With blissful beaches, gorgeous architecture, and the famously scenic San Ynez mountains as a backdrop, Santa Barbara is a place like no other. Why not make your visit extra memorable by staying somewhere that’s just as unique as The American Riviera® itself? Start planning your getaway with this list of Santa Barbara hotels that are anything but ordinary.
As the longest continuously operating hotel in Santa Barbara, The Upham Hotel has been serving Santa Barbara with modern comfort and a slice of history. This 150-year-old hotel combines the charm of a bed and breakfast with the ease of a full service hotel. You’ll find the surrounding neighborhood teeming with unique eateries, inviting wineries and a wide array of historic theaters—all within walking distance. Bask in one of its 50 rooms during your stay, ranging from quaint cottages to luxurious suites. The Sycamore Suite offers the perfect refuge to rejuvenate with amenities like a cozy living room with a gas fireplace and wet bar, walk-in closet and a sizable spa-quality bathroom that overlooks the private garden patio.
Embark on an artistic adventure when you stay at Riviera Beach House on State Street. Along with its sophisticated blend of modern design and historic elegance, you can also browse the hotel’s collection of exhibition catalogues and publications by local luminaries in the Art Library and attend artist talks and openings. The artful theme continues to the hotel’s chic micro-guest rooms that make the most of limited space with clever design touches and vibrant décor. Riviera Beach House’s location is another perk: It’s within a short stroll to the Amtrak train station, the beach and the Funk Zone, with public bus and trolley stops at the front door, making it an excellent car-free lodging choice.
A whimsical world awaits when you book an overnight stay at this eclectic Santa Barbara lodging experience. El Zapato is not your average vacation rental. Architect Jeff Shelton created an unforgettable, life-sized art experience for your next stay in Downtown Santa Barbara. Think: Dr. Seuss meets Gaudi. Great for larger parties, guests can rent the entire space and take advantage of each unique section of this vacation rental. For smaller groups or solo travelers, individual spaces are available, beginning with the Turquoise Penthouse which includes panoramic rooftop views, a master bedroom, a gourmet kitchen, lots of living space and three full bathrooms. The Green Cabana is a one-bedroom apartment with an outside deck, while the Lobster Studio includes a private and tranquil courtyard to enjoy. While visiting, look for the lobster-themed tiles designed as a nod to the owner’s Maine roots.
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If you like to be in the center of the action, look no further than The Waterman in Santa Barbara’s burgeoning Funk Zone district. The Waterman combines the style and perks of a boutique hotel with the affordability and social vibe of a hostel—earning it the apt moniker “poshtel.” Choose from traditional private rooms or shared dorm-style rooms, all of which are outfitted with industrial-cool décor, premium bedding and free Wi-Fi. You can also take advantage of the daily complimentary breakfast, large community kitchen, on-site games and the Instagram-worthy pool. And thanks to The Waterman’s prime location just off State Street, you’ll be steps away from fantastic dining, shopping, wine-tasting and the seaside scene of East Beach and Stearns Wharf.
The Pistachio House provides travelers the unique opportunity to step into the mystical mind and extraordinary designs of Architect Jeff Shelton. Built in 2002 for the owners of Santa Barbara Pistachio Company, this standout vacation rental by Paradise Retreats treats guests to a stay in a vibrant, imaginative space—all within walking distance of the best Santa Barbara has to offer. Perfect for those traveling with up to six guests, this three-bedroom, three-bathroom rental is the ideal home away from home in Santa Barbara. Keep an eye out for the tile “blankets” that drape over the second-floor balcony and pistachio-inspired ironwork.
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Get a taste of the California country lifestyle at the Circle Bar B Guest Ranch. Tucked in the nearby hills of Refugio Canyon, this 1,100-acre treasure offers a variety of well-appointed accommodations, including ranch rooms, private cabins and cottages. You’ll have access to the ranch’s many amenities and activities during your stay, including the chance to explore Santa Barbara’s natural landscape on horseback. Whether you’re an experienced rider or it’s your first time in the saddle, the expert cowboys will ensure you have an unforgettable experience as you meander along mountain trails and marvel at ocean views. Afterward, take a dip in the pool or just curl up by the fireplace with a glass of wine. Circle Bar B provides the ideal combination of excitement and relaxation for your adventure.
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El Capitan Canyon is a camping (well, glamping)- lover’s paradise with nearly all the amenities of a typical hotel stay. Located just moments from the serene El Capitan State Beach, the secluded and expansive grounds are equipped with 15 miles of private hiking trails, a market, spa and seasonal wine tastings. Choose from elevated yurts (beds included) under the stars or cozy cedar cabins that will make you feel like you’re in a fairytale, and you’re set for a stay that is both close to nature and yet not too far from all the best Santa Barbara South Coast activities.
Escape from the outside world at the lavish Simpson House Inn, nestled into one of Santa Barbara’s most beautiful historic neighborhoods. The stunning Victorian estate sits on an acre of verdant and impeccably-groomed English gardens, and includes a restored 1874 Manor House, Carriage House and lovely cottages. You’ll have your pick of 15 unique rooms, all elegantly furnished and decorated with the Inn’s historical legacy in mind. Despite its supremely peaceful and private feeling, Simpson House Inn is only a five-minute walk from the boutiques, art galleries, museums, wineries and restaurants of downtown Santa Barbara. Your stay includes a wealth of complimentary amenities: gourmet breakfast prepared in-house daily, wine and hors d’oeuvres each night, loaner bicycles, beach equipment, board games and more.
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This intimate and inviting estate was built in 1895 and has a total of eight romantic suites in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara. Conveniently located near plenty of shopping, restaurants and iconic sight-seeing. A stay in The Windsor Suite allows guests to soak in amenities like a wood-burning fireplace, Keurig coffee maker and a private exterior. The estate is also available to be entirely rented out, as it is an ideal venue for events for up to 50 people (Think: weddings, birthdays, family reunions, etc.).
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Retreat to the foothills of Montecito for an unforgettable stay at San Ysidro Ranch. Serving as the only all-inclusive resort in the Santa Barbara South Coast, you’ll quickly see why this dreamy property has made a lasting name for itself since 1893. When you’re in the mood for an ultra-luxurious hideaway, San Ysidro Ranch delivers a world-class experience with 38-bungalow-style accommodations, sublime wine and dining options, tranquil spa services and secluded hiking trails. While it may be tempting to stay on property and never leave (we wouldn’t blame you), additional shopping, dining and outdoor adventures are just minutes away along Coast Village Road and throughout Montecito.
It’s no coincidence that the word “storybook” comes to mind when you see the Cheshire Cat Inn—this adorable bed and breakfast takes inspiration from Alice in Wonderland and the County of Cheshire in England. Located just a few blocks from downtown Santa Barbara, the inn consists of two Victorian Queen Ann houses and Craftsman cottages surrounded by flower-filled English gardens. All of the rooms are exquisitely decorated with antique furniture, whimsical paisley patterns and thoughtful touches like stained glass windows and fresh flowers; many are even themed around characters from the classic tale, including Alice’s Balcony Room and the Tweedledum Suite. Each morning you’ll enjoy a delicious homemade breakfast buffet, and after a long day of sightseeing, you can relax at the inn’s nightly social hour and nosh on tasty hors d’oeuvres and local wine.
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Design aficionados will love the colorful, surf-chic atmosphere of The Leta Hotel in Santa Barbara’s neighboring city of Goleta. This boutique hotel’s rooms feature an eclectic mix of textures and textiles, accented by dashes of nostalgia like mid-mod furnishings. The convenient location makes it easy to take a day trip to wine country or borrow a beach cruiser to pedal over to Goleta Beach. More than just a place to rest your head, The Leta Hotel prides itself on creating community, hosting fireside s’mores, yoga classes by the pool, trivia nights and live concerts by up-and-coming bands. You’ll also want to hit up the on-site CAYA Restaurant for fresh SoCal cuisine and innovative cocktails.
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Just a short distance from Santa Barbara’s most popular sights, the tranquility of the Secret Garden Inn and Cottages feels a world away. This magical retreat was originally built for a large family in 1905, and includes a main guest house and a variety of freestanding cottages hidden among high hedges and lush gardens. Each comfy room and cottage has its own appeal; some boast in-room fireplaces and private hot tubs. Complimentary breakfast is cooked every morning in the main building, luring you out of bed for coffee and just-out-of-the-oven baked treats on the terrace beneath the persimmon trees. The Secret Garden is a picture-perfect hideaway for a romantic couple’s weekend or girls’ trip—plus your canine pals don’t have to miss the fun, as several of the cottages are dog-friendly.
Image by Danielle Methmann
With a contactless, virtual check-in process that makes for a quick and easy arrival, this hotel’s sleek, modern amenities and coastal-cool design aesthetic makes a stay at Drift Santa Barbara a truly different hotel experience. This 45-room hotel offers a variety of rooms, starting with minimalistic bunkbed nooks all the way to a breathtakingly detailed penthouse suite that overlooks downtown State Street. Downstairs, you can get both your coffee fix at Dawn Café and cocktail cure at Dusk Bar.
Photo by Erin Feinblatt