Santa Barbara Is Seeing an Exciting Luxury Resort Revival

Courtesy Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara’s classic resorts have all been spruced up, adding energy to the town’s discreet, low-key vibe.

Since being hit by devastating mudslides in early 2018, Santa Barbara has experienced a renaissance. The laid-back seaside destination favored by Angeleno weekenders, surfers, and retired movie stars is suddenly, well, buzzy. Visitors coming for the excellent Santa Ynez Valley wines now have first-rate culinary options to match and, with notable hotel openings and updates, more reasons than ever to stay.

Belmond El Encanto


From left: A guest room in the Turner House at the Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort; one of the cottages at the Belmond El Encanto. From left: Victoria Pearson/Courtesy Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort; Courtesy Belmond El Encanto

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Perched on a hillside overlooking Santa Barbara, the Belmond El Encanto has been a favorite of artists and actors since it opened in the early 20th century. The hotel’s 92 rooms, restaurant, spa, and 100-foot infinity pool were all updated as part of a seven-year, $134 million makeover completed in 2013.

The Vibe

The seven-acre compound—a snaking, vertiginous five-minute drive from downtown—is still frequented by creative types who appreciate the custom-monogrammed pillows and afternoon tea on the eucalyptus-scented terrace.

Room to Book

In addition to offering spectacular views, the 700-square-foot premier-class cottages have fireplaces and patios. They are close enough to the main house that it doesn’t feel like a hike to breakfast but far enough away that you don’t hear the bar at night. Rooms from $500.

San Ysidro Ranch

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It’s impossible to discuss San Ysidro Ranch without mentioning that JFK and Jackie honeymooned there in 1953. Admired for service that’s both white-glove and California-casual, the property has won over countless regulars devoted to its charming stone cottages, lush gardens, and Stonehouse restaurant—the most beautiful alfresco dining spot in Santa Barbara.

What’s New

Badly damaged in the 2018 mudslides, the hotel required a 15-month renovation, the results of which are painstakingly perfect.

Room to Book

Among the 41 cottages, standouts include the bungalow where the Kennedys stayed and the ultra-private, 2,500-square-foot, two-bedroom Warner cottage, named for the ranch’s owner and Beanie Babies creator, Ty Warner, which has a 33-foot pool, a hot tub, and views of the Pacific. Rooms from $1,045.

Four Seasons Resort the Biltmore


The Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club at Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore. Courtesy Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara

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The Biltmore resort has been a stately presence on the Montecito waterfront since 1927. Today, the Spanish colonial estate—also owned by Ty Warner—has close to 200 rooms and suites, plus 12 low-key bungalows, tucked behind leafy palms, bougainvillea, and Seussian birds of paradise.

The Vibe

Both new Santa Barbarans (cool and young) and new Montecitans (moneyed, discreet) can be found snacking on tapas beneath Moorish chandeliers in the Ty Lounge, enjoying treatments at the Peter Marino–designed spa, and lounging around the pool at the Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club—a private club open to hotel guests.

Room to Book

Most bungalows have plunge pools or hot tubs, and all have expansive decks with fireplaces. For a splurge, the new 4,000-square-foot Ty Warner Villa has a private drive, ocean views, and dozens of Chinese porcelain animals collected by Warner himself. Rooms from $595.

Rosewood Miramar Beach


A beach bar at the Rosewood Miramar Beach. Courtesy Rosewood Miramar Beach

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Located on the railroad-bisected grounds of the legendary 19th-century Miramar by the Sea resort in Montecito, the Rosewood Miramar Beach is the newest addition to Santa Barbara’s hotel scene, masterminded by luxury-shopping impresario Rick Caruso.

The Vibe

On the land side of the tracks, the hotel’s opulently white buildings, surrounded by Bermuda grass lawns, include the main house, with the all-day Malibu Farm at Miramar restaurant, a bar, a full-service spa, and Goop’s first hotel boutique. The guest bungalows and cottages are on this side too, connected by cobblestoned paths. Across the tracks is the a clubby beachfront restaurant Caruso’s (don’t miss the sea urchin), another bar, and the Beach House rooms and suites.

Room to Book

Of the hotel’s 161 rooms, 26 have direct beach access and terrace views to die for. Rooms from $825.

The Ritz-Carlton Bacara


The Villa’s rooftop at the Ritz-Carlton Bacara. Courtesy The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara

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One of the most glorious undeveloped stretches of California coastline can be found along the section of Route 101 between Goleta and Las Cruces. Right in the middle of it all, 15 minutes west of Santa Barbara, is this 78-acre property, which in the past couple of years has joined the Ritz-Carlton family and undergone a partial refresh.

The Vibe

Once guests arrive, the focus is on the natural surroundings, with activities such as coastal hikes, birding, and whale watching, coordinated through Jean-Michel Cousteau Ambassadors of the Environment. The 358-room resort is perfect for families, given the breadth of its programming and food options.

Room to Book

The spacious new two-story waterside villa has terraces offering prime whale-spotting vantages. Rooms from $299.

Alisal Guest Ranch & Resort

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Nearly 75 years ago, the first paying guests checked into the Alisal cattle ranch, located in the heart of Santa Ynez Valley wine country, about 30 minutes north of Santa Barbara. Still a working ranch, the 10,000-acre property is now a year-round resort, with 73 cottages, two golf courses, tennis courts, 50 miles of horseback-riding trails, and a lake for fishing and boating.

What’s New

This summer, the resort unveiled the Turner House, a three-room guest cottage outfitted by designer Nathan Turner in elevated California ranch style.

Room to Book

Guests can reserve the entire Turner House or any of the three rooms separately; the master bedroom comes with its own living area. Rooms from $625.