With its exemplary Mission architecture, historic wharf and easy-going, cultured atmosphere, Santa Barbara might just be the most attractive city in Southern California. Make the most of your time here with a stay at one of these spectacular hotels, whether it be a rustic ranch or chic beach resort.
Discover Santa Barbara’s Spanish history at the Old Mission and Historical Museum, then admire the work of some of this immaculate Californian city’s finest creative minds at the Museum of Art, before heading to the hills to hike in Rattlesnake Canyon or to the coast to spot whales. It’s beautiful, too, sandwiched between the Santa Ynez Mountains – ideal for hiking – and the Pacific Ocean, where orcas frolic close to the coast.
There’s no better spot for watching the sun go down over Miramar Beach than the Rosewood, whether from an elegantly appointed Beach House Suite or one of the several world-class eating and drinking establishments. Michelin-star chef Massimo Falsini serves Santa Barbara spiny lobster at Caruso’s, while Malibu Farm is the place to linger over eggs benedict and mimosas. After an afternoon beside one of the two outdoor pools, head to the Scoop Shop to cool off with a gelato.
This boutique hotel dates back to 1874, and an air of Victorian stateliness is still evident in the luxurious rooms, housed in either the old Manor House or standalone cottages. The gardens, with their neat box hedges and manicured lawns, have a similarly English feel and make the perfect setting for relaxing with a cup of tea. A range of massage treatments, offered in your room, will help you relax even further.
Enchantment is the word at this classic Santa Barbara hotel, which has been luring Hollywood stars and travelers of good taste since 1918. Just a walk through the grounds, along arbors hung with bougainvillea to serene lily ponds and wishing wells, is an attraction in itself. Add in a terrace and pool overlooking the ocean and mountains, exquisite Californian cuisine and luxurious Spanish-style suites, and you have one of the finest hotels in town.
The white adobe walls and terracotta roofs of this waterfront hotel are classic Spanish Mission style, but colorful tiled domes add a dash of Moorish design – a fusion of styles that extends to the rooms, and to the Mediterranean-Middle Eastern Convivo restaurant. The honey-hued sand of East Beach is just steps away from the hotel, as is the technicolor landmark of the Chromatic Gate – an unmissable photo op.
Canopied four-posters, in-room yoga mats and furnished balconies are some of the standout features at the Kimpton Canary, while upgrading to a suite will get you a dark-wood writing desk and a gourmet honor bar. Fresh local produce is whipped up into top-class cuisine at Finch & Fork – the dived scallops with chorizo vinaigrette come recommended – while the Santa Barbara Historical Museum is just around the corner.
Quality and service are inextricably entwined with the Four Seasons brand, and the Biltmore is no exception. Spanish bungalows open onto terracotta patios and private plunge pools, palm trees shade garden pathways and ocean-fresh seafood is served overlooking the beach at this luxurious bolthole, while the full complement of wellness and beauty treatments are on offer at the spa, to the soundtrack of Tibetan singing bowls.
The youthful, social vibe of a hostel meets hotel comfort at the Wayfarer, where you can choose to face off against other guests at ping pong, corn hole and Connect 4 in the lively common area. The rooms have a similarly vibrant feel, with vintage touches like retro prints and telephones, while rental bikes are on hand to help you explore downtown and the coast.
A vintage surfy atmosphere pervades the Kimpton Goodland – right down to the 1950s wood-paneled Ford parked outside with a longboard strapped to the roof. A similarly nostalgic aesthetic can be found in the comfortable rooms, while the presence of the on-site VNYL record shop cements the hotel’s hip credentials. Suitably, there’s a buzzing program of events held here, from trivia nights to Yappy Hour, where you can enjoy a drink while meeting foster dogs from the Santa Barbara Humane Society.
You’ll be grinning from ear to ear when you step into this cozy bed and breakfast, which is imbued with a family atmosphere thanks to owners Christine Dunstan and Jack Greenwald. Inspired by her childhood home in England, Christine decked out the rooms and cottages with brick fireplaces, antique furniture and gingham cushions. A highlight of every day here is the afternoon happy hour, where you can enjoy a glass of wine and some hors d’oeuvre with your fellow guests.
Housed in an attractive khaki-hued house in downtown’s historic theatrical district, the Upham has an unfussy elegance which fits in well with its surroundings. Choose a Fireplace Room for those chilly winter nights, or upgrade to the Master Suite in the warmer months to enjoy a private, two-level patio. The concierge will help you arrange whale watching, sailing and surfing trips.
Sitting in the forested foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains, the rustic idyll that is San Ysidro Ranch has been welcoming travelers for more than a century. Paths lined with heady lavender and rosemary snake between cottage-style accommodations; some overlook the gardens, some the ocean and others open onto private patios. The Plow & Angel serves delicious country cuisine in an atmospheric environment – try the fall-spiced duck with yam puree.
These recommendations were updated on December 16, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.