with the best local, organic ingredients. Every bite is pure, creamy bliss.
Try my favorite flavor when you're there: Churros con Leche! And you better get that thing in a waffle cone! That delicious smell will haunt you if you don't, and you will regret it.
Unfortunately, after McConnell's, the 'Official' Taste Santa Barbara Food Tour was over :( However, some of us still wanted to keep going a little bit and finish off the tour with a proper goodbye. We said our farewells to our new friends who had to leave...and decided to keep the party going down the street at Grassini Family Vineyards Tasting Room!
BONUS: Grassini Family Vineyards, 813 Anacapa Street #6
What better way to end a long day of eating and walking around than with a fresh glass of wine?! Located in the beautiful, historic El Paseo shopping plaza is the Grassini Family Vineyards Tasting Room. I was so excited to come to Grassini's Tasting Room because a few friends of mine had told me how great it was.
What I loved about the tasting room (besides the amazing Sauvignon Blanc) was the warm energy that greets you as soon as you walk inside. The staff was so friendly and inviting, and they were eager to share all of the interesting details about the winery and vineyards, as you tasted each glass! It was a perfect way to end our afternoon.
I was so sad to end our time with Taste Santa Barbara Food Tours, but I knew I had walked away with a few things: a full and happy belly, some fun facts about Santa Barbara, a bag of snacks for the road, and new friends (awwwww)! The TSBFT was such an incredible experience and I HIGHLY recommend it to anyone who is visiting through Santa Barbara, even just for the day! It's only a few hours, so that gives you plenty of time to explore the city and eat your way around it with your new foodie friends!
Good to Know Information:
- You can book your tickets for Taste Santa Barbara Food Tours here. Tickets range from $79-$99, and I highly recommend buying the ticket that includes alcohol if you can. This is an incredible price for a food tour that includes all the food, drinks, and fun entertainment (aka cool SB trivia!).
- Eat a light breakfast early in the morning so you have room for all the food. You will not leave the tour feeling stuffed or uncomfortable, but you will definitely leave feeling content. They portion everything out very well.
- Consider bringing a bottle of water or sunscreen if it is really hot. Not necessary, but good to think about.
- Participate in the trivia because it is really fun and you might learn something (or get a prize)!
- You will receive a brochure that includes exclusive discounts to a lot of great local spots around Santa Barbara for you to use post-tour. This is something you absolutely will not get without participating in this awesome tour!
*All food and restaurants on this list for the TSBFT are subject to change at any moment.
Thank you to Taste Santa Barbara Food Tours for hosting our tour. And a special thank you to Evan, Aiyana, and all participating businesses who made our visit spectacular. All opinions are my own.