Where to Stay in Santa Barbara

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Updated: November 21, 2023
By Santorini Dave

Our Favorite Hotels in Santa Barbara

• 5-Star: Belmond El Encanto
• 4-Star: The Upham
• 3-Star: Inn at East Beach
• Beach: Ritz-CarltonHarbor View
• For Couples: Simpson House Inn
• For Families: Ritz-Carlton
• Best B&B: Cheshire Cat Inn

Beach hotel in Santa Barbara.

Stearn’s Wharf and the Harbor View Inn in Santa Barbara.

Best Areas to Stay in Santa Barbara

Nestled on a long stretch of open coastline, Santa Barbara is everything you could want from a California beach getaway. About 100 miles north of Los Angeles, this is where Southern California ends and Central California begins. Santa Barbara is best known for its broad, sandy beaches, high-end luxury hotels, and status as a celebrity hotspot. Coined “The American Riviera” because of the similarities to Mediterranean seaside towns, it’s a haven for boating, wine, luxury travel, art, and beachgoing. What makes this beach town unique is that it is also a mountain town. The Santa Ynez Mountains offer beautiful hiking trails and a dramatic backdrop to the city. Founded by the Spanish in 1782 this history can be seen at the 18th-century Old Mission Santa Barbara (the only California mission with twin bell towers) and in the distinctive downtown historic Spanish architecture. After a devastating earthquake in 1925, most of Downtown was rebuilt in the lavish “Santa Barbara Style,” a mix of Mediterranean Revival, Spanish Colonial Revival, and Mission Revival.

Santa Barbara averages more than 283 days a year of sunshine and is a great vacation destination any time. The best time to visit Santa Barbara is from March to May or from September to November. Temperatures are fairly mild year-round, hovering in the 60s and 70s, but traveling in early spring or fall ensures you won’t be fighting crowds and hotel rates will be less expensive. In general, it’s smart to dress in layers when visiting Santa Barbara. Mornings and evenings can get a bit chilly, especially if there is fog, but if the sun peeks out in the afternoon, you’ll be quite comfortable in shorts or summer clothes. Santa Barbara is an upscale beach town as well as a college town, and there are many options for hotels in this sprawling beach city. However, these options are also a bit pricey in general. Even motels and budget hotels can easily cost over $200 per night.

The most popular place to stay in Santa Barbara is the neighborhood of West Beach, with its many ocean view restaurants, shops, the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, and the Museum of Natural History Sea Center. West Beach also has a beautiful wide stretch of beach with a great bike and walking path.

West Beach and East Beach are separated by historic Stearns Wharf. East Beach is more laid-back and less touristy than West Beach. You’ll find a beautiful beach with more than a dozen volleyball courts as well as picnic tables. There are a few big resorts in the East Beach area that cater specifically to families as well as a few budget-friendly hotel options.

Just inland sandwiched between East and West Beach, you’ll find the 10-block area between State Street, Garden Street, Montecito Street, and Cabrillo Boulevard known as the Funk Zone. This formerly industrial area has been taken over by artists who have turned the abandoned warehouses into studios, restaurants, bars and breweries. The Funk Zone is also home to the city’s urban wine trail. Best known for eating and nightlife, there are not many places to stay here, but it is easy to access from the rest of the city.

Head further up State Street and cross Highway 101 to find the Haley Corridor, a small but bustling micro-neighborhood of Downtown buzzing with wineries, breweries, casual restaurants, and trendy bars. The neighborhood consists of the stretch of Haley Street between State Street and Milpas Street and extending a block or two out on both sides of Haley. North a little farther takes you to the heart of Downtown, packed with museums, upscale boutiques, and a wide variety of restaurants. You’ll find the famous Santa Barbara Public Market here as well as the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (with a large collection of Monet paintings), and the Santa Barbara Courthouse where you can climb the clock tower for a spectacular view of the city. This charming section of town offers the best rates on hotels since it’s not beach adjacent.

The beachside community of Montecito is synonymous with luxury and glamour. This is where the celebrities have their homes and it is the ultimate in luxury in Santa Barbara. This chic enclave is located about 5 miles from Downtown. Hotels are pricey, luxurious, and exclusive here. Montecito is also a great place to stay for the outdoors with numerous trails, parks, and gardens.

There is also the neighboring town of Goleta, located about 9 miles west of the city, yet still inside Santa Barbara County. Goleta is home to the University of California at Santa Barbara and has a much more local vibe. This is a great option for a more budget-friendly beach vacation but away from the heart of Santa Barbara.

Best Places to Stay in Santa Barbara

The best place to stay in Santa Barbara.

The fantastic Belmond El Encanto overlooking downtown Santa Barbara.

Best Areas in Santa Barbara for…

Where to stay on the Santa Barbara Beach.

The Harbor View Inn – great location on West Beach, but still an easy walk to downtown Santa Barbara.

  • Best Neighborhood in Santa Barbara to Stay for First Timers: East Beach or West Beach
    East Beach offers easy access to the beach, Santa Barbara Zoo, and Downtown. Even though it’s a bit removed from the center of town, you’re never more than 10 minutes from anywhere in the city. This section of beach offers a quieter, more laid-back option and is perfect for a first-time visit. West Beach offers a good balance between being close to the beach and the Funk Zone, and just a short walk or ride from the sights of Downtown (the Downtown Shuttle zips up State Street from Stearns Wharf). Staying at West Beach means easy access to the restaurants on Stearns Wharf and to the harbor, where there’s the fish market and seafood spots such as Brophy Bros. Also here is the Los Baños Del Mar Pool (open to the public), and the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum.
  • Best Neighborhood in Santa Barbara for Sightseeing: West Beach or Downtown
    When it comes to sightseeing, there are two main interests, the pier and the Spanish architecture. If you want to be close to the beach and the wharf area, then West Beach is the best option. Here you’ll find Stearns Wharf, a deep-water pier and California’s oldest working wharf (built in 1872), filled with shops, restaurants, and the Museum of Natural History Sea Center. Most of the city’s historic sights are in Downtown. The old Spanish Presidio buildings are preserved as a state park here as well as the grandiose Santa Barbara Courthouse, with its clock tower open to visitors. Downtown hotels are also closest to the big attractions at the northern end of the city: the 1786 Old Mission Santa Barbara, known as “the Queen of the Missions,” Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, and Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.
  • Best Neighborhoods in Santa Barbara for Nightlife: Downtown, West Beach, or Funk Zone
    There are nightlife options Downtown, in West Beach, and in the Funk Zone. That being said, Santa Barbara is not a metropolis like Los Angeles and San Francisco, and you won’t find extensive nightlife options here. State Street, the main street in town, runs from West Beach through the Funk Zone and into the heart of downtown. The street is full of bars and restaurants the entire way. Known for its converted warehouses and graffiti murals, the Funk Zone is the home of some of Santa Barbara’s best bars and happy hours as well as great wine-tasting venues. The Funk Zone is the best place to be at night in Santa Barbara, with 16 wine tasting rooms, excellent restaurants and a plethora of bars (include craft breweries), all within walking distance. We like the tiki cocktails at Test Pilot, the wines at Area 5.1 Winery, and the craft beers at Topa Topa. There are not many places to stay here, but many hotels in West Beach lie within strolling distance, and it’s otherwise a short taxi ride to Downtown. In Downtown itself, the lower parts of State Street are also popular nightlife territory, with Institution Ale Co, and Night Lizard solid picks. The Institution Ale Co, and Good Lion, further up State Street, is good for cocktails, and there are several clubs nearby.
  • Best Neighborhoods in Santa Barbara for Food and Restaurants: Funk Zone, Downtown, and Haley Corridor
    There are more than 450 restaurants in Santa Barbara to choose from that are scattered throughout the city and its outskirts. You’ll find great beachside dining at restaurants such as Convivo (East Beach), the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company (Stearns Wharf), and Brophy Bros. (West Beach), famous for its oysters and incredible views. Santa Barbara has four restaurants included in the latest Michelin guidebook spread throughout town: The Lark in the Funk Zone, Barbareño and Belmond El Encanto in Downtown, and La Super-Rica Taqueria in Haley Corridor/Milpas, once Julia Child’s favorite spot for tacos – her review of this restaurant brought the California taco its notoriety and fame. Restaurants are amazing throughout Santa Barbara, but three neighborhoods stand out. The Funk Zone contains some of the most fashionable places to eat: Loquita for Spanish food and Mony’s Mexican Food. Downtown Santa Barbara boasts some old-time classics, like Andersen’s Danish Restaurant & Bakery and Joe’s Café. But there are plenty of newer flavors, such as the Indian dishes at Bibi Ji, the sandwiches at Three Pickles, hip Opal, and Indonesian-inspired Sama Sama Kitchen. The Santa Barbara Public Market has an excellent food court. For a more cutting-edge scene, head to the Haley Corridor, where there’s Buena Onda Empanadas, Cajé coffee roasters, and excellent Mexican food at spots such as Los Tarascos and Lito’s.
  • Best Neighborhoods in Santa Barbara for Families: East or West Beach
    There is an abundance of things to keep the whole family happy in Santa Barbara. Based in East or West Beach, you’ll find beautiful beaches and options for biking, surfing, sea kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and beachcombing. Historic Stearns Wharf is an easy walk from both beaches and where you’ll find the family-friendly Museum of Natural History Sea Center. The museum is an interactive marine facility where kids can get up close with marine animals from the Santa Barbara Channel.
Beach in Santa Barbara with luxury hotels.

Butterfly Beach along Channel Drive in Santa Barbara.

  • Most Romantic Neighborhoods in Santa Barbara: Montecito and Downtown
    Santa Barbara offers many options for a romantic getaway, but Montecito is the ultimate choice for romance. The affluent streets of Montecito are perfect for a couple’s getaway, with posh shops, spas and exclusive cafés and coffee shops frequented by the rich and famous. The hotels here are very expensive and very luxurious. Miramar Beach here is one of the most beautiful and exclusive stretches of sand in the region, while nearby Butterfly Beach is known for its dreamy sunsets – unlike most of Santa Barbara’s beaches, it faces west. Another great romantic getaway tucked into the hills above Downtown is Belmond El Encanto. They offer private bungalows with numerous personalized touches like a pillow monogrammed with your initials.
  • Best Neighborhood in Santa Barbara for Shopping: Downtown
    The streets of Downtown Santa Barbara are crammed with distinct and diverse shops, from vintage stores to gift emporiums and art galleries. The 1920s mall, La Arcada Plaza, just off State Street, is an especially charming place to shop. Paseo Nuevo is a more conventional, if upscale, mall further along State Street. Other notable stores on State Street include Punch Vintage, the Closet Trading Company consignment shop, and the Free People fashion store. There’s also a Marshalls department store, an Apple store (of course), and all the major fashion brands.
  • Best Neighborhoods in Santa Barbara for Walking: Montecito, East Beach, and West Beach
    The beach is very popular with visitors for walking and biking. Head to the strand where you’ll find a bike path parallel to the beach. You can also stroll on the pier and visit the many restaurants and shops and take in the “vacation vibe” of the town. The Montecito area is also home to more serious walking and hiking options. For a strenuous hike with spectacular views of the coastal area, head up Cold Spring Trail. For an easy hike, try Hot Spring Canyon Trailhead.
  • Best Neighborhood in Santa Barbara for a Local Vibe: Haley Corridor
    For a break from the glitz of Downtown and the tourists along the beach, wander the Haley Corridor. It’s a blend of no-frills Mexican taco joints, restaurants, hip coffee roasters, craft beer makers, and indie galleries. Check out The Mill artisan marketplace and swing by Low Pigeon for coffee, before strolling north to Buena Onda Empanadas or up to La Super-Rica Taqueria. Don’t miss the excellent food and two bocce courts at old-school Arnoldi’s Café.
  • Safest Areas of Santa Barbara
    In general, Santa Barbara as a whole is a safe town and the crime rate is below the national average with the most affluent area, Montecito, being particularly safe. While it is considered very safe, standard precautions apply at night. It’s also worth noting that like most beach cities, you can find some interesting characters out and about, especially near the beach.
  • Unsafe Areas of Santa Barbara
    Santa Barbara is about as safe a community as you can get for a California beach city. In the tourist districts (around State Street and Stearns Wharf) you might see some occasional panhandling. There is a small area on the East side at the base of the Riviera and another small area on the west side near the base of the Mesa that might be considered less safe. Truthfully, you are quite unlikely to end up in these out-of-the-way residential areas. Similar to elsewhere in the world, don’t put yourself in unsafe situations like walking alone at night and you should be fine.

The 7 Best Neighborhoods in Santa Barbara for Tourists

West Beach in Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara’s West Beach.

1. West Beach

The most popular place to stay in Santa Barbara is the neighborhood of West Beach, a wide but short swathe of sand hemmed in between Santa Barbara Harbor and Stearns Wharf. with its many ocean view restaurants, shops, and the Museum of Natural History Sea Center. The yacht-filled harbor features Brophy Bros. and the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. The upscale Castillo Inn located here offers great value and is just half a block from the beach. There are several boat tours and whale-watching excursions that leave from this section of the beach. Of course, West Beach also has a beautiful wide stretch of beach with a great bike and walking path. The Los Baños Del Mar Pool is an excellent (and cheap) public swimming pool just by the harbor. There’s also MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation, Santa Barbara’s newest attraction. Access to West Beach is easy thanks to the Downtown Shuttle between Stearns Wharf and Downtown (along State Street), and the Waterfront Shuttle to East Beach and the zoo. West Beach offers a wide selection of accommodation, though this area can also be pricey.

2. East Beach

East Beach is a great choice for first-time visitors, families, and those who prefer peace and quiet. While it is a bit further from the center of town, you are never more than 5 or 10 minutes from anywhere. East Beach lies east of State Street and Stearns Wharf, where the beach itself is narrower but much longer than West Beach and not so crowded. At the far eastern end are the famous East Beach Volleyball Courts, the lavish Bellosguardo Mansion, and Santa Barbara Zoo. The central section of the beach is dominated by Hilton Beachfront Resort. Wheel Fun Rentals has an outlet here, with rental Surreys and cruiser bikes ideal for riding along the boardwalk. Staying in East Beach can seem a little isolated from the rest of the city, though it is quieter, and the Waterfront Shuttle runs from the zoo along Cabrillo Boulevard to Stearns Wharf, West Beach and Santa Barbara Harbor every 30 minutes.

3. Funk Zone

Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone is a relatively small district, a roughly square neighborhood of old warehouses between East and West Beaches, roughly bound by State Street to the south, Hwy-101 to the west, Garden Street to the north, and the ocean/Cabrillo to the east). Home to the city’s burgeoning art scene, the Funk Zone is brimming with artisan shops, art galleries, hip eateries, 20+ wine tasting rooms, and award-winning microbreweries. It’s also developed a cutting-edge dining scene, with names such as The Lark and Loquita, along with Lucky Penny for wood-fired pizzas and Mony’s Mexican Food, known for their barbacoa and their chicken burrito. The Urban Wine Trail is also anchored in the Funk Zone, with 16 of its 30 tasting rooms located here. It’s not just wine, though: Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co offers craft beers, while Cutler’s Artisan Spirits distills gin, whisky, and vodka. This 10-block area is a great option for anyone looking for art, nightlife, and close access to the beach There are only few places to stay in the Funk Zone itself, but most of the hotels in West Beach are just a short walk away.

4. Downtown

State Street in downtown Santa Barbara.

State Street is main thoroughfare through downtown Santa Barbara. Very walkable and filled with shops and restaurants.

Downtown Santa Barbara lies a mile or so inland from the beach, best known for its shopping, restaurants and distinctive “Santa Barbara Style” architecture – a blend of Spanish Colonial Revival and other Mediterranean architectural styles. Downtown is also crammed with historic attractions, including El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park, which includes El Cuartel, the second-oldest building in California, built by the Spanish in 1788. Nearby is the Santa Barbara Historical Museum and the excellent Santa Barbara Museum Of Art. It’s also worth checking out the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, a monumental Spanish Revival pile that offers sensational views from its 70-foot clock tower. Just north of Downtown is the landmark Old Mission Santa Barbara. One of the highlights of Downtown is the food scene and you’ll find two restaurants included in the latest Michelin guidebook: Barbareño and Belmond El Encanto. One of the most famous restaurants in the heart of downtown is the upscale Mexican restaurant and celebrity hotspot, El Paseo, known for hosting parties for Ginger Rogers, Salvador Dali, Quentin Tarantino, and Jennifer Lopez. Here you’ll be close to the Santa Barbara Public Market, an upscale food hall featuring food from a range of cuisines and prepared by some of Santa Barbara’s favorite chefs. State Street is easy to explore by foot or via the electric Downtown Shuttle that runs its length (every 15 minutes) – the shuttle also makes a loop through the Funk Zone before turning around at Stearns Wharf.

5. Haley Corridor

The Haley Corridor – anchored by Haley Street between State Street and Milpas Street, but encompassing a couple of blocks either side – is a hip, up-and-coming neighborhood known for its small-batch breweries and wineries (Potek is a favorite), innovative restaurants, Mexican taco joints, coffee shops, and bars. The old feed mill, built in 1904 on the corner of Laguna and Haley, has been converted into a marketplace containing not just Potek Winery, but Third Window Brewing (craft beers), Catherine Gee Fashion, Cajé Coffee, and several other small businesses. The Haley Corridor is fun to explore on foot, though there are few hotels here. It’s an easy stroll or taxi ride from Downtown or the beach.

6. Montecito

For a real splurge, Montecito is the place to stay. Montecito is Santa Barbara’s upscale suburban neighbor, some five miles east of Downtown. Numerous celebrities live in the huge mansions that run along the palm-lined streets (Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry and Megan Markle among them). Get a glimpse by touring the Casa del Herrero, a lavish 1925 Spanish Revival mansion, or stroll the busy strip of Coast Village Road, home to high-end boutiques, bakeries and cafés (the “Upper Village” area lies further inland along East Valley Road). A hotel with a Hollywood history is the Spanish-style Montecito Inn built in 1928 by Charlie Chaplin. There’s also a botanical garden, Lotusland, and over 15 walking trails into the hills with spectacular views of the coastline. Head to Coast Village Road for a see-and-be-seen experience. The top dining options here are Caruso’s, Honor Bar, and Bettina. The beaches here are also lovely, beginning with sandy Butterfly Beach in the west then east to the celebrated surf break at Hammonds Point, the calmer waters of Miramar Beach, and the sands of Fernald’s Point.

7. Goleta

The coastline of Goleta Beach Park in Santa Barbara.

Goleta Beach Park in Santa Barbara.

Goleta is a great choice for travelers interested in tranquility, beautiful scenery, and being oceanside. It’s also a great option if you’re looking for an authentic, locals-only experience. Located about 10 miles north of Santa Barbara, Goleta is the home to the University of California at Santa Barbara. Beyond the decadent Ritz-Carlton, which offers views of coastal bluffs along 2 miles of natural beach as well as 3 zero-edge swimming pools and a full-service spa, hotels tend to be much more reasonably priced than Santa Barbara.

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About Santorini Dave

Santorini Dave Author Bio. Santorini Dave was started in 2011 by a guy who loved Greece, travel, and great hotels. We're now a small team of writers and researchers on a mission to deliver the most helpful travel content on the internet. We specialize in Santorini, Mykonos, Athens, and Greece and recommend the best hotels, best neighborhoods, and best family hotels in top destinations around the world. We also make hotel maps and travel videos. I can be contacted at dave@santorinidave.com.