Where to Stay in Santa Barbara: Best Areas & Hotels

Written by Karen Hastings
Updated May 20, 2021
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Santa Barbara has been a chic vacation destination since the late 19th century. Today it's still known for its stylish hotels and resorts. Whether you want a glamorous weekend getaway, a romantic escape, or a family beach vacation, you'll have plenty of appealing choices.

The best area to stay in Santa Barbara depends on what you want to do during your visit. If you're seeking a sun, sand, and sea vacation, consider one of the popular family-friendly Santa Barbara beach resorts. Most of these lie along Cabrillo Boulevard, near Stearns Wharf and the hip restaurants and entertainment venues of the Funk Zone.

Santa Barbara's luxury hotels sit mostly along the waterfront or tucked in the Santa Barbara foothills. For fabulous shopping and restaurants, the best area to stay is downtown, close to many of the top things to do in Santa Barbara. And if you're looking for a hotel with views, a stay at the Belmond El Encanto, nestled in the hills overlooking the city and sea, will show you why this beautiful town is known as the "American Riviera."

Where to Stay in Santa Barbara for Luxury

View from the Santa Barbara County Courthouse Clock Tower
View from the Santa Barbara County Courthouse Clock Tower | Photo Copyright: Karen Hastings

Opened in 2019, the long-awaited Rosewood Miramar Beach is one of the best hotels in Santa Barbara. This is a prime pick for Hollywood celebrities - especially now that the Four Seasons Resort Santa Barbara is temporarily closed for an extensive revamp.

Presiding over one of Santa Barbara's best beaches, Rosewood Miramar Beach conjures the feel of a palatial family beach house. The stylish rooms sport a Pacific Ocean palette with pops of blue and white. In their spare time, guests can tickle the ivories on the grand piano, feast on Italian coastal cuisine at Caruso's, indulge at the five-star spa, and play croquet on the sweeping lawns with mesmerizing ocean views.

For a peaceful hilltop hideaway with spectacular views over Santa Barbara and the sea, Belmond El Encanto is a top luxury choice - especially for a romantic stay. Perched on Santa Barbara's "Riviera," the resort lies in a quiet residential neighborhood about a five-minute drive from downtown Santa Barbara. You're also just minutes from the magnificent Mission Santa Barbara.

Belmond El Encanto's accommodations are as romantic as the setting. Typical features of the resort's light and airy bungalows include marble bathrooms with heated floors, comfy beds dressed in crisp linens, and deep soaking tubs. Some of the suites add fireplaces to snuggle beside on cool nights.

Slightly more affordable than Santa Barbara's other five-star luxury hotels, the Hotel Californian sits in a fantastic location a short stroll from downtown shops and restaurants - and the beach. Modern Moorish decor mixes with Spanish Colonial Revival-style architecture here, and some rooms have beautiful ocean views. Guests can bask around the rooftop pool or enjoy a treatment at the Turkish-inspired spa.

When it comes to dining, the Hotel Californian has you covered. Goat Tree café has a lovely sun-splashed patio, and the excellent Blackbird restaurant is a Mediterranean-influenced fine-dining affair. You'll also find plenty of other restaurants, shops, and entertainment venues nearby.

Where to Stay in Santa Barbara: Mid-Range Hotels

Ocean view from Santa Barbra's beachfront bike path
Ocean view from Santa Barbara's beachfront bike path | Photo Copyright: Karen Hastings

Across the road from East Beach, the Spanish-style, family-owned Santa Barbara Inn offers excellent value in a superb location. From here, you can walk to top attractions, like the Santa Barbara Zoo, Stearns Wharf, and Funk Zone restaurants. Adding to the value here is the free continental breakfast; an inviting outdoor swimming pool; and spacious rooms.

In the heart of downtown shopping and restaurants, the pet-friendly Kimpton Canary Hotel is perfect for travelers who want to stay near all the action. This is one of the "cool" places to stay in Santa Barbara. Foodies will love the Finch & Fork restaurant here, which is also popular with the locals. The rooms and common areas feature elegant Spanish Mission-style decor, and the rooftop pool reveals beautiful mountain views. Feel like a dip in the ocean? You can access the beach via a five-minute shuttle ride for a small fee.

Homey and affordable, the family-owned Harbor House Inn sits in a quiet residential area a block back from West Beach and the beachfront bike path. As the name suggests, it's also a short hop from the Santa Barbara Harbor, where you'll find excellent seafood restaurants and the departure point for whale watching trips.

Harbor House Inn is one of the best value Santa Barbara boutique hotels. The bright, spacious studios come with kitchenettes and super comfy beds, making this an excellent option for longer stays. Other perks include welcome baskets packed with home-baked goodies (for stays of two nights or more), expanded cable TV options with Netflix and Hulu, and free use of bikes and beach equipment.

Where to Stay in Santa Barbara on a Budget

Stearns Wharf
Stearns Wharf

Despite Santa Barbara's reputation for high-priced hotels, affordable accommodation options are still available close to downtown.

For bright, cheerful rooms at a price that won't break the bank, the retro, motel-style Agave Inn is one of the best budget hotels in Santa Barbara. It sits on Santa Barbara's main drag, State Street, about a five-minute drive from downtown and steps from popular shops and restaurants. Friendly staff; free continental breakfast; and features like iPod docks, microwaves, and mini-fridges in the rooms add to the value here. Some rooms come with kitchenettes.

For a reliable chain option, the Holiday Inn Express Santa Barbara is in a convenient downtown location. It's about five blocks from Stearns Wharf and the beachfront bike path. The Historic Landmark building and Spanish Revival decor make a stay here more atmospheric than typical budget chain hotels, and the free breakfast is a wonderful perk.

Where to Stay in Santa Barbara for Families

Kayaking at the Santa Barbara Harbor
Kayaking at the Santa Barbara Harbor | Photo Copyright: Karen Hastings

Wondering about the best Santa Barbara hotels for families? You'll find plenty of choices - especially near the Santa Barbara waterfront, where biking along the Cabrillo bike path makes sightseeing a breeze.

From Marina Beach Inn, you can walk to Stearns Wharf and the Santa Barbara Harbor, or hop on one of the free bikes with the kids and pedal your way into town. This family-owned hotel sits on a residential street and is known for its warm hospitality and friendly service. Perfect for families are the rooms with two queen beds, a twin sleeper sofa, and kitchenettes. Complimentary continental breakfast, tea and coffee, and afternoon cookies, are other high points here, and the hotel also offers free parking.

A short stroll from the volleyball courts on East Beach, Pacific Crest Hotel is a great choice for active families. The Santa Barbara Zoo is a five-minute walk away, and the hotel is also within walking distance of Stearns Wharf and the whimsical water-themed children's playground at Chase Palm Park.

The rooms at Pacific Crest Hotel have a bright, beachy feel, and the double-queen rooms can accommodate two adults and two kids. When you're not basking on East Beach, or riding one of the hotel's complimentary bikes along the beachfront path, you can splash around with the kids in the sparkling clean pool. Rates include a continental breakfast with fresh-baked goodies.

Where to Stay in Santa Barbara for Couples

Mission Santa Barbara rose garden
Mission Santa Barbara rose garden | Photo Copyright: Karen Hastings

Snuggled amid an acre of English gardens, Simpson House Inn is a perfect choice for a luxurious couples getaway. This boutique hotel lies hidden behind hedges in a residential neighborhood close to downtown. The elegant, individually styled guest rooms occupy an 1874 Victorian house, a restored barn, and four cute cottages. And the decor matches the romantic mood here. Typical features include antique furnishings, sumptuous linens, and cozy sitting areas, and select rooms come with four-poster beds, fireplaces, and whirlpool tubs for two.

Prefer to immerse yourself in nature? Opt for the ultra-luxurious San Ysidro Ranch. Tucked in the foothills of Montecito, this high-end hideaway has a history of hosting Hollywood legends. John and Jackie Kennedy holed up here for their honeymoon.

The charming, individually decorated cottages huddle amid the oak-studded gardens. Antiques and four-poster beds echo the ambience of romance and nostalgia, and other features include stone fireplaces, indoor/outdoor showers, sunken hot tubs, heated floors, and private decks and gardens. Feeling peckish? The Stonehouse restaurant serves up innovative cuisine using fresh produce from the chef's garden. And if you really want to escape to nature, you can wend your way along the 17 miles of hiking trails through orange blossoms, lavender, and eucalyptus.

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