9 Best Beach Resorts in Santa Barbara

In a magnificent setting between the mountains and the sea in Southern California, Santa Barbara has been a popular beach holiday destination since the late 1800s. Its warm sunshine and picturesque coast lured famous guests such as the Rockefellers and du Ponts, who came to be pampered at the palatial Potter Hotel on the waterfront at the turn of the 20th century. Today, the legendary hotel no longer stands, but visitors still come to bask at Santa Barbara's glamorous beach resorts, from the upscale enclave of Montecito in the south to the rugged ocean bluffs of Goleta in the north.

Most of the beach resorts cluster along Cabrillo Boulevard, right near downtown Santa Barbara. Stearns Wharf sits center stage here, with palm-lined beaches stretching in either direction, and the fabulous shops, galleries, and restaurants of State Street and the Funk Zone are a short stroll away. Popular things to do along Santa Barbara's beaches include surfing, sunbathing, paddleboarding, and swimming, and you can also bike or stroll along the beachfront bike path. Whether you're looking for high-end hospitality or an affordable home-away-from-home, Santa Barbara's best beach resorts offer easy access to the city's top tourist attractions as well as plenty of kid-friendly adventures.

1 Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara

Butterfly Beach
Butterfly Beach

Overlooking beautiful Butterfly Beach, in the posh neighborhood of Montecito, this romantic Spanish Colonial-style Four Seasons property is the queen of Santa Barbara beach resorts. Sophisticated old-world charm is the tone here, and this elegant Grand Dame has a star-studded guest list and spectacular setting. Beach views beckon from across the narrow road in front of the resort, and the Santa Ynez Mountains ripple behind, framed by palm-lined gardens with vibrant sprays of bougainvillea.

Most of the 202 charming rooms and suites here occupy the resort's two-story red-roofed main buildings, but if you're seeking a little more privacy, opt for the bungalows nestled in the lush gardens and linked by red-brick pathways. Typical features include fireplaces, high-quality cotton linens, deep soaking tubs, rain showers, and L'Occitane Mer or Bvlgari bath products.

Seasonal, locally sourced produce features on the mouthwatering menus of the four restaurants, which include oceanfront Bella Vista, with a sun-splashed marble terrace and an Italian-inspired menu. More dining options lie a short hop across the street at the resort's beach club, the Coral Casino Beach & Cabana Club. Other guest amenities include swimming pools, tennis courts, croquet, beach cruiser bicycles, a putting green, and golfing privileges at local courses. The sublime seaview spa offers a range of treatments and wellness programs incorporating Santa Barbara scents and experiences, and you can also keep fit at the state-of-the-art gym. "The Biltmore," as it's called by locals, is also pet-friendly.

Address: 1260 Channel Drive, Santa Barbara, California

Accommodation: Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara

2 Bacara Resort & Spa

Bacara Resort & Spa
Bacara Resort & Spa Harold Litwiler / photo modified

Perched atop an ocean bluff, about 13 miles from downtown Santa Barbara, Bacara Resort & Spa is Santa Barbara's only true oceanfront resort. Technically, it's in the city of Goleta in Santa Barbara County, but it's only a five-minute drive from the Santa Barbara airport. Bacara is an excellent choice for golfers as well as beach lovers, as it lies adjacent to Sandpiper Golf Club.

Evoking the feel of a Spanish village, this sprawling resort spans 72 oceanfront acres, punctuated by palms, splashing fountains, and three saline infinity pools. The Spanish-Colonial-style guest rooms and suites occupy one-, two-, and three-story white-washed villas and feature plush amenities, such as four-poster beds cloaked in Frette linens; private patios or balconies with garden, mountain, or sea views; deep tubs; and marble showers. Some suites add fireplaces that you can cozy up to in the winter. Dining is also a highlight at the resort's main restaurant, Angel Oak, with steak, seafood, and locally sourced produce.

If the sea views and soothing ocean sounds aren't relaxing enough, you can enjoy a pampering treatment at The Spa at Bacara, a multi-level pleasure palace with more than 60 treatments, an adults-only pool, redwood sauna, and eucalyptus steam room. Active guests will appreciate the four har-tru clay tennis courts and fully equipped fitness center, and the resort also offers complimentary yoga and pilates classes. Little ones are catered to here as well. The Monarch Kids' Club entertains five through 12 year olds during the summer and some holidays. You can also bring your pooch for an extra fee.

Address: 8301 Hollister Avenue, Goleta, California

Accommodation: Bacara Resort & Spa

3 Santa Barbara Inn

Santa Barbara Inn

In a superb location on the Santa Barbara waterfront, a short stroll from Stearns Wharf, the family-owned, boutique Santa Barbara Inn offers excellent value and warm, friendly service. Domes and towers cap the elegant Spanish-style buildings, and guests enjoy spectacular views across Cabrillo Boulevard to East Beach. Staying here also puts you within walking distance of attractions like the Santa Barbara Zoo, State Street, and Funk Zone restaurants.

Adorned in tropical decor, with a subtle Asian twist, all the recently renovated guest rooms are bright and spacious. They feature plush pillowtop beds and balconies with ocean or mountain views. The large bathrooms come with double vanities and heated floors, and the suites add Jacuzzi tubs and four-poster beds. Splashing out on the oceanview rooms is highly recommended. Adding to the excellent value, a continental breakfast is included in the room rates. It's served in the indoor/outdoor oceanview Convivo restaurant, which also serves lunch and dinner from a coastal-Italian-inspired menu spiced with Middle Eastern accents.

If you don't feel like hopping across the street to East Beach, with its broad stretch of sand and volleyball nets, you can relax by the heated oceanview pool and hot tub, enjoy a refreshing drink on the terrace, or tone at the fully equipped fitness center. Two children stay free in their parent's room as long as no other bedding is needed.

Address: 901 E. Cabrillo Blvd, Santa Barbara, California

Accommodation: Santa Barbara Inn

4 Harbor View Inn

Stearns Wharf opposite Harbor View Inn
Stearns Wharf opposite Harbor View Inn

Santa Barbara locations don't get better than this. The boutique Harbor View Inn sits in the heart of the Santa Barbara waterfront district. Stearns Wharf is directly across the street, with soft sand beaches stretching in either direction, and the hotel borders the start of State Street, the city's main drag. This intersection can be a little busy, but that's because the city's top tourist areas are only steps away.

All the cozy guest rooms and suites come with balconies or patios, and the ocean view rooms are definitely the pick of the bunch. Apart from the convenient location, standout features include the attentive staff and serene Spa Beaumontia, with a menu of soothing treatments. You can also relax by the palm-lined heated pool or take a dip in the Jacuzzi. Dining options include Mediterranean-inspired Eladio's, and you can also grab a snack at the pool bar and gourmet coffee shop. If these options don't satisfy your cravings, State Street and Funk Zone restaurants are right on the doorstep.

Address: 28 W. Cabrillo Blvd, Santa Barbara, California

Accommodation: Harbor View Inn

5 Hotel Milo

Directly opposite West Beach, less than a ten-minute walk to Stearns Wharf, Hotel Milo looks like a Mediterranean villa, with its potted flowers, date palms, and decorative wrought-iron accents. The hotel is named for the legendary Milo Potter, who established Santa Barbara's famous Potter Hotel on this very site in 1903.

The crisp, beachy guest rooms, some with ocean views, occupy two-story Spanish-style buildings. Terry robes and L'Occitane bath products are a little touch of luxury, and Dutch-inspired beach cruiser bikes are free for guests to borrow. When you're not cruising all the sites, you can sunbathe by the sparkling freeform pool, and work out at the fitness center. Rates include continental breakfast, but valet parking on the resort's grounds comes at an extra fee. Pet owners will be pleased to know that pooches are welcome here. The lush strip of lawn adjacent to the hotel is a popular hangout for pets and people alike, and the colonnade of date palms here once graced the entrance to the legendary Potter Hotel.

Address: 202 W. Cabrillo Boulevard Santa Barbara, California

Accommodation: Hotel Milo Santa Barbara

6 The Fess Parker - A DoubleTree by Hilton Resort

The Fess Parker - A DoubleTree by Hilton Resort
The Fess Parker - A DoubleTree by Hilton Resort | Photo Copyright: The Fess Parker

Set amid 24 acres of palm-studded lawns, The Fess Parker is a landmark hotel along Santa Barbara's popular beachfront area. This mission-style property lies in a fantastic location across Cabrillo Boulevard from East Beach. From here, you can walk to Stearns Wharf, the Funk Zone, and the shops and restaurants of State Street downtown. This is also a great family resort. It's a short walk to the Santa Barbara Zoo, and you can rent bikes with the kids and head across the street to the popular beachfront bike path. Warm chocolate chip cookies welcome you at check-in.

Spread out across the property, the large guest rooms and suites feature ocean, garden, or mountain views. All have private balconies or patios, and some suites come with whirlpool tubs. Dining options include Rodney's Grill, with steaks and locally sourced seafood, as well as more casual eateries. Guests also love the Olympic-sized swimming pool and Jacuzzi, fitness center, tennis court, and spa. As with most Santa Barbara hotels, pets are welcome.

Address: 633 East Cabrillo Boulevard,Santa Barbara, California

Accommodation: The Fess Parker - A DoubleTree by Hilton Resort

7 Harbor House Inn

Deluxe King Studio

In a relatively quiet neighborhood, this affordable little Mediterranean-style inn lies about a block back from West Beach and, although it's not directly on the waterfront, it deserves a special mention for its warm hospitality and good-value studios with fully equipped kitchens. This is an excellent option for extended stays, giving you a little more room and the freedom to prepare your own meals. Welcome breakfast baskets filled with fresh-baked banana bread and other goodies set a warm tone at check-in for guests who are staying more than one night, and the use of cruiser bikes and beach gear is available free of charge. The individually decorated guest rooms are all bright, cheery, and spotlessly clean. They feature comfortable beds with high-quality linens, coffee-makers, smart TVs with access to Netflix, and free Wi-Fi, and most come with well-equipped kitchens. In your spare time, you can relax and mingle in the outdoor courtyard or hop on one of the hotel's bikes and explore the picturesque beachfront. Limited parking is available on-site for free.

Address: 104 Bath Street, Santa Barbara, California

Accommodation: Harbor House Inn

8 West Beach Inn

West Beach Inn

This unassuming mid-range hotel sits in a lovely location, opposite West Beach and the Santa Barbara Harbor, about a ten-minute stroll away from Stearns Wharf and State Street. Strung along a three-story motel-style building, the rooms here are large and clean, with in-room coffee facilities and comfortable beds. All have two chairs and a small table on the patios or shared balconies, so you can relax outside and enjoy the sea views.

When you're not exploring all the nearby waterfront attractions, you can bask by the heated outdoor pool and soak in the Jacuzzi. Plenty of restaurants lie within walking distance, and the rates here include continental breakfast; parking; Wi-Fi; and even a turndown service with mints, something that you'd expect from a high-end hotel. The one and two-bedroom suites are great for families.

Address: 306 W Cabrillo Blvd, Santa Barbara, California

Accommodation: West Beach Inn

9 BEST WESTERN Beachside Inn

BEST WESTERN Beachside Inn

Opposite the Santa Barbara harbor, near West Beach, Best Western Beachside Inn offers dependable value, friendly service, and a fantastic location. You can walk to Stearns Wharf and lower State Street in about 12 minutes. The 60 guest rooms occupy two levels of a motel-style building and offer views of the ocean or the park across the side street. Pleasing touches are the coffee and hot chocolate in the lobby and freshly folded towels on the pool lounges. Continental breakfast is included in the rates, and one of Santa Barbara's best fine-dining restaurants, Toma, is just next door. Note that the hotel is currently undergoing renovations that are due for completion by July, 2017.

Address: 336 W Cabrillo Blvd, Santa Barbara, California

Accommodation: BEST WESTERN Beachside Inn

Discover destinations, find outdoor adventures, follow the journeys of our travel writers around the world, and be inspired.

More on California