Dubbed the American Riviera for its elegant, red-roofed villas, palm-lined boulevards and white-sand beaches, the coastal city of Santa Barbara is the ideal place to kick back and do some California dreaming. Visit chic boutiques, impressive museums and intimate restaurants on foot before grabbing a bike to explore beachfront and mountain trails. When it’s time to head back to base, you’ll be ready for a refreshing dip – and we’ve got the lowdown on the city’s best hotels with pools, bookable with Culture Trip. Dive down to discover where to go.
You’ll feel every inch the off-duty starlet lazing on a lounge chair by El Encanto’s infinity pool. A Santa Barbara icon since the 1920s when it became a popular Hollywood hideaway, this five-star hillside hotel continues to dazzle. Perched high in the hills overlooking the Pacific, a range of California Craftsman and Spanish colonial-style bungalows are dotted among seven acres (3ha) of terraced gardens. Unwind in the spa before watching the sunset with a perfectly mixed gimlet.
From the Rolls Royce Ghost employed to chauffeur guests around, to the beach butlers toting your towels, the Rosewood takes care of every little detail. Based around a manor house overlooking one of Santa Barbara’s most beautiful beaches, 124 rooms and 36 suites offer a luxe take on beach living – think white clapboard and crisp striped linen. Soak up the abundant West Coast sunshine at the adults-only Cabana Pool or nap beneath the citrus and olive trees that surround the Manor Pool.
Pack your wide-angle lens when staying at this downtown boutique hotel – the view from its rooftop pool is too good not to share. Perched at the top of a Spanish-style building just two minutes from lively State Street, hand-painted tile steps lead the way to 360-degree views stretching from the Santa Ynez Mountains to the Pacific. Follow a refreshing swim with a plate of freshly caught seafood at the rooftop restaurant before retiring to a rainforest shower and four-poster bed.
Whitewashed terraces, tropical palms and stunning ocean views make this sweeping clifftop plot a little slice of paradise. Spanning 78 acres (32ha), the resort takes in two beaches, a spa and not one but three saltwater pools surrounded by luxury cabanas where you can take a siesta or sip a cocktail in comfort. Ready to see the sights? Activities including horseback riding, sailing and hiking offer an unforgettable introduction to the local landscape.
Make a splash whatever time of year you visit Santa Barbara – the West Beach Inn’s heated outdoor pool is open year-round. Located a few steps from the beach, the shops and restaurants of Stearns Wharf and the arty Funk Zone, the hotel and its breezy Mediterranean vibe will make you feel instantly at home. Take advantage of the free continental breakfast before grabbing one of the hotel’s bikes to ride the palm-lined Cabrillo Boulevard Bike Path.
Wake up to the sight of the sun rising over the Santa Ynez Mountains or fall asleep to the sound of waves breaking on the shore; each of the 70 rooms in this elegant boutique hotel on central Cabrillo Boulevard features its own private balcony. While all the attractions of downtown lie beyond the hotel’s white stucco exterior, you may find it hard to resist the lure of the heated pool and oceanfront terrace where you can eat wood-fired pizza and homemade pasta beneath flickering lanterns.
With hot pink bougainvillea tumbling down terracotta walls, this Mediterranean-style coastal villa fits right in on the so-called American Riviera. Offering a range of chic suites and rooms, all with cloud-like BeautyRest Pillow Top mattresses, communal areas include a dappled sun terrace, a lounge with a working fireplace and a huge pool with a whirlpool spa. Soak up those European vibes during the afternoon wine hour, when you can toast your good choices over a glass of complimentary Californian vino.
Relaxation and luxury don’t always go hand in hand with family travel, but the Harbor View Inn does things differently. Large rooms offer space for all the gear children require, while its proximity to West Beach means everyone can be on the sand right after breakfast. Take a day trip to the nearby Natural History Museum, Santa Barbara Zoo or MOXI, the Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation, before heading back to the palm-fringed pool, where grown-ups can grab a well-earned drink at the poolside bar.
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meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
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Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.