In the past few years, Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone has grown from a mostly industrial, largely ignored neighborhood to one of the most dynamic, high-growth areas of the city. Now, with the addition of multiple developments, the Funk Zone is quickly becoming the most exciting draw on the South Coast.
For several years, the Urban Wine Trail has been rapidly developing, with new wineries seemingly appearing monthly. No longer do wine connoisseurs need to venture north to the Santa Ynez Valley. Instead, quality wineries such as Oreana Winery, Santa Barbara Winery, Kunin Wines, Municipal Winemakers, Whitcraft and Kalyra Winery offer patrons a full complement of the most compelling local wines available.
With roughly 20 wineries already operating tasting rooms in the Zone, and more soon to follow, wine lovers can find a comprehensive offering of the best that local grapes can produce. Red’s Bar & Tapas, Union Ale, Bay Roadhouse Bar & Grill and Metropulos Fine Food Merchants offer additional diversions for visitors to the Zone.
For those interested in a bit of shopping, Channel Islands Surfboards, the Surf n Wear Beach House (a.k.a. Santa Barbara Surf Shop) and Blueline Paddle Surf offer surf-oriented merchandise to satisfy the most discerning beach bum.
The Santa Barbara Surf Museum, a must-visit, is free-of-charge from noon to 5 p.m. every Sunday and offers owner Jim O’Mahoney’s collection of surfing and skateboarding memorabilia, pays tribute to surf music, and has a section devoted to Santa Barbara history and pop culture.
When you get hungry, there is a multitude of dining options within easy walking distance to the Funk Zone. If you just want coffee or a light breakfast treat, Hot Spots Espresso Co., 36 State St., offers my favorite cup o’ Joe in town. A beautiful walk along the shoreline brings you to Sambo’s, 216 W. Cabrillo Blvd., for an omelet, chicken-fried steak, or biscuits and gravy. Eladio’s, 28 W. Cabrillo Blvd., which was just remodeled, offers an expansive view of Stearns Wharf from the outdoor patio, with breakfast, lunch and dinner options. Those willing to venture out onto the wharf can dine at the Harbor Restaurant or Moby Dick, both of which offer ocean views and generous portions, with exceptional variety on their menus.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the Funk Zone is the eclectic art found in virtually every available nook and cranny. Immediately adjacent to Hot Spots, Mason Street offers local artists a blank canvas to paint large pieces on wood or other media that the artist attaches to the side of the building. Each piece remains displayed for three months, offering the artist the opportunity to gain exposure for his or her work, and, at the same time, use the art to comment on current events, local concerns or any cause the artist chooses to champion. Creativity is on display for all to see, and it’s free!
My favorite characteristic of the Funk Zone is the architecture. I personally love the industrial, gritty feel of the old warehouses mixed with the strong aesthetic of beach and surf influences that anyone walking through the Zone can’t ignore. The recently constructed 116 E. Yanonali St. building features a live/work design with Pali and Anacapa wineries on the first floor, with shops on the second and living space on the third. Around the corner, industrial work spaces that have been recently remodeled offer available room for new businesses that want a prime location in one of the most attractive developing markets in Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara real estate, after dipping dramatically during the bursting of the real estate bubble in 2008 and 2009, has begun to rebound. Supply has been cut virtually by half in the past year, on the residential side. Investors seem to have returned with a vengeance, scooping up properties in the sub-$1 million range, many with all-cash offers at or above asking price.
The Funk Zone, although pricing appears to have risen somewhat from recent lows, still seems to me to offer great value, especially over the longer term. While living in the Funk Zone may not be for everyone, I see it developing similarly to Venice Beach, with eclectic lofts, warehouses, artist workspaces and live/work buildings that offer strong appeal for young, hip professionals. The Zone offers plenty of available properties that have not been developed, some with existing structures that could be converted to business or residential use, and some raw land with endless possibilities. Developers will no doubt be increasingly drawn to the Funk Zone in coming years, as the area receives more and more attention and interest from locals and visitors alike.