It's safe to say that the Franciscan friars never dreamed of anything as sybaritic as the Bacara Resort & Spa. Echoing the Spanish Colonial architecture of the historic mission nearby, Bacara (pronounced Ba-CAR-ah) combines 21st-century luxury with a dash of vintage Hollywood glamour. Its name is partly based on the Chumash Indian word anacapa, which means mirage. The reference is more than fanciful—Bacara was designed to preserve ancient tribal grounds on the 78-acre property. The result is remarkably harmonious: a village-like array of white-washed buildings roofed in aged terra-cotta tiles and nestled among lush greenery, pools, and fountains—with direct access to a largely deserted ribbon of beach.
For some, Bacara's drawback will be its size—there are 360 rooms and extensive meeting facilities—but the resort does reserve at least half of its spaces for individual travelers. Most desirable are upper-floor rooms in the seaside buildings (numbers 10-16, of which 10401 and 16104 are gems). Most have gas-log fireplaces, and all feature patios or balconies, Frette linens, and high-speed Internet access.
There's golf, a well-equipped gym, biking, sea kayaking, tennis, and horseback riding. And then there is the state-of-the-art, 42,000-square-foot spa, which offers citrus-avocado body scrubs, Thai massage, and an Ayurvedic oil drip.
The food is memorable in all the dining rooms, including Miro, the urbane flagship restaurant. Gillian Ballance, former cellar master at Windows on the World, oversees the resort's 600 wines. Room rates, $395-$2,500; $5,000-a-night "presidential residence." 8301 Hollister Avenue, Santa Barbara, CA 93117; 877-422-4245; www.bacararesort.com.