Santa Barbara, California, blessed with a Mediterranean climate, lovely coastline and red-tiled rooftops, is often called “The American Riviera.” If you are looking for great 5* hotels, fresh California cuisine, sunny days, and plenty of opportunities to taste local wine, then this is the place for you!! A three day (or four, if you can!) trip is the perfect getaway to soak up all this destination has to offer, and you will return home relaxed, with a happy tummy, possibly a membership to a wine club, and maybe even ideas on how you might permanently relocate yourself to this cute town someday…
Arrive LAX and collect rental car. Sure, there are flights directly into Santa Barbara, but they tend to be a little pricier and with connections. Instead, take a cheaper direct flight to LAX, and break up the drive up the coast with a stop at Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica for a cocktail and a snack on the Terrace of their Living Room. Or, stay for a full dinner at their romantic 1 Pico restaurant. No better people-watching than at the most chic seaside hotel in the area (it directly fronts the beach)! If you are lucky, you’ll be able to take in a beautiful sunset for free.
Make your way up the coast on Hwy 1 past Malibu to the 101, approximately a 1.5-2 hour drive depending on traffic. (Alternately, spend the night at Shutters, and head up to Santa Barbara the next morning.) Arrive late evening to the 5* Belmond El Encanto hotel, perched high on a hill, overlooking the town in a posh residential neighborhood. This historic property, originally built in 1918, underwent a seven-year, multi-million dollar renovation to emerge in 2013 as a 5* resort with chic bungalows done in either a Craftsman or Mission style. Check into your bungalow with fireplace and heated slate floors in the bathrooms, and drift off to sleep.
Enjoy your coffee breakfast (I highly recommend the huevos rancheros with fresh avocado slices and crumbly queso fresco!) on the expansive outdoor terrace of the El Encanto, soaking in the views of Santa Barbara and the Pacific below you.
The El Encanto has complimentary electric bikes for guests to use at their disposal, which is a very fun way to explore the town! Also, very mandatory as the El Encanto sits on a hill, so the electric feature is much-needed by day’s end to scoot you back home. Santa Barbara is very pedestrian and bike-friendly, with bike racks scattered all over, so secure your helmet, jump on the bike, and prepare to visit the town like a local today. First stop, and just a few minutes down the hill from El Encanto- the Santa Barbara Mission. Wander through the gardens, church, and cemetery to admire the architecture. Adult admission is $8 and docent tours are available.
After you’ve enjoyed your bike ride through town, zipping down State Street, the town’s main artery to enjoy some fresh air, and boutique shopping if you wish, arrive at local favorite Brophy Bros for lunch. A bit dive-y, this place is right on the Santa Barbara Harbor and is known for its no-frills seafood and clam chowder. Be prepared for a wait at this super popular spot- make it go by faster with a local ale while you watch boats sail in and out of the harbor. Take your time, you are in no hurry here! After enjoying Brophy’s delicious seafood with a view (I recommend the cioppino fish stew, served piping hot with parmesan on top!), enjoy a bike ride along the coastal path, stopping to poke your toes in the sand or join a local game of beach volleyball.
Before heading back up to El Encanto to freshen up for dinner, make your way by bike over to Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone. The name might sound odd, but this area, just between the 101 and the Pacific, is actually a revitalized neighborhood now filled with art galleries, restaurants, and tasting rooms. It is, after all, Friday, and you are on vacation, so why not cheers with a wine tasting at Santa Barbara Winery (the oldest winery in the county and also a part of the Urban Wine Trail)? Or, try any of the other cute tasting rooms in this area, such as Riverbench Winery.
You’ve tried the Urban Wine Trail, and biked – easily, in electric mode! – back up to your oasis in town, the El Encanto hotel. Get ready for dinner, and then hop in the El Encanto’s shuttle, which will take guests complimentary anywhere within a 5-mile radius of the hotel, which is most of Santa Barbara. Head back down to the Funk Zone, for a delicious dinner at The Lark. A hot spot in town, The Lark is hopping on a Friday night, so reservations are a must. Enjoy the lively atmosphere while devouring family-style dishes like crispy brussel sprouts (you will never dislike this vegetable again after trying this dish), grilled Spanish octopus, and caramelized diver scallops. After dinner, if you feel like staying out a bit, grab a drink at the nearby 7 Bar.
Today, set out on a full day of wine touring in the Santa Ynez Valley! But, let’s be smart about it, as wine tasting and driving don’t really mix. There are plenty of car services to drive you, but I really loved Wine Tasting Designated Drivers, who will actually drive YOUR car or rental, to the various wineries and back, at a lower cost than a typical car service. The company owner, Chris, drove us personally, and we loved the day we spent with him! As a local, he is very knowledgeable about the area and its wineries, and was able to help make suggestions for us while on the go. Highly recommend!!
The variety of micro-climates and west-east traversing mountains make this area perfect for growing grapes, and we had a great time trying out many different wines! We enjoyed tastings at Gainey (tasting in a cave or outdoors), Bridlewood (large, picturesque grounds), Beckmen (great grenache), Demetria (cutest outdoor tasting area), and Deirberg (tasting in a cute outdoor barn). Mid-tastings, we had a tasty al fresco lunch of paninis at the Los Olivos General Store. (There are many tasting rooms in Los Olivos itself- enough to wander around for an afternoon there!)
We ordered room service for dinner back at El Encanto and called it a day, but you could also pick up dinner en route back home, or try another of the area’s fantastic restaurants, such as Lucky’s in Montecito.
Enjoy brunch on the patio at El Encanto and either a walk around the neighborhood or perhaps a great massage at the spa before preparing to bid adieu to Santa Barbara.
Fly back home from LAX, dreaming about the Pacific, California cuisine, and cute vineyards.. and possibly plotting your return!!
*** end of trip (sad face) ***
Guests of Haute Holidays Travel will enjoy the following exclusive perks at Belmond El Encanto:
- Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
- Continental breakfast daily, for up to two in room guests served in the restaurant or room service
- $100 USD Resort or Hotel credit. Valid on food, beverage and spa treatments.
- Early check-in/late check-out, subject to availability
Now, the above itinerary was tailored for a couples getaway but may easily be tweaked for kids!! The Four Seasons Santa Barbara is a fantastic 5* property just on the edge of town by Montecito. It sits on the beautiful Butterfly Beach and features the adjacent members-only Coral Casino Club with Olympic-size pool, fitness center, and multiple food & beverage outlets. This mission-style property is lovely for couples as well, but families will enjoy the beach access and complimentary Kids For All Seasons program, not to mention its close proximity to the Santa Barbara Zoo!
Guests of Haute Holidays Travel enjoy the following exclusive perks at the FS Santa Barbara:
- Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
- Continental breakfast daily, for up to two in room guests
- $100 USD Equivalent Food & Beverage credit
- Complimentary access to the Coral Casino Club (typically an additional fee for guests in Superior and Deluxe rooms)