Santa Barbara exploded into the consciousness of American wine drinkers with the release of “Sideways” in 2004. Pinot Noir was suddenly the grape variety of choice, and consumers flocked to Southern California to retrace the steps of Jack and Miles. Over six years later, the region remains one of California’s prime tourist destinations.
Exploring the area just became easier, with the publication of Michael Cervin’s Santa Barbara and the Central Coast (Perseus Books, paperback, $16.95). Part of the popular Moon Handbook series, this volume advertises itself as “the cure for the common trip,” and it delivers.
Beginning with Santa Barbara itself, Cervin covers the region in depth, providing sections on Ventura and Ojai, San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles, Cambria, San Simeon and Morro Bay. The volume is packed with information on attractions, activities, places to eat and accommodations in all price categories. Maps are provided to make navigating the area easier, and there’s background on everything from local radio stations to travelling with pets.
Michael Cervin is a wine guy, and his chapter on touring Santa Barbara wine country is both useful and comprehensive. His summaries of the area’s major wineries includes contact information, hours of operation and tasting fees; in addition, he gives recommendations on which grape varieties and/or blends the winery is best known for. Wine is a $360 million industry in Santa Barbara that produces more than one million cases annually, and Cervin tells you how to get around without contracting palate fatigue.
He also has a sharp eye for the offbeat destinations that make a trip memorable. He describes places as diverse as Ostrich Land (featured in “Sideways”), the Hans Christian Andersen Museum in Solvang, Bubblegum Alley in San Luis Obispo and the James Dean Memorial in Cholame. His portrait of the Dunites, a group of early hippy-style artistes who settled on the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes in the 1920s, illuminates a forgotten corner of local history and provides insight into the rugged individualism that shaped the region.
As popular as Santa Barbara and the Central Coast may have become, they are still relatively unknown compared to Napa and Sonoma. Michael Cervin’s book enables you to tour the area like a native.