No matter how many times you’ve traveled up the coast, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival presents an entirely fresh opportunity to explore the countryside you already love, with over 200 films being shown over the course of 11 days beginning this Thursday, January 30.

Yet how should a film (and wine) aficionado approach one of the industry’s most anticipated events? We asked Jason Baffa of Baffa Films to help light the way. Born and raised in Southern California, with dozens of trips to Santa Barbara already under his belt, the documentary filmmaker is returning to the beautiful beach city town for the U.S. premiere of his latest work, Bella Vita, in which he exposes the surfing culture in Italy. We caught up with him to find out where his favorite local spots are, what we should be doing in between screenings, and of course, where we can swish a fine Tuscan Brunello.

How would you describe the energy during the festival?

Welcoming. This community loves film, art and culture. But like many things in Santa Barbara, it is all approached in this understood, jeans & blazer kind of way. Everyone is so easy-going and enthusiastic, and no filmmaker is too small or too big. I love that.

Where do you stay?

I’m lucky—I have family to stay with—but I would say that the San Ysidro Ranch is probably the nicest hideaway in the area, home to an amazing restaurant called The Stonehouse. As a partner to the film festival, the Hotel Santa Barbara is a great choice if you are looking to be right there in the mix. There’s also the Bacara Resort & Spa on the Gaviota coast if you prefer a less centrally-located destination.

For a dose of classic Santa Barbara?

The Biltmore Hotel. Spanish architecture and views of the water make this a popular spot. It’s here that you get access to the historic Coral Casino Beach Club—but if you don’t have a room booked at the hotel you have to know a member, so start making friends the minute you get into town! If that doesn’t work, the Biltmore Bar is next door and has a great old-Hollywood vibe.

Where do you shop?

The Paseo on State Street, an outdoor shopping mall that has plenty of options. I also always stop by the Beach House Surf Shop on Lower State Street to check out their surfboard collection.

And when it’s time for a full, jammy, California wine?


For all the devout wine lovers out there, you are only about a 45-minute drive from the Santa Ynez Valley, which is home to some awesome wineries all with tasting rooms. In town, the Santa Barbara Winery is a local favorite with a tasting room on Anacapa Street. I also love the funky charm of the Deep Sea Tasting Room.

But my favorite is…

The Italian food and wine at Ca’ Dario. I love a good Tuscan Brunello—the 2003’s and 2004’s are drinking really well right now—and their earthiness goes great with red meats and red sauces. I try to get the corner table under the black & white photo of Francis Ford Coppola behind the camera—kinda perfect for a guy showing a movie about surfing in Italy.

Should we bring a surfboard?


Shangri-La of Santa Barbara: 2665 San Marcos Pass Road

Definitely. Santa Barbara is a great surf town and with the festival taking place in the winter months, Rincon and other premiere surf-breaks in the area get good waves. It’s a big reason why the SBIFF has always been a big supporter of film’s about surfing.

Any advice for first-time festivalgoers?

Get out and explore. Rent bikes and ride along the beach and harbor. Try to balance your time in the theater watching great movies with time outside of the theatre in a fantastic town. I find the discussion panels lead by producers and directors to be very inspiring. Oh, and go so this little indy film about surf-travel through Italy called Bella Vita 😉

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival begins this Thursday, January 30th through Sunday, February 9th. Jason Baffa’s Bella Vita premieres on Monday, January 3rd at 8 p.m. at the Arlington Theater. Tickets are available for purchase here.