“Let’s be honest. Do you want to spend a weekend in a place called the Funk Zone? The first time I heard the name, I wrinkled my nose. It sounds like something from the ’80s that smells — or looks — distasteful. When I found out it’s a tourist zone in the otherwise perfectly lovely town of Santa Barbara, I thought it needed a name change, at best. Most non-Santa Barbara residents I mentioned it to agreed. “Why did they name it that?” people wondered.
So I asked a dozen Santa Barbara residents who live or work in the zone and got a dozen different answers. But all said they thought the name fits. And certainly the Funk Zone’s success story seems to indicate that people who visit it don’t mind the name. In just a handful of years, the area has become the hottest neighborhood in town, the place celebs go to dine and where everyone else goes to hang out. Its wine-tasting rooms, art galleries, restaurants and shops overflow on weekends and holidays. In fact, the area has become so hip, said a city official, that “businesses outside the zone pretend to be inside it. Or call themselves Funk Zone-adjacent.”
That’s an amazing compliment for a place that most people admit isn’t very pretty. Sandwiched between the beach and Highway 101, the Funk Zone is full of warehouses, manufacturing plants and industrial operations. Streets dead end, railroad tracks crisscross the area, paint is peeling from buildings that look abandoned. Some of these onetime businesses may account for the area’s odd name. When I asked locals the origin, one replied, “There’s mostly industrial stuff there that’s pretty funky”; an artist told me it was named for “the fish processing places that make it smell.”