Visitors have been falling in love with Santa Barbara’s many charms since the late 1800’s, after a writer praised Santa Barbara as “the pleasantest” spot in California and touted its health benefits. Solidifying the town’s identity as a resort destination, our lodging lineup reflects the evolution of the destination and our clientele over the decades, with an eclectic mix of historic resorts, boutique hotels, charming family-owned inns and hip hot spots. One of our accommodations category sweet spots is the “Upper Upscale” hotel, where you can enjoy some of the perks of a luxury resort at a more affordable price point. These 14 properties fit that bill and each offers something unique, between the settings, size, décor and guest amenities.
Another Cabrillo Boulevard favorite for family-friendly accommodations, Mar Monte Hotel sits right across from East Beach and the waterfront, palm-lined Cabrillo Bike Path. The Spanish Colonial-style hotel offers 200 spacious, breezy guest rooms and suites—several with balconies and ocean views. The relaxed Costa Restaurant & Bar serves breakfast and a menu of Spanish cuisine and tapas for dinner. The indoor-outdoor Café Lido overlooks the hotel’s pool and the beach and serves cocktails and light bites. Mar Monte Hotel is also pet-friendly, so furry friends are welcome. Other amenities include bike rentals, a fitness center and a concierge service.
Newly renovated Santa Barbara Inn anchors the Milpas Street and Cabrillo Boulevard intersection by East Beach. The stately four-level property embodies Santa Barbara’s white stucco and terracotta roof aesthetic with hand-tiled accents. Guests and locals alike congregate at the delectable Convivo Restaurant and Bar, equipped with indoor and outdoor seating. Convivo offers upmarket Italian fare and ocean views. The oceanfront terrace is just as enticing after dark, thanks to the fire pit and lanterns. The heated outdoor pool and jacuzzi area beckons with ocean views, while all 70 rooms have private balconies either overlooking the ocean or Santa Ynez Mountains.
Kimpton Canary Hotel is a deluxe boutique gem in the heart of downtown. You definitely don’t need a car while staying here, as you can walk or bike to nearly every attraction. The five-story, 97-room hotel is among the taller structures in town, which means the rooftop pool and deck feature stunning views of Santa Barbara’s signature “sea” of red tile roofs. The rooms are contemporary with Old World flair—including divine four poster canopy beds and hardwood floors. Finch & Fork serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and happy hour; it’s a gathering place for visitors and locals to pop into for farm-fresh fare. The restaurant’s bar just off the lobby is also popular for craft cocktails and lively ambiance. With yoga mats in every room, complimentary access to neighboring Gold’s Gym and free guest bikes, wellness is always within reach.
Hotel Milo was named in honor of Santa Barbara’s most prolific hotelier, Milo Potter, whose magnificent Potter Hotel helped put Santa Barbara on the map back in the early 1900s. Location is everything at the contemporary Hotel Milo, perfectly situated between Stearns Wharf and the Santa Barbara Harbor on the West Beach stretch of Cabrillo Boulevard. The 2.5-acre Spanish-style property features its own park, gardens and two glorious swimming pools. The 122 bright, airy guest rooms have a Mediterranean vibe with a white and blue palette and light organic touches like rattan, wicker and bamboo. A fleet of specially designed Dutch-inspired Republic Bikes are available for guest use, as is the bocce ball court. For sustenance, the Milo Market carries snacks and local wines and Chad’s Café is just next door.
Located near the University of California Santa Barbara in Goleta, the contemporary Hilton Garden Inn Santa Barbara/Goleta is one of the most competitively priced full-service hotels in town. The bright and cheerful 142-room property caters to business and leisure travelers with a 24-hour business center, complimentary Wi-Fi, fitness center, swimming pool and The Garden Grille restaurant. The Roof Top Bistro & Bar is an inviting gathering spot to relax and watch the sunset with cocktails and bites, while The Shop is a convenient 24-hour option for grab-and-go fare. The Hilton Garden Inn is just a short drive to the Santa Barbara Airport and an approximately 10-minute drive to downtown Santa Barbara.
Santa Barbara’s leading glamping hot spot, El Capitan Canyon, is nestled in a picturesque canyon that opens to El Capitan State Beach. The 300-acre nature lodging property offers all the creature comforts of a hotel in a camping type of environment. Choose from cedar cabins and canvas safari tents—all outfitted with willow beds, cozy down comforters and western blankets. A variety of cabin types and sizes are available, and all have their own bathrooms, decks and kitchenettes. Safari tents are perched on raised wooden decks and come with heaters and lights, and tent guests have their own designated communal bathroom facilities nearby. The Canyon Market & Deli serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and carries a stellar selection of supplies for grilling and snacking at your site—complete with local beers and wines. Guests also get complimentary access to bikes.
Another Goleta property in close proximity to University of California, Santa Barbara is The Steward, Santa Barbara, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel built on the grounds of a pioneering nursery established in the 1850s by Joseph Sexton. He is credited with introducing many of the trees and ornamentals Santa Barbara landscaping is known for today. His legacy remains evident on the property, which is home to one of California’s oldest Bird of Paradise plants and Chilean wine palms as well as heritage trees like Australian bunya, redwoods, cork oak, a Sexton Flame tree and more. The historic Sexton House is still standing, too. Enjoy gathering with family and friends at the indoor fireplace in the open lobby area, the outdoor swimming pool and hot tub, outdoor swing, fire pit and plenty of ample spaces throughout the property.
The oldest continually operating hotel in all of California, The Upham Hotel opened its doors in 1871 and has been a fixture of the community ever since. The historic landmark boutique 50-room inn spans the original hotel and surrounding garden cottages. The guest experience blends the intimacy of a traditional bed and breakfast with the amenities of a modern full-service hotel—Hollywood star George Clooney is among the property’s legions of fans. Guests are always well fed here, between the continental breakfast, afternoon wine and cheese hour(s) and milk and cookies in the evening. The onsite restaurant, Louie’s California Bistro, is also beloved by locals for leisurely lunches and fine dining dinners. And the location is ideal, in easy walking distance to downtown’s Historic Theatre District and State Street shopping.
Harbor View Inn couldn’t be in a better location at the intersection of lower State Street and waterfront Cabrillo Boulevard, steps away from Stearns Wharf, West Beach and the Funk Zone. A recent expansion added a few dozen more rooms to the family-friendly resort-style hotel, bringing the total to nearly 150 rooms and suites spread across multiple buildings. Every room has a private patio or balcony and guests have access to the palm-lined pool area complete with a jacuzzi, bar and ocean views. In addition to the Pool Bar restaurant, guests can order room service or take a short walk to Jeannine’s Restaurant & Bakery for breakfast or lunch.
The sprawling, Mediterranean-style Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort has been a fixture of Santa Barbara’s waterfront along Cabrillo Boulevard since the late Fess Parker opened it 1986 (Parker was an actor known for his roles as Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone in the 1950s and 60s). The 360-room property recently completed a multi-million-dollar renovation that made it even more inviting—from the serene guest rooms and sunlit lobby to the ultra-modern Fess Parker Wine Tasting Room—all reflecting a beachy, earthy palette. The resort features five restaurants in all, including The Set, where you can enjoy fresh ocean breezes while sitting around fire pits. The pet-friendly resort comes with many perks, including its own Hertz rental car desk and free airport and Amtrak transportation.
An adult-only boutique hotel, the Simpson House Inn is a serene hideaway tucked in a residential neighborhood a couple of blocks away from downtown State Street. Nestled on an acre of award-winning gardens, the 15 elegant and plush guest rooms are spread out between the main Victorian Manor house (built in 1874), the Carriage Barn and English Cottages. Known for its incredibly tasty cuisine, every guest stay includes a gourmet breakfast served in the main house or in-room. Other amenities include complimentary guest bikes and an on-site library. The menu of in-room spa treatments includes massages and facials.
The Palihouse Santa Barbara is another intimate property in downtown Santa Barbara. Surrounded by lush gardens in the Presidio neighborhood, the inn was built on the grounds of the former Santa Barbara School of the Arts, which was active in the early 1900s. The boutique property was transformed into an urban oasis, offering 23 spacious rooms and suites with private gardens, balconies and fireplaces. The public spaces include a pool, tranquil courtyards, a delightful garden café, cocktail bar and lobby lounge. Take a spin through the neighborhood on complimentary Linus bikes before booking a relaxing spa and massage service.
The Waterman is no ordinary hotel. This unique hotel located in the Funk Zone offers rooms that are compact, but all about comfort—and stylishly-appointed, to boot. The check-in desk doubles as a bar, and the common spaces are central to the hotel experience, with a community kitchen, dining room and games like Jenga, ping-pong and cornhole. The price is right and the likelihood of making new friends adds even more value at this Funk Zone hotel.
When The Leta Hotel opened in 2014, the Goleta hotel quickly became a go-to hot spot for locals and visitors alike. The laid-back boutique surf hotel centers around its communal spaces—Caya Restaurant and The Leta Bar. The swimming pool is quite the social scene, too. In summer months, live entertainment and daily happy hour deals keeps the pool and bar hopping, while the 158 surf-chic rooms are stocked with yoga mats and record players. Check its calendar of events for other happenings including local bands and DJs.