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When travel journalists ask for recommendations on something "different," off-the-beaten-path or "new" to cover in Santa Barbara, I steer them towards The Funk Zone. And I send media looking for the hip, cool and edgy side of Santa Barbara here, too. This mixed-use neighborhood by the waterfront, just off the very end of lower State Street (between State & Garden and Yanonali & Mason Streets, to be specific), used to be an industrial and manufacturing hub. Now it's filled with an eclectic mix of artists, surfboard shapers and skilled craft workers as well as locally-owned shops, art studios, galleries and wine tasting rooms.
The Funk Zone offers the perfect contrast to the pristine red tile roofs and white-washed buildings that are synonymous with Santa Barbara's architectural style and make our main downtown historic arts district so memorable and lovely. Minus the polish and plus some grit, The Funk Zone has its own distinctive brand of charm. Very close to the Amtrak station, Stearns Wharf and Cabrillo Boulevard -- which are filled with sightseers on the weekends -- The Funk Zone's little side streets are still considered uncharted territory even for some locals. Hence the "new" factor. It offers a sense of discovery and it continues to evolve and get better and better as more businesses crop up in the ‘hood.
The rising popularity of the Urban Wine Trail has helped to bring foot and bike traffic into The Funk Zone in recent years. Oreana Winery, Santa Barbara Winery, Kunin Wines, Municipal Winemakers, Whitcraft and Kalyra Winery are all in the Zone. Red's Wine Bar & Tapas, Union Ale and Metropulos Fine Food Merchants are foodie filling stations and social gathering spots here.
The flagship Channel Islands Surfboards retail store is another draw to the neighborhood. Nearby, the massive Beach House (a.k.a. Santa Barbara Surf Shop) surfboard and apparel shop has been open since 1962. They carry men's, women's and kids' clothing, bathing suits, footwear, towels and any sort of beach gear you'd need or want to bring back as a souvenir. Blueline Paddle Surf is a newer kid on the block, and outfits not only locals but people from around the world with stand up paddle surfing equipment. The Santa Barbara Surfing Museum is a gem of a museum that's open free-of-charge every Sunday from noon to 5pm (special tours can be arranged by appointment at other times). The museum showcases owner Jim O'Mahoney's collection of surfing and skateboarding memorabilia, pays tribute to surf music and has a section devoted to general Santa Barbara history and pop culture.
A few doors down, the Fishnet Retail Gallery & Theatre (46 Helena Avenue) collective is a driving force in Santa Barbara's creative community. There's always something going down here, be it a party, performance or art exhibit. In fact, they are hosting the Fishmas Bizarre block party December 11-12. More arts and culture can be found at The Arts Fund gallery.
The Funk Zone is a people-moving hub, too. The Santa Barbara Running shop will outfit you with running shoes and apparel. Segway of Santa Barbara runs guided tours and rents Segways and electric bicycles. Wheel Fun Rentals rents out all types of bikes, surreys, scoot coupes and other fun forms of transportation.
I see something new every time I venture into The Funk Zone, whether it's a shop or a mural I've never noticed. There seems to be a little something for everyone here, and so many nooks and crannies well-worth exploring!
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