Until recently, downtown Santa Barbara seemed too small to be broken up into distinct neighborhoods. Then came the Funk Zone down by the waterfront, which can pack an entire weekend of action these days, and the Arts District around Victoria Street blossomed into a real thing with the opening of the S.B. Public Market.
Next stop on this district-ification train? The Presidio Neighborhood, those handful of densely developed blocks between State, Santa Barbara, Canon Perdido, and De la Guerra streets that are home to an impressive array of restaurants, tasting rooms, retail shops, and assorted attractions, from El Presidio de Santa Bárbara historic park to the Lobero Theatre and S.B. Historical Museum.
“My idea is to have this become a destination,” said Hugh Margerum, whose family planted roots in the ’hood more than 30 years ago when they purchased the Wine Cask. “Everything you need is here.”
To do so, Margerum went to every business owner in the area and got enough — in fact, nearly unanimous — support to create a sleekly designed Presidio Neighborhood brochure and website. With copies available in participating establishments starting this week and the website, PresidioNeighborhoodSB.com, launching soon, the campaign shines light on 12 restaurants, 10 shops, six tasting rooms, and 11 other attractions. It also gives proper nods to the area’s rich history, from the founding of the Presidio by the Spanish in the late 18th century and the building of Casa de la Guerra in the early 19th to the rise of Chinatown and Japantown in the same vicinity in the early 20th.
“All throughout are little, unique, locally owned shops,” said Margerum. “We’ve been here for 30-something years and, just by doing this, I’m finding nooks and crannies that I’ve never seen before.”
One critical and relatively recent occurrence that powered this possibility are the changes at El Paseo, which was built in the 1920s as California’s first outdoor mall. The past few decades of rising rent caused an exodus of retailers and influx of lawyer’s offices, so many people forgot to stroll through the essentially public place. But the surging popularity of Santa Barbara County wine is bringing both locals and tourists back inside, where six tasting rooms can be found amid the quaint gardens, pleasant patios, and iconic pathways.
That’s what brought Margerum back — he manages the tasting rooms for wine his brother Doug makes — and what started his collective marketing momentum. The tasting rooms now fly under the banner of the “Wine Collection of El Paseo” and offer a more refined and red-tile-roofed experience than the hip, flashy vibe of the Funk Zone.
The Presidio Neighborhood effort is just taking that concept up a major notch. “I never thought this city was big enough to do something like this,” said Margerum, but he’s jumping in headfirst. “I’m printing 50,000 [brochures], so I’m making a pretty big commitment.”