Haute Getaway: Picks For A Luxe Santa Barbara Retreat

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Hotel Californian Aerial
View of Santa Barbara’s Presidio neighborhood, including Hotel Californian (center)

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Hotel Californian / Visit Santa Barbara

With its several miles of postcard-perfect coastline, Santa Barbara, known as the American Riviera, is home to first-rate accommodations, fine dining, a rich art scene and, of course, incredible panoramas. It’s no wonder so many Hollywood A-listers have chosen to post up in the area, along with neighboring Montecito.

Haute Living recently made a jaunt up the coast from LA to check out new additions and visit a few faves in Santa Barbara. The result was a sublime weekend of wine, yachting and culture. Here, we share some musts and other attractive options for your own getaway itinerary.

Accommodations

Whether you prefer to overnight at a sprawling waterfront resort or at a more intimate property, Santa Barbara has a bevy of luxe options. One of our faves? The Montecito Inn, a historical property offering intimate, elegant accommodations.

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The welcoming entrance to Montecito Inn

Photo Credit: Montecito Inn

Built in 1928 by a small group of investors that included silent film actor Charlie Chaplin, the Spanish-style boutique hotel is a beloved local institution offering guest rooms and suites with Mediterranean-style furnishings, decor in warm earth tones and pastels and, above the ground floor, charming views of the surrounding area.  

The Montecito Inn has been owned and operated by the same family for the past few decades, a fact which is fully evident in the quality of service provided. Guests interact with knowledgeable and courteous staff members who deliver the kind of stay one expects from a high-quality property. You could even allow them to recommend a favorite at the Inn’s newly unveiled signature dining concept, The Monarch, or a cocktail at the property’s new Chaplin’s Martini Bar — although you’re unlikely to take a wrong step, no matter what catches your eye on the menus.

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The ultra-spacious Apartment at Montecito Inn

Photo Credit: Montecito Inn

All guest rooms at Montecito Inn include flat-screen TVs, complimentary WiFi, in-room safe, mini bar, turndown service and other amenities. The Inn also proffers luxury rooms and suites, such as those in its Luxury Wing, decorated in tones of cream, champagne, gold and French gray. In these you’ll find a mix of upscale comforts, such as automated curtains, white Italian marble fireplaces, Jacuzzi tubs and steam showers, separate sitting rooms and private balconies. Suites range from about 520 square feet (a solid choice is the third-floor Tower Suite, which affords glimpses of the mountains and ocean) up to the 1,400-square-foot Apartment, featuring a master bedroom with king bed, guest bedroom, kitchen, and anything else one could possibly need for an overnight stay.

Just a stone’s throw away from the Montecito Inn and offering a different kind of luxury experience is the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara. A longtime retreat for Hollywood celebrities and America’s who’s who, the historical property oozes a singular laid-back glamour while offering a long list of first-rate amenities — tennis courts, swimming pools, an award-winning spa, Jose Eber salon, Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club, and more.

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Bella Vista’s patio at Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara

Photo Credit: Four Seasons

Situated on famed Butterfly Beach, the beautiful, 200-room, Spanish Colonial-style Four Seasons also boasts the Bella Vista Restaurant, complete with picturesque patio; and the Ty Lounge, serving the Biltmore Fuerte aka “The Official Drink of Santa Barbara” made with Cutler’s bourbon, strawberry syrup, Thomas Wildfire Honey and lemon juice.

A few other luxurious options include Rosewood Miramar Beach, scheduled to open in early 2019; The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, currently undergoing a number of exciting refreshments (such as the addition of a club lounge); and the new and stunning Hotel Californian, with its Moorish-themed decor and Turkish-inspired Majorelle Spa.

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The reception area at Hotel Californian

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Hotel Californian / Visit Santa Barbara

Eating And Drinking

Whether you’ve checked into the Montecito Inn or not — run, don’t walk, to The Monarch, the property’s recently unveiled new restaurant concept, now serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Out of desire to elevate its dining game, the Inn partnered with chefs Phillip Frankland Lee and Margarita Kallas-Lee, the husband and wife team behind Scratch Restaurants, whose culinary arsenal includes Scratch | Bar & Kitchen, cocktail lounge Woodley Proper, and omakase speakeasy Sushi | Bar, all located in Encino.

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Abalone a la Flambadou at The Monarch

Photo Credit: Jakob N. Layman

Prior to starting his own ventures, Executive Chef Lee paid his dues in the kitchens of Chicago’s praised Alinea and L2O restaurants as well as cooked with Angeleno chefs Quinn Hatfield and Stefan Richter. Lee’s also showcased his talents on TV’s Chopped, Cutthroat Kitchen and Top Chef. Kallas-Lee, who formerly worked as a model before fully committing to the life of a chef and restaurateur, is a gifted pastry chef and sometimes incorporates the flavors and techniques of her native Latvia into Scratch Restaurants’ desserts.

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Phillip Frankland Lee and Margarita Kallas-Lee, the chefs behind Scratch Restaurants, at The Monarch

Photo Credit: Jakob N. Layman

At The Monarch, you can experience the duo’s inspired brand of scratch cooking, which makes the most of what local ingredients are fresh and in season. Whether you start your day with eye-openers such as the Brioche French Toast (with seasonal fruit compote and lavender whipped cream) or tuck into some savory dishes later in the day (melt-in-your-mouth short rib slathered with red wine and mustard and slow roasted; mussels stewed in orange, white wine, butter, cardamom, onions and herbs de provence; or abalone with bone marrow, Meyer lemon, capers, white wine, parsley and bread crumbs), you’ll be satisfied as well as delighted. End your evening at Chaplin’s Martini Bar at Montecito Inn, with one of the vintage-inspired cocktails.

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A strawberry mousse at The Monarch

Photo Credit: Jakob N. Layman

If you venture into town for a bite or find yourself pausing during a day’s exploration, downtown Santa Barbara’s Bibi Ji is beloved by locals and visitors alike seeking creative Indian fare. It’s the latest restaurant by chef Jessi Singh and wine maker Rajat Parr, who also have establishments in New York and Melbourne. With so many excellent curries, tandoori meats and street food dishes at Bibi Ji, it may be best to elect the Chef’s Tasting, which will have Singh selecting favorites to share with the table. No matter what, the uni biryani — fresh local sea urchin stuffed with fried rice — is definitely a must.

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Local sea urchin stuffed with biryani at Bibi Ji

Photo Credit: CollinDewell / Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara

A short distance from downtown, in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone neighborhood, you’ll find more excellent dining options. If you have trouble choosing, you’re not the only one. To help narrow your choices, we can recommend turning to Acme Hospitality, which has become the largest restaurant group in Santa Barbara for good reason — everything they do is carefully concepted and well executed. Check out Loquita for Spanish-style tapas; The Lark for artisanal upscale dishes served family-style; and Lucky Penny for wood-fire pizza. Or try the brand-new Tyger Tyger, which serves modern Vietnamese dishes and shares space with an Asian-inspired ice cream counter (Monkeyshine) and coffee shop (Dart Coffee).

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The new Tyger Tyger from Acme Hospitality

Photo Credit: Rob Stark / Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara

Of course we would be remiss to discuss a weekend in Santa Barbara without also making mention of the area’s incredible wineries and tasting rooms. More than two dozen wineries comprise Santa Barbara’s Urban Wine Trail, each one as distinct as the people behind it. The heaviest concentration of these tasting rooms is in the Funk Zone, followed by downtown, making it easy to walk or bike between tastings. Of course it’s also a good reason to explore all the distinct neighborhoods on the Wine Trail — the Funk Zone, La Arcada, Midtown, downtown’s Presidio and Summerland.

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Santa Barbara is renowned for its many vineyards and unique wine scene

Photo Credit: Jay Sinclair / Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara

Doug Margerum, founder of Margerum Wine Company, has been on the local wine scene for more than 30 years. Visit Margerum’s courtyard tasting room in the Presidio’s historic El Paseo to try wine by this experienced maker and sommelier. Expect sauvignon blancs, grenache rosés, and white Rhône blends; on the red side of things, Margerum says his wines are fruit-forward and made following Burgundian traditions and techniques.

Or if you’re looking for a more conventional take on winemaking, visit Sanguis in Midtown. Here, in a converted warehouse setting, grapes from the Santa Ynez and Santa Maria valleys are made into small-production Rhône varietals under the watch of vintner Matthias Pippig and team. Pippig began his operation without formal training, learning instead by embracing a hands-on approach. Maybe that explains why Sanguis’ resulting wines somehow manage to communicate attitudes of curiosity, confidence and playful irreverence as they delight the palate.

Relaxation

A weekend getaway focused on rest and relaxation doesn’t have to preclude a full itinerary so long as you select your activities with care. The spa is a natural place to start — and the city has some excellent ones. It may not get any better than The Spa at Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara, a 12,000-square-foot parcel of heaven on earth, featuring ocean views, rose gardens and in-suite soaking tubs and steam showers.

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Listen to ocean waves while enjoying a treatment at The Spa at the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara

Photo Credit: Four Seasons

Guests of The Spa can look forward to enjoying a restorative experience, such as a therapeutic massage, in a serene treatment room, or better yet, an ocean-view spa suite. Let your therapist crack open a door to the suite’s private terrace so you can hear the waves crashing in harmony with the crackle from the in-suite fireplace. The ambiance, combined with the scents of rosemary massage oil and the sage growing on property, will melt away your stresses.

Or take your spa experience underground with a visit to the Salt Cave, a holistic health center comprised of caves featuring more than 60 tons of 200-million-year-old pink crystalline salt imported from Pakistan. Halotherapy — the practice of breathing in micro-particles of salt found in such air — is believed to have a number of benefits, including support of respiratory health, bone strength and vascular function; promotion of restful sleep; regulation of water and blood sugar; and others. Schedule time for a salt scrub, yoga class, aromatherapy treatment or reiki healing.

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Take your treatment underground at the Salt Cave for a Halotherapy session

Photo Credit: Ciro Coelho / Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara

Excursions

If the weather’s nice — and in Santa Barbara, it almost always is — head to the serene and highly photogenic Ganna Walska Lotusland, consistently named on lists of the world’s best gardens. The 37-acre public botanic garden is located in a quiet residential area (reservations are always required) and was created by Polish opera singer Ganna Walska, who passed away in 1984 and left her estate, garden and fortune to the Ganna Walska Lotusland Foundation.

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A lemon arbor at Ganna Walska Lotusland is among the estate’s botanical delights

Photo Credit: Bill Dewey / Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara

Delight in more than two dozen different gardens showcasing 3,000-plus plants from all over the world, including rare and exotic specimens alongside more common ones: cycads, cacti, palms, ferns, aloes, water lilies, bromeliads and, yes, lotuses. Enjoy an adventurous amble through the extensive Cactus Garden, with cacti organized according to their country of origin. Or revel in the whimsy of the Topiary Garden, boasting a bona fide circus of verdant animals, such as a camel, giraffe and gorilla. End your visit with a meditative spell beside the Water Garden (once the estate’s swimming pool) filled with species of Lotusland’s namesake flower.

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Roses at Ganna Walska Lotusland estate and gardens

Photo Credit: Lotusland / Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara

Whether you opted to spend the earlier part of the day among Lotusland’s greenery or not, you will want to head toward the water as the sun starts to sink in the sky. Set sail on one of Santa Barbara Sailing Center’s cruises, allowing a capable captain to mind the vessel while you concentrate on admiring the views at sunset. SBSC’s 50-foot catamaran, the Double Dolphin, limits capacity to just 41 passengers and sets sail almost daily along the American Riviera’s coastline, making it possible to glimpse dolphins, whales, sea lions and other maritime creatures amid a festive group atmosphere. Don’t worry about packing any nosh or refreshments as you’ll find beer, wine, champagne, water, sodas and snacks for purchase onboard.

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Santa Barbara Sailing Center offers cruises and yachts for private charter, among other options

Photo Credit: Blake Bronstad / Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara

Want more privacy or more flexibility? No problem. SBSC also offers yachts for private charter with a U.S. Coast Guard-certified captain for up to six passengers, available for a few hours or  a full day. Know your way around a yacht and want to participate? Your captain will happily allow you to help him or her sail the craft. Or you can always just sit back, relax and enjoy the experience with your guests.

Shopping And Exploration

If you’d rather stick to dry land, we recommend some retail therapy along Coast Village Road, a charming area adjacent to the Montecito Inn. Here you’ll find a collection of chic shops specializing in fashion, jewelry and gifts (Allora by Laura, Daniel Gibbings, J.McLaughlin, Julianne, K.Frank, Maison K., Whistle Club) as well as eyewear (Occhiali).

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Julianne fashion boutique is among the shops in the Coast Village Road area

Photo Credit: Kim Rierson / Courtesy of Visit Santa Barbara

Downtown Santa Barbara is another option for shopping and exploration, with historic State Street, the Presidio neighborhood, and the surrounding area offering a wide variety of shops by major brands, local favorites and artisan retailers. Books, jewelry, art, cigars, rugs and more all await your perusal. Of special note is Caroline Diani’s inspired home goods store Diani Living (she also owns and runs multi-brand clothing boutique Diani as well as Diani Shoes in downtown Santa Barbara).

Another standout home goods purveyor is The Blue Door, boasting three floors of vintage and modern items, including furniture, art, lighting and other objets d’art. Crossing its cerulean threshold means venturing into Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone, a unique district southeast of downtown, situated between the ocean and Highway 101. Throughout the creative neighborhood you’ll find galleries, wine tasting rooms, singular restaurants, artisan workshops and so much more. To spend an afternoon exploring this colorful community is to be inspired at every turn.

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