From boutique shopping on State Street to fine dining at highly-acclaimed restaurants, there are a number of compelling reasons to head to the coastal Southern California city of Santa Barbara (also referred to as The American Riviera).
Whether you’re into outdoor sports, adventures in nature, or relaxing, leisure activities, featured here are the places to see and things to do in Santa Barbara, including luxury resorts to trendy hotspots.
The Ultimate Luxury Travel Guide to Santa Barbara
To help you plan a truly memorable vacation in Santa Barbara, today’s luxury travel guide shares the ultimate places to stay and play, plus unique dining experiences and more in sunny Santa Barbara.
Where To Stay in Santa Barbara
When it comes to luxury hotels in Santa Barbara, there’s nothing as majestic and breathtaking as the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara, located just a few miles from downtown Santa Barbara, set in between the Santa Ynez mountains and the Pacific Ocean.
This picturesque, tranquil resort is a dream-come-true for visitors both near and far. Captivating your attention at every turn, once you step onto this gorgeous property, you’ll feel instantly whisked away to an exotic oasis.
Set on 22 acres of lush, tropical gardens and overlooking the expansive Pacific Ocean, this spectacular resort is truly a sight to behold. Built in the 1920’s (but recently renovated with modern amenities and glamorous decorative accents), this Spanish colonial style property instantly makes you feel like you’ve waltzed into an exclusive, old Hollywood retreat that was created for the privileged few.
While the property is rich in history and culture, its contemporary updates and chic atmosphere make it a destination spot for celebrities, trend-setters, the social elite, and even legendary rockers (like Depeche Mode, who was staying there during our visit).
The Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara is a world-within-itself, including 207 luxury guest rooms and suites, a full-service spa, the prestigious José Eber Salon (which celebrated its anniversary during our visit), a state-of-the-art fitness center, swimming pool and sunbathing deck, tennis courts, fine dining, and even shopping at the resort boutiques.
With so many activities and experiences to indulge in, you could easily be satiated spending all of your time at the resort. But, if you feel inclined to venture out into the city, read on…
Where To Play in Santa Barbara
When you want to explore the surrounding area, start by walking across the street from The Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara to the Coral Casino Beach & Cabana Club, which is a private membership club, situated atop Butterfly Beach.
Built in 1937 (but recently under-going a $60 million-dollar renovation), this pristine club has been the play-place for Hollywood royalty for the past century. This oceanfront beach club is still a happening scene, often frequented by wealthy socialites and celebrity guests (like the award-winning American television and radio host, Larry King).
In addition to an Olympic-sized, heated swimming pool, private cabanas, a large hot tub (overlooking the ocean), private beach access, fitness center, members-only 3rd floor sundeck, and a restaurant, the Coral Casino Beach & Cabana Club now includes the ocean-view Tydes Restaurant & Bar, which features an incredible wrap-around bar with a live aquarium underneath it.
This exclusive club is only accessible to Four Seasons’ resort guests, club members and their guests, and visitors from other country clubs (who have reciprocal privileges). If you’re lucky enough to get into the property, you’ll be rewarded with unfettered access to one of the most prestigious beach clubs in California.
If you don’t make it to the Coral Casino Beach & Cabana Club this trip, don’t fret. The serene Butterfly Beach is still accessible by all, as it’s one of the beautiful public beach in Santa Barbara.
Great for picnics by the bay, an afternoon kite-flying, exhilarating surfing, or lounging on the sand, the Santa Barbara beaches are one of the must-see places in the area.
Where To Eat & Drink in Santa Barbara
Of course, no luxury vacation is complete without fine dining. Boasting farm-to-table restaurants and award-winning eateries, Santa Barbara offers a number of exceptional fine dining experiences that give you a taste of local flavors.
To start your day, head to the Bella Vista Restaurant at the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara for a delicious buffet brunch. From an assortment of fresh fruits, decadent pastries, and breakfast dishes, the buffet also includes an omelette bar, made-from-scratch by a chef, with the ingredients of your choice.
If you’re feeling inclined to be a social butterfly during your Santa Barbara trip, meet up with locals and visitors by joining the Eat This, Shoot That! tour. Led by a local tour guide, this food and beverage tour is a unique and fun way to learn about local spots, including eateries, wine bars, and even spirits’ producers.
Plus, it gives you an opportunity to meet other folks (some locals and others who are just visiting), since the tour has about 10 people participating in it.
The Eat This, Shoot That! tour in the hipster-cool Funk Zone district includes 8 tastings, bites, & sips from local restaurants and artisans. Visit interesting local spots such as the Deep Sea Winery, Santa Barbara Shellfish Co, Lucky Penny, Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co, Cutler’s Artisan Spirits, Riverbench Winery, Koval Confections, and Mony’s Tacos. During your tour, you’ll get to indulge in pizza, tacos, ceviche, wine, spirits, and beer.
Thanks to our insightful Eat This, Shoot That! tour guide (Graham), he taught us all about how the Funk Zone district developed over the past several years, and gave us tips on which restaurants to hit up during our trip.
Another unique spin on this food tour is that you can even learn how to improve your food photography skills by getting tips from the ETST tour guide (who also happens to be a photography expert!). How fun is that?!
As the sun starts to set, it’s time to celebrate happy hour. For great cocktails and lively conversation, swing by the romantic Ty Lounge at the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara. This ritzy lounge serves Spanish tapas in an swanky waterfront setting, making it the perfect place to cheers with that special someone.
As the evening rolls on, there are a few outstanding restaurant options to consider, depending on your mood.
One option is the Cielito Restaurant, which is a trendy Mexican eatery featuring local, seasonal cuisine, a raw bar & cocktails in a chic, airy venue. As you stroll from State Street down through a beautiful Spanish courtyard surrounded by twinkling lights and blooming flowers, tucked away in the back is this charming Mexican restaurant.
Whether you eat outside (next to the bubbling courtyard fountain, listening to live music played by a guitarist), or you head indoors, you’ll enjoy the flavorful, unique dishes (like Braised Lamb Tacos and Cazuela de Chorizo) that are served at this must-visit dining spot.
Another wonderful dining choice in Santa Barbara is actually a relative newcomer to the local foodie scene. Located in the uber-cool Funk Zone, The Lark Santa Barbara has only been open about 3 years, but has quickly become one of the most popular places in the city (and for good reason!).
This jumping hotspot is an urbane eatery in a former fish market, offering New American fare in wood-lined quarters with a patio. With its industrial decor, cozy ambient lighting, and bustling social scene, this trendy upscale restaurant is a great place to see-and-be-seen.
Not to mention, the farm-to-table dishes are bursting with flavors and beautiful presentations. Menus are locally sourced, using seasonal ingredients based on the abundant bounty available on the Central Coast. Plus, the friendly staff (like our server, Sean) truly make you feel like you’re at home, no matter where you’re visiting from.
Even when dinner ends, it doesn’t mean your evening has to! Take a short 15-minute drive up into the hills of Santa Barbara to enter the exclusive world of the Belmond El Encanto, one of the premiere luxury resorts in the area. This picturesque property boasts expansive views of the city and ocean, from atop the hill, making it the ideal spot for after-dinner drinks with your loved one.
As you can see, Santa Barbara offers a plethora of luxury resorts, fine dining, enjoyable activities and amenities for you to indulge in. If you’re planning a summer vacation with your family, stay tuned, as Inspirations & Celebrations will be publishing a family-friendly travel guide to Santa Barbara next week!
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[Image Credits: Inspirations & Celebrations; Anna Delores Photography (José Eber Anniversary Party photo). Disclosure: Complimentary accommodations were provided by Four Seasons The Biltmore Resort & Spa and Eat This, Shoot That. All opinions are my own.]