Southern California

Where to Stay in Santa Barbara: the Six Best Hotels and Hideouts

Which version of Santa Barbara would you like?

The coastal town, just a 90-minute drive from Los Angeles, is an intoxicating mix. It is a young city, thanks to the nearby University of California, Santa Barbara, with plenty of art and nightlife. It is a town of sandy beachfronts, perfect for summer fun. It is also the unofficial southern edge of Central California’s wine country, with plenty of wineries in the city and many more a short drive to the north.

For me, Santa Barbara represents all of it. It’s known as the American Riviera and it is an apt comparison; when I arrive here, it feels like an adult Disneyland – a medley of food, drink, sun, and relaxation that is every bit as fun to me as the rollercoasters and entertainments of the House of Disney. Sitting at the beach, watching the sunset with a concealed glass of local wine in hand, is better than any end-of-day firework show.

Want to see for yourself? Here’s where to stay while exploring Santa Barbara.

Star-Studded Luxury on the Beach in Santa Barbara

A city can’t have the nickname “the American Riviera” without some star power, and Four Seasons The Biltmore provides that in spades. The rich and famous often find themselves here (the guests at Kim Kardashian’s first wedding stayed here), with a picturesque view of the beach and all the pampering one can handle.

A $240 million renovation at the turn of the century helped The Biltmore (originally opened in 1927) feel contemporary, while simultaneously nodding to the resort’s history. What it didn’t change is its commitment to luxury, with spa services and its own neighboring beach club, the Coral Casino, at their beck and call. Along with guest rooms that each feature their own unique layouts, there are 12 bungalows for rent with amenities like plunge pools, outdoor fireplaces, and al-fresco dining setups.

The resort is a stone’s throw from Butterfly Beach, a local favorite, and there are great Mexican, Italian, and Chinese restaurants within a short walk. However, the point of The Biltmore is to escape and hide out from the world for a while. With everything you could need available at the hotel itself, you can spend a week here without leaving the resort.

Four Seasons The Biltmore Santa Barbara

Top rated
Santa Barbara
9.0 Excellent (1178 reviews)

A Little Bit of Everything in Santa Barbara's Presidio District

Around the corner from the city’s greenspace centerpiece Alameda Park and Plaza, the Simpson House Inn is in the city’s Presidio neighborhood, which is home to several wine tasting rooms, great restaurants, and so much of the city’s interesting history. With the beach still less than two miles away, the Simpson may be in one of Santa Barbara’s best locations.

Presidio has its own category on the city’s Urban Wine Trail, and with good reason; the eight wineries and tasting rooms there are almost on top of each other – five of them are literally on the same block. However, it’s also got an interesting history — it’s named after the Presidio of Santa Barbara, a Spanish military institution, and it used to be Santa Barbara’s Chinatown and Japantown. It is a district where cultural fusions are common, like Bibi Ji’s combination of modern Indian food with a natural wine-centric bottle list.

The Simpson House Inn has earned its 9.5 trivago rating with its free bike rentals, menu of massage options (done in-room), and complementary breakfasts. The grounds themselves are gorgeous, with fountains, fire pits, and plenty of outdoor seating; relax under the sun with a glass of local wine and a book for a vacation from your vacation.

Simpson House Inn

Santa Barbara
9.5 Excellent (473 reviews)

A Santa Barbara Hipster Haven with Concerts, Records and S'mores

What once was a Holiday Inn is now the Kimpton Goodland, renovated and turned into a funky, hip boutique, with an art gallery, a vinyl record library and poolside yoga classes.

Next to Santa Barbara Airport and close to the University of California, Santa Barbara, the Goodland is the result of a 2014 renovation that turned the budget property into a hipster paradise.

To go with the hotel’s “evening social hour” in the lobby, there are s’mores kits for use at the firepits onsite at the Good Bar and Outpost, free bicycle rentals, board games and a concert series, making the resort feel like a community.

In terms of location, those free bikes can easily take guests to Goleta Beach Park and Isla Vista, home of the local University of California campus. In addition, staying in Goleta gives the traveler a head start on drives to central coast California wine favorites like San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles. Meanwhile, it’s still only a few minutes from Santa Barbara proper and the full assortment of wineries on offer there.

Kimpton Goodland

Goleta
7.6 Good (1164 reviews)

Film History and Modern Fun in Santa Barbara

Ranked by trivago as a “Popular Choice” hotel, the Montecito Inn is a small classic property, one with almost a century of history along with plenty of modern charms.

Charlie Chaplin developed the hotel in 1928 as an escape of sorts from Los Angeles (15 years later, he would marry his wife here as well). At one end of the popular Coast Village Road, lined with shopping and restaurants, the Inn is within walking distance of so many of the charms of the small Santa Barbara-adjacent town, and only a half-mile away from the beach.

Despite its age, the Inn itself is a modern property, both in its public places and private rooms. There is complementary Wi-Fi throughout, a workout room with treadmills and elliptical machines, and in-room spa services. The hotel’s restaurant, Sushi|Bar, is helmed by Phillip Frankland Lee, a competitor on the popular cooking show “Top Chef,” and it gets some of the best reviews in the city for its titular cuisine.

Montecito Inn

Santa Barbara
8.4 Very good (1717 reviews)

Hostel Community With Hotel Comfort in the Funk Zone

The Wayfarer is technically a hostel, thanks to four dorm-style rooms, but the rest of the living spaces are private rooms with en-suite bathrooms. A budget option for the Santa Barbara area, it still features plenty of creature comforts, along with a perfect location in the city’s artsiest district.

The hotel is just south of the 101 freeway in what’s known as the city’s “Funk Zone” neighborhood, which is loaded with winemakers, restaurants, art galleries, and vintage shops. It’s only a half of a mile to West Beach, less than a mile to Stearns Wharf, and less than two miles to Santa Barbara Zoo.

Back at home base, a heated pool awaits those tired of the ocean waves, while a communal kitchen allows for a home-cooked meal or two. The rooms themselves feature fun touches like wooden cabinets and rotary phones for a comfortable, retro feel, while still including free Wi-Fi access.

There are free bicycles and board games to rent. Regular events like pub crawls and wine tours create the sense of community sometimes found in hostels, while still allowing most people to go back to their own private space at the end of the day.

The Wayfarer

Top rated
Santa Barbara
8.9 Excellent (909 reviews)

Luxury and Lots of Wine in Santa Barbara's "Funk Zone"

For those who want to retire from the buzzing scene of the “Funk Zone” to the lap of luxury, Hotel Californian makes for an oasis. The highly rated, five-star resort sits right between the Pacific Ocean and the middle of Santa Barbara’s nightlife, making it easier to have a little bit of everything while visiting.

There are more than 15 different wineries and bottle shops within a half-mile radius, meaning that even the most dedicated wine tasters will be occupied for days. In between swigs of vino, hotel guests can hop down to West Beach or the waterfront-adjacent Chase Palm Park for a stroll or swim. It’s even steps from the Amtrak station, giving visitors quick access to downtown Los Angeles for a day trip, if so desired.

On the property, the Californian offers plenty of food and beverage options of its own, with the café Goat Tree, the farm-to-table restaurant Blackbird, and the poolside drinks and snacks of Tan-Tan. The “game library” includes everything from the board game “Clue!” to a Nintendo Switch, meaning even on one of the city’s rare rainy days, the fun doesn’t have to stop.

Hotel Californian

Top rated
Santa Barbara
9.2 Excellent (514 reviews)