The 23 Best Damn Places to Drink in Santa Barbara
Because friends don't let friends suck at drinking in Santa Barbara, we're rounding up the absolute best places to get your booze on in/near SB (a bunch of which we guarantee you don't even know exist), from a secret strip mall cocktail den, to a craft brewery located inside a storage unit BEHIND THE GOLETA CHP.
If you're looking for a great gin bar, DO NOT GO HERE. Halfway between Goleta and SB, TBR is (surprise!) a whiskey bar that feels a little bit like a cross between a cabin and a general store -- it's super cozy, super bourbon-y (they've got 20+ behind the bar), and super only-$5-for-whiskey-sours-during-happy-hour-Tuesday-through-Friday.
Started by a pair of long-time home brewers ("Captain" and "Fatty") and a third dude who started dating Fatty's cousin, this brand-new, suuuuuuuper small-batch operation does a barrel of beer at a time inside a storage unit that doubles as Santa Barbara's coolest tap room. Because, oh right, it's behind the Goleta CHP. Beers include everything from a signature Vortex IPA, to a Toasted Cinnamon Carrot Porter that tastes exactly as good as it sounds (and it sounds super good).
The best part, though? While you sip on a crazy-reasonable ($2 per 4oz taster) flight, you can also play this crazy-addictive bar game where you try to swing a metal ring onto a hook positioned just below a boat steering wheel.
Right on the Downtown/Funk Zone border, Casa Blanca is a Spanish-style cantina with a goldmine patio (SERIOUSLY, LOOK AT IT) and alllllllllllll the types of margaritas, from flights of three, to margarita tubes (10-12 margs filled into a giant tower for $65!!), to margs made with a barrel of pre-blended Herradura -- pulled from the tequila giant's hacienda specifically for Casa Blanca.
There are two pretty solid Irish bars Downtown: Dargan's and James Joyce. And while the English major in us wants to go with James Joyce, the Drinking major in us has to side with Dargan's, mostly because THERE'S A GIANT LEPRECHAUN STATUE AT THE FRONT DOOR THAT YOU CAN TAKE INSTAGRAMS WITH!!! (But also pool, darts, tons of Irish whiskeys, a more chill second bar in back with a fireplace lounge, and an owner who's an actual Irishman plus a third generation pub owner.)
Go for the patio, stay for the Top Ramen behind the bar, stay longer for the Ms. Pac-Man table game, stay even longer for the Belgian beers, stay EVEN LONGER for the coffee bar-meets-regular bar vibe, then leave when you run out of cash.
A Funk Zone must-stop, Fig Mountain is a less-than-two-years-old taproom for the beloved Buellton brewery that actual has its own 7.5-barrel system in the back, which means cask fun for some of the regular beers using awesomely weird stuff like Japanese hops in the signature Hoppy Poppy (which makes up 65% of sales).
This trendy spot inside the also-trendy Canary Hotel has the Downtown cocktail game on lock with nine DELICIOUS all-day signatures and a happy hour that includes $5 mixed drinks, a $20-pitcher-of-sangria-and-three-bites deal, and $5 St. Archer IPAs, all of which you can bring up to the rooftop pool if you convince someone to buzz you up. (Do that.)
Make sure you get the bright green Smoke and Spice (mezcal, tequila, lime, rosemary, basil, and jalapeno) -- which the bar will offer to replace for you if it's too hot (and honestly, it might be) -- plus go in on some deviled eggs (get the ones with the pork belly), and chili caramelized salt & pepper chicken wings. Come to think of it, go in on them twice.
Brand-new, hard-to-believe-it's-real boutique hotel The Goodland makes this list THREE TIMES. This is the first time. Just off The Goodland's reception desk, Good Bar has a couple of cool things going for it (other than great cocktails): 1) a pool room, and 2) a fantastic drinking patio with a cartoon fireplace mural.
Not sure what's cooler, that this actually really awesome-looking cocktail bar has a free-while-supplies-last boozy punch available each time it opens, or that this actually really awesome-looking cocktail bar has... a free while-supplies-last boozy punch available each time it opens.
This may just be one of the coolest cocktail bars in the entire state and probably would've been on our Best Bars in California list if, well, we knew it existed. Thing is, it's located across the street from a car dealership... in the back of a strip mall... with a sign that says "Ba'k Do'r," left by the gross old dive bar that used to be there. Just look for the neon OPEN sign, head through the door and down a hallway into a cocktail den that looks like it's plucked out of the '70s. The back patio is absolutely magical, with lanterns and string lights, a glowing Buddha statue, and plenty of dark corners. If you only have time to go to one bar while you're in town, make it this one.
Stiffest drinks in SB. Yes, stiffer than at The Sportsman.
Just named one of OpenTable's Top 100 Hot Spots in the entire country, it isn't about WHAT you drink at this Funk Zone destination (we'd recommend the Ommegang Three Philosophers or one of the local wines by the glass) -- it's WHERE you drink it, specifically inside this 110-year-old confessional they shipped over from France. What. The. What.
This one is a lot like The Lark in that it's not so much about what you're drinking, but where, except instead of a confessional from France, it's an awesome garden patio IN BETWEEN Lucky Penny and The Lark. Grab a jumbo bottle of Red Stripe, and definitely do lunch.
Draped in dark velvet, this local favorite -- and big brother to The Imperial -- is the kind of place where you sink into a couch inside (or out) and never get up. Ever. Especially not when the live music starts. And double especially when someone brings you another Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA.
This former coffee shop is exactly what it sounds like it is: a neighborhood bar. Just a really, really good one. From the pretty cheap drinks ($7 22s of Sierra Nevada Nooner, $5 all-day, all-night shots), to the copious amount of bar games (backyard beer pong, cornhole, ping pong, shuffleboard), to the infinity TVs, there's a reason (lots of reasons actually) this place has been named Santa Barbara's best neighborhood bar six years running.
Five important things to know about Old Town Tavern (OTT!): 1) you can get cheap beers in GIANT PLASIC GLASSES, 2) there's a signed picture of John Wooden behind the bar, 3) there's a roofless back area where you can smoke, 4) they have a zillion TVs, and 5) every dude who drinks at the bar during the daytime has a mustache. Boom.
In between the pool and Good Bar, you'll find Outpost, which Chef Derek Simcik quite accurately describes as "the surfer baby of Big Star in Chicago and Momofuku in NY." The bar here is pretty special, half of it is inside the restaurant, and half of it is outside the restaurant, bleeding into the pool-overlooking patio.
Why drink your beer at (gross) a bar, or (grosser) a dinner table, when you can drink it AT THE POOL?
Early morning soccer + infinity pints of English beers + the best jukebox in town = yuuuuuuuuup.
Ever wondered what a "hop garden" looks like? Hit this storage unit-cum-brewery-cum-taproom-cum-beer garden to find out! Ever wondered what delicious beer tastes like while chilling in one of SB's best outdoor spaces? Hit this storage unit-cum-brewery-cum-taproom-cum-beer garden to find out!
There are a bunch of tasting rooms up and down Santa Barbara, but only one tasting room that's actually FOUR tasting rooms combined. A quartet of tasting-room-less wineries (and all 30 of their wines) are on pour spout at SBWC, which does flights both for specific types of wines (all the Chards!) and wineries. Make sure you ask for Megan when you get there -- she's super cute, she's a former gaucho, and, oh right, she's a badass certified somm.
This is the oldest drinking establishment in Santa Barbara and has 81 years worth of history laying around to prove it. There're cigarettes, cans, bottles, hard liquor, nudie trading cards, and dice behind the bar, there's a pool table, one of the oldest Buck Hunter machines still in existence, a $150 "alcohol sickness clean up fee," and, super weirdly, the nicest dive bar bathroom that has ever existed. If you're looking for a hard-drinking, stiff-pouring, throwback spot with dudes who look like they've been in a few World Wars behind the stick, look no further than The Sportsman.
Boots of beer? Boots of beer.
Grant Marek is a Senior Editor at Thrillist and he went to all of these bars (and a bunch of other ones) in less than three days. Tell him what he missed on Twitter at @grant_marek.