Best hotels in Santa Barbara

Posted bywp_12122045 Posted onMay 12, 2023 Comments0

With miles of beaches, a backdrop of rugged mountains, beautiful Spanish Colonial-style architecture and a vibe that’s equal parts outdoorsy energy and laid-back laissez faire, it’s easy to see why the coastal California city of Santa Barbara is dubbed “the American Riviera.”

Although the area received its current name from Portuguese explorer Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo in the 16th century and was colonized by the Spanish in the 18th century, the region had been home to Chumash Indians for over 10,000 years by the time Europeans arrived. And no wonder. The fertile soils, teeming seas and hospitable climate (it gets over 300 days of sunshine each year) — all of which continue to make Santa Barbara a popular destination and agricultural hub to this day — had everything they needed to thrive.

Visitors will find some of the best California beaches to sunbathe and surf, hiking trails galore ranging in difficulty from beginner to expert, a historic town core sprinkled with landmark buildings, and even an urban wine trail with a few dozen tasting rooms representing some of the region’s best wineries. Also, since it’s just 90 miles north of Los Angeles, it’s easy to make it part of a longer road trip throughout California or just a one-off destination on its own.

Whether you’re considering Santa Barbara for a romantic weekend or a longer family vacation, there’s plenty to see and do for every type of traveler in this seaside city, including a passel of pleasant places to stay the night.

Here are nine of the best hotels in Santa Barbara (including some of the best California hotels in general) and what to take advantage of at each.

Hotel Californian

Santa Barbara, California, USA


Best for: Folks who want an upscale taste of this iconic beach town.

Why stay here: Though located in Santa Barbara’s happening Funk Zone, this hotel is anything but funky thanks to its eye-catching interior design by Martyn Lawrence Bullard, a rooftop pool with coastal views and a trendy restaurant serving craft cocktails and seasonal fare.

Best way to book: Book through our partner Skylark to enjoy elitelike benefits and on-property credits.

Anchoring Santa Barbara’s so-called Funk Zone — a 13-block district near the shoreline that was once an industrial neighborhood but now houses artists’ studios, restaurants, bars, winemakers and galleries — the 121-key Hotel Californian is a Moorish-style gem that had fallen on hard times in recent decades. After a top-to-toe rebuild with new grand spaces and rooms by designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard, it reopened in 2017 and quickly became one of the hottest spots in town.

Guest rooms have an art deco-forward aesthetic with sculptural furniture in rich primary colors, more than a few bold geometric patterns in the textiles and tile work, not to mention marble bathrooms stocked with bespoke body products. Some suites even feature working fireplaces.

The hotel’s Majorelle spa is meant to evoke the riads of Marrakech thanks to intricate white-and-blue tiling, as well as a lengthy menu of customizable massages and facials. Signature treatments include the “Quake Rescue” massage that incorporates aromatic ingredients like sandalwood, cedar and bergamot to boost immune function and improve sleep.

The hotel is also home to five restaurants and bars, including upscale Central Coast cuisine at chef Travis Watson’s Blackbird, casual grab-and-go options like baked goods and picnic baskets at Goat Tree, and Djinn Library Bar for tasty libations (rather than genies) poured from its many bottles. The hotel was acquired by Foley Entertainment Group in 2021, so it also now has a new wine-tasting room called The Society: State & Mason, showcasing Foley Family Wines releases from around the world.

Rates at the Hotel Californian start at $603 per night.

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Kimpton Canary

Santa Barbara, California, USA


Best for: Bringing your dog along to explore this city and its surroundings without sacrificing luxury.

Why stay here: For a heart-of-town location with Spanish Colonial-inspired rooms, friendly service and a sweet little rooftop pool, not to mention Kimpton hallmarks like nightly wine hour.

Best way to book: Book directly with IHG to earn or redeem IHG One Rewards points and enjoy any elite benefits.

You couldn’t ask for a better location than this. It’s within a block of sometimes-rowdy State Street (this is a college town, after all) but far enough removed that the hubbub should not trouble you or your pup if you bring them along to this pet-friendly hotel. Speaking of which, the hotel is also happy to provide dog bowls and beds for use during your stay, free of charge. As for other typical Kimpton touches, there is complimentary morning coffee and tea as well as an evening wine hour — featuring local pours, of course — in the stylishly updated lobby (think terracotta floors, Mediterranean decorative tiles and exposed timber beams, but also contemporary art and mod rattan furniture), plus bikes to borrow for exploring the town on two wheels.

Although it is part of IHG, the hotel feels more like a boutique resort thanks to having just 97 rooms and suites, all of which have ornate wooden four-poster canopy beds dressed in Frette linens. Though bathrooms are small, they are well provisioned with fragrant Atelier Bloem products. Some rooms have small balconies or private outdoor areas, too. However, the main outdoor area you’ll want to visit is the quaint rooftop pool (the only one in Santa Barbara), which is lined by well-cushioned and well-shaded loungers.

There’s no on-site spa, but hotel guests can book in-room treatments from Float Luxury Spa, which is one block away. Be sure to get brunch or dinner at the hotel’s single restaurant, Finch & Fork, where the menus highlight the bounty of California’s fields, farms and coast, such as Hope Ranch mussels swimming in a coconut-curry broth, as well as some options from farther afield.

Just note that the hotel charges a steep $35 daily resort fee. However, it includes a $10 food and beverage credit, a local airport shuttle upon request, a tote bag, weekly rooftop yoga classes and access to a nearby Gold’s Gym.

Rates at the Kimpton Canary start at $360 or 60,000 IHG One Rewards points per night.

Mar Monte Hotel

Santa Barbara, California, USA


Best for: World of Hyatt members looking for an upscale but understated SoCal spot to redeem their points.

Why stay here: Bright, breezy rooms, a sun-splashed pool area and an elegant restaurant that showcases coastal Italian cuisine are all reasons to spend a night or two here.

Best way to book: Book directly with Hyatt to earn or redeem World of Hyatt points and enjoy any elite benefits.

If the focus of your trip is more on the beach experience, the Mar Monte Hotel should be at or near the top of your list. A historic hotel that originally opened in 1931, this sprawling Spanish Colonial-style class act remains as popular as ever thanks to the fact that it occupies pride of place just across East Cabrillo Boulevard from Santa Barbara’s popular East Beach.

Accommodations start at a roomy 300 square feet and are bright and airy thanks to large windows to let in the SoCal sunshine and a color palette that evokes sunset on the nearby sands, with taupe as a mainstay along with accents of pink and orangey-red. The decor feels curated but accessible, and creature comforts include contemporary must-haves like Keurig coffee machines and 55-inch flat-screens.

There’s a small but serviceable pool along with plenty of outdoor seating facing the Pacific, while the 24-hour fitness center offers a plethora of up-to-date equipment, including Peloton bikes.

The hotel’s vault-arched Cafe Lido, just off the pool area, specializes in seasonal cocktails and Cali-Med plates such as halibut-crab ceviche with black lime and cara cara orange. The hotel’s elegant Italian restaurant, Costa Kitchen & Bar, serves everything from 30-day dry-aged New York steak and bone marrow to squid-ink linguine with clams.

Rates at the Mar Monte Hotel start at $293 and range from 17,000-23,000 World of Hyatt points per night.

The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara, California, USA


Best for: A coastal California getaway in the lap of luxury that you can enjoy while earning or redeeming Marriott Bonvoy points.

Why stay here: The allure of its picturesque perch on the bluffs above the Pacific is only rivaled by its large but cozy rooms (many with fireplaces) and the expansive spa complex where unique treatments include the oh-so-Californian citrus-avocado body scrub.

Best way to book: Book through our partner Skylark to earn Marriott points while enjoying elitelike benefits and on-property credits, or redeem your points by booking directly with Marriott.

Few places in Santa Barbara feel more rarefied than the Ritz-Carlton Bacara, which perches along 78 waterfront acres about 15 miles northwest of town along the 101 freeway.

This 358-key Mediterranean-styled resort is classic California at its finest. The beautifully landscaped grounds abound with coastal shrubs and plants, three infinity-edge pools for uninterrupted Pacific views, and easy access to two beaches for those who want to brave the surf.

Guest accommodations start at a whopping 450 square feet, and each features a patio or balcony with ocean or garden views, so look at your specific room type carefully before booking. They all have elegant two-poster beds (immaculately dressed in Frette linens, of course) and marble bathrooms with deep soaking tubs and Asprey products. Some also have fireplaces or fire pits to enjoy on those cool coastal evenings.

The resort’s 42,000-square-foot, light-filled spa and wellness center is the largest health complex in the area and includes facilities like a redwood sauna, eucalyptus steam room and its own swimming pool. The signature treatments draw inspiration from the locale and include delights such as the “Natural Resilience” facial, which incorporates Japanese kobido massage, jade rollers and probiotic products to restore skin’s radiance and tone. Active guests should enjoy a match on one of the four clay tennis courts or a round at the next-door Sandpiper Golf Club. They can also rent electric bikes to explore the area.

With a plethora of dining and drinking establishments right on the property, guests might not even feel the need to venture out and explore Santa Barbara’s restaurant scene. Among the highlights, Angel Oak is a contemporary steakhouse with unparalleled shoreline views, not to mention its impressive 12,000-bottle wine collection. For fresh-as-can-be sushi and sashimi, there’s San Setto, while Caffe and the poolside Haskell’s Bar serve more casual options, as does Bar de Vino, which proffers wine and light bites.

Rates at the Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara start at $646 or 53,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.

Rosewood Miramar Beach

Montecito, California, USA


Best for: A splurge to stay at one of the few hotels right along the beach in Santa Barbara (well, Montecito, but who’s quibbling?).

Why stay here: This historic hotel originally dates to 1889, but is looking fresher than ever with beachy rooms, an outpost of Rosewood’s Sense Spa and multiple dining and drinking venues including the Michelin-starred Caruso’s restaurant.

Best way to book: Book through our partner Skylark to enjoy elitelike benefits and on-property credits.

Skewing more natty Newport than upmarket Mediterranean, the Rosewood Miramar Beach is only the latest incarnation of this rarefied beach resort in the tony enclave of Montecito, about 5 miles east of Santa Barbara, which dates to the late 19th century. While it’s probably the closest you can actually get to a hotel that sits on the sand around these parts, it’s actually bisected by a railroad track that helpful escorts aid guests in traversing – far from an annoyance, this gives the place a truly Californian feel.

Nautically themed with clean lines and crisp blue-white patterning, the 158 guest rooms and suites start at over 500 square feet and feature garden or ocean views from private lanais and balconies. Spacious and chic marble bathrooms feature Hollywood Regency-style finishes and custom-created La Bottega bath products.

The hotel has a fitness center, which includes an outdoor section to take advantage of the area’s sunny clime. It’s also home to one of Rosewood’s branded Sense spas, which proffers wellness sessions, including a heavenly rose-citrus full-body massage that incorporates an exfoliation with Himalayan salt and antioxidant-boosting cranberry.

The resort boasts two pools: the family-friendly Manor pool, whose yellow-patterned loungers and umbrellas are allusions to the surrounding citrus trees (Scoop Shop, serving burgers and ice cream, is also here), and the 21-and-over Cabana pool, which has a distinctive scalloped edge and is bordered by 19 private cabanas.

As for dining, there’s the Cabana Bar for light bites and drinks, Ama Sushi for Japanese specialties, the oceanfront Miramar Beach Bar for small plates and drinks, and the Michelin one-starred Caruso’s for fine dining with panoramic views that will have you thinking you’re on the Italian Riviera instead of the American one.

Rates at the Rosewood Miramar Beach start at $1,505 per night.

El Encanto

Santa Barbara, California, USA


Best for: A secluded sojourn with sweeping coastal views and a dash of Southern Californian history around every corner.

Why stay here: Tucked away in the hills above town, you won’t mind not being on the beach thanks to this hotel’s glamorous Old Hollywood aura and an almost too-gorgeous-to-be-believed pool.

Best way to book: Book through our partner Skylark to enjoy elitelike benefits and on-property credits.

This ultra-luxe hideaway tucked into the foothills above town has been a hit with the celebrity set since originally opening in 1918 and has hosted luminaries like Clark Gable and Barbra Streisand.

After being acquired by Belmond (formerly Orient-Express Hotels), El Encanto underwent a $134 million renovation and reopened in 2013 as one of the most exclusive enclaves on California’s coast.

Charming cottages dot its seven gorgeously manicured acres of gardens and have classic touches like Mission-inspired wood and leather furniture, marble bathrooms with heated floors, and even fireplaces in some room and suite categories.

The twin focal points of the 92-key resort are the tranquil terrace just out the back of the main building, where you can enjoy a glass of local wine as birds and butterflies flutter past, and the infinity-edge pool, which has spectacular views of Santa Barbara and the Channel Islands.

The hotel also has one of the town’s best spas, with treatments that harness the healing powers of botanical products and tropical fruits. Among the signature experiences is the 90-minute “Body Regeneration” designed by skincare guru Linda Ross, which includes a full-body mask and massage.

There are several dining options, including the main all-day Dining Room and Terrace, whose menu items, such as Channel Islands halibut with olive tapenade and cauliflower, focus on locally sourced ingredients. The Bar offers a small menu of Americana bites and classic cocktails, while the Lounge serves casual small plates like truffle fries along with cocktails like a pear-ginger mule. Weekday afternoon tea in the Lounge is an area highlight.

Rates at El Encanto, a Belmond Hotel start at $863 per night.

San Ysidro Ranch, A Ty Warner Property

Santa Barbara, California, USA


Best for: Well-heeled jet-setters who want to feel like they’re rusticating in the lap of luxury.

Why stay here: Romance abounds (JFK and Jackie O. honeymooned here) at this enchanting enclave, with cozy cottages tucked into the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

Best way to book: Book through our partner Skylark to enjoy elitelike benefits and on-property credits.

There’s exclusive … and then there’s San Ysidro Ranch. This legendary resort has been around since 1893 and counts Oprah as one of its neighbors in the tony town of Montecito. Its rambling grounds comprise 550 stunning acres, including gardens and hiking trails, but just 38 uniquely decorated guest cottages, so the experience is rarefied and relaxing. Perhaps that’s why it’s welcomed so many famous guests — including Audrey Hepburn and Winston Churchill, as well as John F. Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy, who honeymooned here.

The bungalows start at nearly 800 square feet, each with a different name. They feel Craftsman and cozy thanks to private walled patios (some with sunken hot tubs), polished oak floors and exposed ceiling beams, four-poster beds with diaphanous netting and brick fireplaces, among other features.

Guests can choose from a variety of experiences — epicurean wine-tasting excursions, private yoga sessions, strenuous hikes in the nearby foothills and other diversions. They can also simply relax by the pool, wander the gardens or book a session at the salon and spa, whose delicious-sounding treatments include a brown- and white-sugar body scrub and massages utilizing essential oils distilled from plants on the property, such as lavender, rosemary and lemon.

Of the hotel’s two restaurants, Plow & Angel (be sure to find the stained glass window of the ranch’s namesake, St. Isidore) feels like a refined roadhouse, serving comfort classics like baby back ribs. Stonehouse Restaurant resides in a former citrus-packing house and plates up contemporary American fare, such as Santa Barbara’s famous sea urchin with celery leaf salsa verde and Meyer lemon.

Rates at San Ysidro Ranch start at $2,495 per night.

Palihouse Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara, California, USA


Best for: A residential-style stay with just the right amount of quirkiness.

Why stay here: This much-loved minichain brings its signature brand of whimsy and convenience to the heart of the city’s Presidio neighborhood with colorful rooms (including tiled fireplaces) and a small but sunny courtyard pool.

Best way to book: Book directly for the best rates and packages.

The burgeoning SoCal Palihouse hotel minichain is known for its quirky, residential-style hotels, and this 24-key outpost in Santa Barbara’s Presidio neighborhood is no exception. You might not find all the amenities you’d expect at a big hotel. However, your stay here will make you feel like a Santa Barbara insider with a very chic yet homey (1920s Moorish-style) pied-a-terre.

Decor in the guest rooms, some of which can feel a bit compact, channels a midcentury clubby vibe with wood-framed furniture, clean lines and matte-finished light fixtures, not to mention Smeg minifridges and tile-lined fireplaces, plus finer touches like Nespresso machines and Diptyque bath products.

As for other amenities, there’s a quiet pool with cabanas, loungers and food service; a small fitness center with Peloton bikes; Linus bikes on loan for tours around town; and even a special neighborhood guide to help you navigate the area.

The hotel’s dining program melds a lobby lounge, cocktail bar and alfresco cafe into a single all-day outlet where specialties like smoothies and breakfast burritos start the day, followed by sandwiches and salads for lunch (among other options), plus a plethora of specialty cocktails like the fizzy passionfruit house spritz.

Rates at the Palihouse Santa Barbara start at $315 per night.

Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort

Santa Barbara, California, USA


Best for: A classic Southern California beach vacation you can book on points without draining your entire Hilton Honors account.

Why stay here: It’s the perfect blend of beach location and city activities, plus it has bright, spacious rooms that are affordably priced and plenty of on-property amenities.

Best way to book: Book directly with Hilton to earn or redeem Hilton Honors points and enjoy any elite benefits.

Close to the main part of town, adjacent to the Funk Zone and just across the street from the beach, the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort has one of the best locations and is one of the best deals in town.

The hotel has 335 rooms and 25 suites, and while it won’t win any originality awards for interior design, decor in the accommodations is beachy and bright with a mix of tones from the blue spectrum plus taupe and beige evoking the sands of nearby East Beach.

The resort has a large, family-friendly pool and offers activities like beachfront yoga, bike rentals and complimentary lawn games like croquet and bocce, and can help guests arrange excursions like day sails or kayaking jaunts.

Casual and uncomplicated, The Set is the hotel’s main restaurant, serving brunch, lunch and dinner (reserve one of the fire pits for extra ambiance), along with dishes like chilaquiles, mahi mahi tacos and lobster macaroni and cheese. The hotel also houses the Fess Parker wine-tasting room, where guests can enjoy glasses and flights from the iconic winery.

Just beware of the $30 daily resort fee, which includes basic internet access for two devices, a two-hour bicycle rental, a glass of house wine for up to two adults and two bottles of water daily at the front desk, as well as a 20% discount on services like spa treatments and tennis clinics.

Rates at the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort start at $261 or 79,000 Hilton Honors points per night.


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