Santa Barbara, a popular getaway among local wine-goers, is fast becoming a hot spot for cocktail lovers too. Thanks to the city’s proximity to Central Coast farmlands, notable farm-to-glass drinking spots are springing up from downtown Santa Barbara to the Funk Zone and Montecito. There are enough craft cocktail specialists in and around this beachside town to make for a quality bar-hopping experience. From pristine martinis to Painkiller slushies, here now are 11 places to drink well in Santa Barbara.Read More
11 Essential Cocktail Spots in Santa Barbara
There’s more to drink in this beachside town than wine
1. Milk & Honey
Stop by Milk & Honey for award-winning caliber cocktails. Owner Alvaro Rojas — who’s also behind Alcazar Tapas — has won many competitions and has been credited with furthering the local craft cocktail movement since 2000. His menu, which is categorized by spirit for easy perusal, will appeal to every type of drinker from pickleback shooters to sherry cocktail lovers. There’s even a “Fauxito” for teetotalers.
2. Bar 29
This neighborhood craft cocktail bar, which is owned by the same folks behind local hangouts The Sportsman and Whiskey Richards, is all about approachable cocktails minus the preciousness of obscure ingredients. Old Fashioneds are garnished with either bacon or almond brittle depending on the type of whiskey. And the chalkboard special called Phil’s Cup is usually a one-ounce serving of a premium spirit, like Johnnie Walker Blue, handpicked by owner Phillip Wright and priced affordably.
3. Sama Sama Kitchen
Sama Sama Kitchen creates unique and exotic cocktails with a compelling mix of Indonesian ingredients and farm fresh produce. The 11 drink list is a mix of seasonal specials and signature mainstays, like the blue-ginger margarita with galangal and mukrut lime-infused tequila. The backbar stocks small batch and artisanal bottles that aren’t found in other local bars.
4. The Good Lion
Bar owner Brandon Ristaino, who once ran the bar program at Townhouse in Venice Beach and also owns Test Pilot, relies heavily on produce from local farms. His seasonal short list of cocktails is freshened up weekly, but the bar’s greatest hits range from a refreshing tangerine gimlet with gin, mezcal, and ancho chili to a smoky Manhattan with date-infused cognac.
5. Finch & Fork
Cocktail-savvy Angelenos will be delighted to find George Piperis, formerly of Fiscal Agent and Otium, behind the bar at this Kimpton Hotel eatery. His seasonal cocktails are the right mix of fun and complex featuring culinary-inspired ingredients like duck fat-washed bourbon and peanut butter foam. And with a strong garnish game, each cocktail is Instagram-ready.
6. Test Pilot
Though not technically a tiki bar, this Funk Zone spot from the Good Lion team evokes a warm vacay feel with its ‘jungalow’ decor, tiki masks, and banana leaf prints. Grab a seat at a tiki head bar stool and order a Painkiller slushy before perusing the menu. With over 20 cocktails on the list, it might take a while to decide. Choose between tiki classics like a Mai Tai or Zombie or the bar’s signature tropical cocktails.
7. Santo Mezcal
This hip Mexican restaurant’s bar emphasizes mezcal and tequila. Barman Sean Sepulveda, who has made a name for himself in Santa Barbara with his farm-fresh takes on agave-based cocktails, continues the tradition here with house-made infusions, syrups, and cordials. Try a Mule with Fresno mezcal or Serrano tequila, or one of six margaritas including one made with spiced hibiscus syrup.
8. The Lark
The Lark has been a destination for fine food and wine since it opened in 2013, landing on several best-of lists including EaterLA’s. Bar manager Nicholas Priedite and team creates a new cocktail menu every season, celebrating the very best of the Central Coast. An intriguing example off their current list is the California Rattlesnake made with fennel-infused rye, yellow chartreuse, cardamom, lemon, and fennel blossoms.
9. Ty Lounge
For those dressed up and seeking a fancy drink, there’s the Ty Lounge in the opulent Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara. The cocktails, pricy at about $18 each, are well made with high-end spirits and locally sourced ingredients. Sit by the fireplace or enjoy the ocean view while sipping on The Biltmore Fuerte, named the official drink of Santa Barbara in 2018. The bourbon cocktail features honey made by bees that survived the Thomas Wildfire.
10. The Monarch
Phillip Frankland Lee’s Montecito Inn restaurant offers an abbreviated cocktail list made primarily with Central Coast ingredients. The drinks feature local spirits, like Ventura Spirits, as well as seasonal produce in house-made mixers and fresh-squeezed juices. Not to be missed is the Mr. McGregor’s Revenge made with gin, a carrot gastrique, lime, and carrot sprigs.
11. Chaplin's Martini Bar
For a taste of old Hollywood, duck into Chaplin’s Martini Bar across from the Monarch at Montecito Inn. The dark and cozy cocktail lounge, which opened this past fall, serves up 1920s and 1930s-era drinks. On the menu are the Bee’s Knees and the Hanky Panky, which are said to have been favorites of Charlie Chaplin, one of the hotel’s original owners. Start with a martini for sure.