With its Mediterranean-tile roofs and a shoreline that literally glitters under the sun, vacationing in Santa Barbara, California, feels miles away from the Golden State. Think French or Italian Mediterranean. This is why the region is fondly — and accurately — referred to as the American Riviera. A quick walk downtown from the beach yields many options for global, eclectic dining and if you play your cards right, by staying in or near downtown Santa Barbara, you likely won’t need to rent a car. Funk Zone is an offshoot of the surrounding wine region but easy to access on foot as it’s downtown, home to winery tasting rooms with fun events and food menus. Here are 10 of the best Santa Barbara boutique hotels far from cookie-cutter and heavy on style and intimacy.
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Kimpton Canary Hotel
Although part of the Kimpton Hotels & Resorts brand, the Canary Hotel carries a unique identity. Spanish-style architecture, including ornate tile work in the guestrooms’ baths and some exterior spaces, is in abundance. Like its sibling hotels, pets stay free. Each room flaunts a four-poster iron-work bed frame draped with Italian Frette linens. Also on the property is a rooftop pool (the only downtown Santa Barbara hotel to have one), with an accompanying lounge; and Finch & Fork, serving farm-to-table meals. Borrow a loaner bicycle to access the neighborhood — and arrive back by the nightly hosted wine hour.
On State Street and near the Funk Zone, the 121-room luxury hotel is blessed with interior design by celebrity designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard. The Spanish Colonial-Revival-style architecture and Moroccan-inspired interiors are both romantic and dramatic. While initially opened in 1925, fits and starts mean it’s not been continuously operating but the style definitely feels vintage-y. Since its 2017 opening, this has been a coveted booking for luxury travelers. Blackbird is the hotel’s dinner-only eatery with ocean views and plays a strong mixology game, too, with signature cocktails (like “Anyone for Tennis?”) and dishes such as local yellowtail crudo or local halibut.
With its pin-striped outdoor sofas and loaner bicycles with wicker baskets, the 122-room Hotel Milo is cute as a button. Just a block in from Shoreline Drive, which hugs West Beach, a mix of rooms and suites feature color palettes inspired by the nearby water. Two heated outdoor pools are the tools for further relaxing and a market on the property sells items such as cheese, wine, and fruit so you can easily have a bite to eat or pack a picnic. This is also a pet-friendly hotel, they greet all dogs at check-in with treats.
Palihouse Santa Barbara
With sister properties in LA and San Francisco, plus Portland, Oregon, Seattle, and Miami Beach, this is a design-forward downtown hotel, with plaid seat cushions, houndstooth pillows, SMEG fridges, and lots of wicker throughout the 24 rooms, plus petal-pink vintage umbrellas at the pool and outdoor lounge). Book a standard room or the grand dame: El Apartamento, 823 square feet with a kitchenette. All have a private balcony or garden, fireplace, deep soaking tub, and an espresso machine, as proof that all luxury needs can be met. The hotel is also pet-friendly and is within the former Santa Barbara School of the Arts.
Blue Sands Inn
Across the street from East Beach, this 12-room pet-friendly hotel celebrates the region’s iconic Spanish-style architecture plus an outdoor pool and a freshly revamped look of this 1950s-era property, folding in many local artists’ works. This includes hand-felled countertops born out of locally fallen woods, plus rotating art. Many rooms feature a full kitchen, a view of the ocean, or a fireplace, checking off all the boxes for comfort. Pick up a loaner beach cruiser to further explore, including a myriad of restaurants and markets, and the adjacent Funk Zone.
El Encanto, A Belmond Hotel
While not in downtown Santa Barbara, the Riviera neighborhood is equally enticing for its Pacific Ocean views and sprawling estate-like vibe from a hillside perch. At the seven-acre resort, amenities include a spa and plenty of dining and wine-ing (a restaurant, bar, and lounge), plus fun food-infused activities like bellini brunch on Sundays paired with live jazz or a guided hilltop hike followed by a picnic. Rooms, suites, and bungalows (a total of 92) are an artful blend of California craftsman and Spanish Colonial design influences.
Mason Beach Inn
This darling 45-room property is fresh off a renovation, now sporting design details like banana-leaf-motif wallpaper in the guest rooms, and — in the lobby — framed pool images and crisp blue-and-white upholstered furnishings. In the three suites is an additional bedroom and bath to further spread out. Wrought-iron railings and rattan accents further add to this beachy ambiance, fittingly located three blocks from West Beach.
Tucked into downtown Santa Barbara, this 17-room adorable property straddles coastal-chic and Haute-historic design, with knotty-wood headboards, anchor-printed blankets and pillows, and rope mirrors in the guest rooms, for example. After all, it’s named after the late sea captain Salisbury Haley. Like many Santa Barbara hotels, the exterior is all about Mediterranean design with a clay-tile roof. The hotel is also pet-friendly.
Riviera Beach House
Get the best of both worlds here: thick in the downtown action but also close to the beach. Home to a Mexican restaurant (Santo Mezcal by Los Agaves, with dishes like ceviche, octopus with chili oil, and salmon topping grilled pineapple) popular with locals, this 41-room hotel on State Street is two blocks from the beach, pier, and Funk Zone. Art murals and splashy room décor liven up the mood, too. To spread out a little and have alfresco privacy, book one of the garden patio rooms, which grants you access to your own private outdoor space. Regardless of room category, each room features a Keurig machine and plush robes.
Brisas Del Mar Inn at the Beach
As its name implies, this hotel is near the beach — West Beach, to be exact. Yet it’s also surrounded by restaurants in downtown Santa Barbara. Dusty-pink, adobe-style walls; tiled steps to the pool; and red-clay roof tiles are a dramatic entry to the 31 cozy rooms, suites, and penthouses. Included in all rates are a continental breakfast and afternoon wine hour. Grab a bicycle loaner for a quick jaunt to the beach, including the oceanfront bike path.