Reminiscent of France’s famed Côte d’Azur and so nicknamed the American Riviera, Santa Barbara county is unparalleled in its sweeping scenery, robust bounty of fresh ingredients, and exceptional wines. It’s enough to lure chefs and other restaurant professionals away from the state’s bigger cities—as fourth-generation Californian Conrad Gonzales can attest.
The chef and restaurateur co-owns and operates a number of concepts in the area, including the Cali-Mex restaurant Cisko Kid, housed in a former gas station in Los Almos; Valle Eatery + Bar within the Hilton Garden Inn of Lompoc; and Valle Fresh Catering. Here’s his take on the region, plus its best-kept secret: Santa Maria–style barbecue.
A great feature of the area is our world-class wine region. Some of the best pinots and chardonnays are produced here due to the region’s unique terroir and weather. You can also visit numerous winery estates and tasting rooms to enjoy a glass of wine.
Escape during COVID-19
[Being in the country], Santa Barbara county is not as restricted as our neighboring areas so that’s been more of an attraction for tourism, especially compared the larger cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Santa Maria–style barbecue. You will not find it anywhere else in the world. It is beef cooked over coast live oak wood and served with heirloom beans that are only grown here. Santa Maria-style barbecue originated with the ranchers and vaqueros in the late 1800s, and it’s the only recognized barbecue style from California.
Why The American Riviera rocks
Our weather is temperate and thus our outdoor activities and experiences make for good times year-round. We have some of the most amazing restaurants, with an emphasis on sustainable, local, and organic. Due to the local agricultural community and coastline, we have access to outstanding produce, seafood, and meat proteins.
The dining scene in the city is dynamic. If you want to slow it down, you can visit a town like Los Alamos, Buellton, or Orcutt and find some of the best restaurants in the county with deep history attached.