Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Take Me to the Funk Zone

I just returned from my first visit to beautiful Santa Barbara, where my husband and I spent a long weekend adventuring to vineyards in the Santa Ynez Valley, soaking up the sun on the beach, and sampling some amazing restaurants and wine bars.  With stunning views and architecture, Santa Barbara definitely lived up to its reputation as the American Riviera.  

We love to discover new restaurants when we’re traveling.  Sometimes we get lucky and stumble upon an amazing spot serendipitously, but I also like hunting for the best latte, cheese board, or brussels sprouts.  Snippets from a local’s recommendation, instagram, and Yelp led us to Santa Barbara’s hip neighborhood: the Funk Zone.  I was skeptical when I heard the name, but once we arrived, I was immediately enthralled with this hip area.
The Funk Zone spans the area between the ocean and Highway 101 and is adjacent to the Amtrak station.  Formerly an industrial area, warehouses have been converted into art galleries, boutiques, eateries and tasting rooms.  The Funk Zone is part of Santa Barbara’s Urban Wine Trail, a self-guided trail of twenty-plus tasting rooms representing Santa Barbara County wines.  Mixed in with the tasting rooms are surf shops, artist galleries, street art, and blooming bougainvillea.   

While there are a variety of establishments in the area, Acme Hospitality owns and operates the anchor establishments in heart of the Funk Zone.  Acme created six innovative boutique food and beverage concepts, each with a distinct flavor and independent spirit, but connected by their thoughtfully-designed themes and interiors.  Here’s a list of the innovative Acme spots in the Funk Zone:

  • The Lark – We managed to get a reservation at The Lark, a popular restaurant known for its family-style dining experience, featuring artisanal and seasonal ingredients from the Central Coast.  We sat in a booth made from a century-old church confessional from Lyon, France.  I’m still thinking about the delectable plates and unique atmosphere.
  • In Acme’s take-away concept, Lucky Penny, a whimsical building covered in pennies, they serve wood-fired pizzas and fresh salads.  We loved the LP Classic with San Marzano tomato, soppressata, mozzarella, fresh oregano and chile flakes.  Lucky Penny is open throughout the day, but it’s especially magical in the evening with communal outdoor seating under twinkly lights.
  • Helena Avenue Bakery, located in an airy warehouse space, provides custom baked goods to its sister restaurants.  At the Picnic Counter, they offer a variety of pastries, quiches, and hand pies.  We picked up a turkey and pesto baguette sandwich and grated carrot farro salad for a picturesque picnic on Butterfly Beach.
  • Les Marchands is a little wine bar and wine shop with a rustic, vintage Parisian vibe. We stopped by for a drink and enjoyed the cozy setting with exquisite chandeliers.   
  • Loquita, the newest eatery to join the neighborhood, features authentic Spanish cuisine.  The restaurant was packed, but we squeezed into Loquita’s little tapas bar named Poquita (“a little bit”) that serves delightful pinxtos or toothpick skewered bites of jamon Serrano, manchego cheese, and olives.  
  • We didn’t make it to Santa Barbara Wine Collective, but it’s on our list for a future trip.  The collective consists of five Santa Barbara County wine producers, which makes this tasting room an ideal place to learn about a variety of local wineries.   

The Acme Hospitality group behind these restaurants has been instrumental in revitalizing the neighborhood.  Sherry Villanueva, a marketing executive turned restaurateur, is the entrepreneurial visionary behind these creative dining concepts.  By building long-term relationships in the area, she has nurtured the neighborhood, and growth in high quality businesses has resulted.  Villanueva has cultivated a vibrant and multilayered food and drink scene, while embracing the history and unique character of the community.  Each spot is captivating in its own way, and the way they play off of one another and the surrounding neighborhood brings a special richness to the Acme collection.  

I loved the cool vibe in the Funk Zone and it was intriguing to learn about Acme Hospitality’s influence on this trendy area.  I can’t wait to go back and see what new concepts will join the scene. This ever-evolving artistic neighborhood is a spot to visit again and again.

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