Californian Dreaming

Updated: Mar 11, 2018

Revelling in sun, wine and an encounter with a whale, Emily Herbert soaks up the gourmet delights of Southern California.

Published Signature Luxury Travel Magazine

Sipping a full-bodied syrah at the end of Stearns Wharf, Santa Barbara, I luxuriate in the autumnal sun and a light sea breeze. A young gray whale surfaces mere meters away, its skin mottled like marble, before lazily descending through the rippling water. It is utterly transfixing, a moment I realize may never happen again in my life – at least not with a glass of wine in hand.


I am peregrinating through some of the gourmet delights of Southern California, relishing this region rich in wine, food and natural wonders. This is sun-drenched California dreaming; from the rolling vineyard clad hills of Santa Barbara and Malibu to the teeming buzz of Hollywood. There is so much to sample, whether on a brief stop over or a more leisurely sojourn.


Idyllic Santa Barbara is here to contest with force Napa Valley’s reign as California’s wine capital. Beyond the white washed walls and red tiled roofs of Spanish Colonial Revival is a city bursting at the seams with delectations worthy of the discerning epicurean. From our base at the Kimpton Canary Hotel we are at the heart of it all and ready to explore this ‘American Riviera’.



We venture downtown to the urban wine trail that languishes under the unusual moniker ‘The Funk Zone’. Once a manufacturing hub in the 19th century, it’s now a conglomeration of microbreweries, warehouse-turned-art galleries, wineries and restaurants. Over 20 boutique wine tasting rooms cluster around 12 blocks and we wend our way through the crisp evening to peruse a few.


Wine maker Seth Kunin was one of the first to open his eponymous tasting room in the area. We swirl and nose a glass of his best selling ‘Pape Star’, his take on the southern Rhone’s Chateauneuf-du-Pape, as he explains what makes the area so special.

“Santa Barbara is a totally unique valley,” Kunin says.

“From Nebraska to Mexico the valley is individual in that the beaches face south. Between 29 miles (47 kilometres) across the valley the weather is so diverse that there is up to a degree difference a mile, so many styles of wine can be produced.”


Our luscious tour continues the following day when we rendezvous with the head chef of local restaurant Wine Cask, David Rosner, for the weekly ‘Foodie Stoll’ at the Farmers’ Markets. It is a unique opportunity to see how a chef thinks when buying produce. Bright vegetables, flowers and fruit are piled atop long tables at the busy market where we give David food for thought, selecting a persimmon and a ruby coloured pomegranate for the shopping basket, eager to see how he would magically work them into our meals.



That evening, we gather at the ambient Wine Cask to be served personally by the chef who walks us through each of the exquisite four courses, one of melt-in-your-mouth scallops, beautifully paired with local wines. Our fruity challenge is served in the entrée; a plump oyster atop a swirl of persimmon puree and dabbed with several jewelled pomegranate seeds. It is almost too beautiful to eat. Almost.


Travelling the cinemascopic highway back to LA we stop in at the newly renovated InterContinental Los Angeles Century City at Beverly Hills. A quick dip in the heated outdoor pool and I am ready for a late dinner at the hip and crowded Bestia, an Italian restaurant that boasts over 60 different forms of charcuterie and a month-long waiting list. The polished concrete floors and mood lighting offer the perfect opportunity to people watch as the who’s who flirt over spinach gnocchetti and ricotta dumplings.


For the food bon vivant with an aversion to dairy, Gracias Madre is an elegant go-to as we discover the following evening. Glamorous patrons mingle in the Melrose restaurant for its artisanal vegan Mexican fare and organic cocktails. Like all good margeritas, Gracias Madre’s take on the classic is the perfect aperitif.


The Pacific beckons and we set off on a full day of hedonistic degustation, starting with Swedish pancakes at Malibu Farm, a bright café at the end of the 238-metre Malibu pier. For ocean side dining we then linger at Geoffrey’s Malibu, which has fed the likes of John F. Kennedy and offers every seat in the house a vista of the sea.


A dusk tour of the Malibu Wine Safari is an inevitable highlight. We are driven around the undulating 405-hectare property, stopping often to feed the menagerie of animals, which exotically includes a giraffe and four zebra.


Our California dreaming ends as it began, with a glass of wine, gazing from the Malibu Family Wines’ alfresco tasting room as the sun slides down the arid Santa Monica Mountains. Here, the wine, weather and culinary delights are a philosophy, and I am a hearty subscriber.