Where To Stay in Santa Barbara
Nestled in central California 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, Santa Barbara feels much more like a town than a city. 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 as the American Riviera, because of the similarities to Mediterean seaside towns, it’s a haven for boating, wine enthusiasts, luxury travelers, artists and beach goers.
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.
Santa Barbara was settled by Spaniards over 400 years ago and this history can be seen at the 18th century Mission Santa Barbara—the only California mission with twin bell towers—and in the distinctive downtown historic Spanish architecture.
Santa Barbara averages more than 283 days a year of sunshine and is a great vacation destination any time of year. 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. While the hotel options are plentiful, they are also a bit pricey in general. Even motels and budget hotels can easily be over $200 per night.
The most popular place to stay in Santa Barbara is the neighborhood of West Beach. This is where you’ll find Stearns Wharf with its many ocean view restaurants, shops and the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center. Of course, West Beach also has a beautiful wide stretch of beach with a great bike and walk path.
Heading inland from West Beach you’ll find the Funk Zone. It’s an industrial area that has been taken over by artists who have turned the abandoned warehouses into studios and is home to the cities urban wine trail. It’s a 10 block area between State Street and Garden Street, and Montecito Street to Cabrillo Boulevard.
As you head further up State Street you’ll find yourself in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara. Downtown is filled with Mediterranean-style white stucco buildings, 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 section of town, while charming, offers the best rates on hotels since it’s not beach adjacent.
East Beach and West Beach are separated by Stearns Wharf. East Beach is more laid-back, quieter 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.
Montecito is where the celebrities have their homes and is the ultimate in luxury in Santa Barbara county. Located about five miles from downtown is this chic enclave. Hotels are pricey, luxurious and exclusive. Montecito is also a great place to stay for outdoor enthusiasts as well as anyone looking for quiet luxury.
There is also the neighboring town of Goleta, located about 10 miles north of Santa Barbara. Goleta is the home to the University of California at Santa Barbara and has a much more local vibe. Carpenteria is about 12 miles south of Santa Barbara. Both are great options for a more budget-friendly beach vacation, but know, you won’t be in the heart of Santa Barbara.
The Best Places To Stay in Santa Barbara
Best Luxury Hotels in Santa Barbara
Belmond El Encanto • Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara • The Ritz-Carlton Bacara
Best Romantic Hotels in Santa Barbara
Kimpton Canary Hotel Upham • Hotel and Country House • Rosewood Miramar Beach • Belmond El Encanto •
Best Beach Hotels in Santa Barbara
The Castillo Inn • Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara • The Ritz-Carlton Bacara • Cabrillo Inn at the Beach
Best Boutique Hotels in Santa Barbara
The Simpson House Inn • Montecito Inn • The Hotel Californian
Best Cheap Hotels in Santa Barbara
Hotel Milo • Inn at East Beach • Oasis Inn and Suites
Best Hostels in Santa Barbara
The Wayfarer • IHSP Santa Barbara
Best Neighborhood in Santa Barbara to Stay for First Timer: East Beach
If it’s your first time in Santa Barbara, East Beach is easy access to the beach, the zoo and downtown. While it is a bit further from the center of town, it offers a more laid-back and quieter option. You are never more than five or 10 minutes from anywhere in the city of Santa Barbara and this section of beach is perfect for the first time visit.
Best Neighborhood in Santa Barbara for Sightseeing: West Beach or Downtown When it comes to sightseeing, there are two main options; the pier and Spanish architecture. If you want to be close to the beach and the wharf area then West Beach is the best option. If you are interested in visiting the 1786 Mission Santa Barbara, known as “the Queen of the Missions,” and Santa Barbara Courthouse staying downtown is an excellent choice. A visit to Santa Barbara without seeing the mission—the city’s most iconic landmark—wouldn’t be advised.
Best Neighborhood in Santa Barbara for Nightlife: Downtown, West Beach or Funk Zone
There are nightlife options downtown, in West Beach as well as 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. 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 known as the home of some of Santa Barbara’s best bars and happy hours as well as great wine-tasting venues.
Best Neighborhood in Santa Barbara for Food and Restaurants: Santa Barbara doesn’t have a quintessential part of town that is predominantly best for food and foodies. There are more than 450 restaurants in Santa Barbara to choose from that are scattered throughout the city and it’s outskirts. You’ll find great beachside dining at restaurants such as the Boathouse at Hendry’s Beach, Convivo, the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company and everybody’s favorite; Brophy Bros., the waterfront restaurant famous for its oysters and incredible views. Santa Barbara has four restaurants included in the latest Michelin guidebook; Lark, Barbareño, Belmond El Encanto and La Super-Rica Taqueria. In fact, La Super-Rica Taqueria is by far Santa Barbara’s most famous restaurant and in good part because of Julia Child. This was her favorite spot for tacos and her review of this restaurant brought the California taco it’s notoriety and fame!
Best Neighborhood 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 paddle boarding, and beach combing. Historic Stearns Wharf is an easy walk from both beaches and where you’ll find the family friendly Santa Barbara 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.
Most Romantic Neighborhood in Santa Barbara: Montecito Santa Barbara is an extremely popular wedding destination and known as a romantic seaside town. Santa Barbara offers many options for a romantic getaway, but there is no denying that Montecito is the ultimate choice for romance. 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. Other romantic options are heading to Butterfly Beach for sunset or visiting a nearby winery.
Best Neighborhood in Santa Barbara for Walking: Montecito and East or 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 vistas of the coastal area head up Cold Spring Trail. For an easy hike, try Hot Spring Canyon Trailhead.
Safest Areas of Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara’s safest neighborhood tends to be the most affluent one; Montecito. In general, Santa Barbara as a whole is a safe town and the crime rate is below the national average. While it is considered very safe, standard precautions apply at night. It’s also worth noting, like most beach cities, you can find some interesting characters out and about especially near the beach.
Unsafe Areas of Santa Barbara
As a whole, Santa Barbara is a safe city. In fact, it’s 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. Like anywhere in the world, don’t put yourself in unsafe situations like walking alone at night and you should be fine.
The 6 Best Neighborhoods in Santa Barbara for Tourists
1. East Beach
East Beach is a great choice for first time visitors, families and those who prefer peace and quiet. East Beach is one of the first beaches you’ll find as you enter Santa Barabara heading north from Los Angeles. The area offers easy access to the beach, the zoo and downtown. While it is a bit further from the center of town, it offers a more laid-back and quieter stay option. You are never more than five or 10 minutes from anywhere in Santa Barbara and this section of beach is perfect for the first time visit.
Best Hotels: Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort | Santa Barbara House
Best Moderate Hotel Nearby: Motel 6 Santa Barbara | Inn at East Beach
2. West Beach
The most popular place to stay in Santa Barbara is the neighborhood of West Beach. This is where you’ll find Stearns Wharf with its many ocean view restaurants, shops and the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center. Here you’ll find the upscale motel, Castillo Inn that offers great value and just half a block from West 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 walk path.There are also a lot of great dining options such as Brophy Bros., famous for its oysters and incredible views as well as Toma Restaurant & Bar and Santa Barbara Shellfish Co. to name just a few.
Best Hotels: The Castillo Inn | Inn by the Harbour | Hotel Milo | Harbor View Inn
Best Cheap/Moderate Hotels: Avania Inn of Santa Barbara
3. Funk Zone
Home to the city’s burgeoning art scene, the Funk Zone has a decidedly bohemian vibe. It sits between the Pacific Ocean and Highway 101. The area is brimming with a variety of artisan shops, hip eateries, 20+ wine tasting rooms, and award-winning micro-breweries. This 10 block area is a great option for anyone looking for art, nightlife and close access to the beach. Mony’s Mexican Food is a must if you are staying in the Funk Zone. The barbacoa combo or the chicken burrito are their claim to fame.
Best Hotels : Hotel California | Wayfarer hotel
Premier upscale shopping and dining opportunities at Paseo Nuevo are a highlight when staying in downtown Santa Barbara. Choosing a hotel in the heart of downtown Santa Barbara you’ll be close to the Santa Barbara Public Market, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (with a large collection of Monet paintings), and Santa Barbara Courthouse where you can climb the clock tower for a spectacular view of the city. One of the highlights of Santa Barbara is the food scene and you’ll find four restaurants included in the latest Michelin guidebook; Lark, Barbareño, Belmond El Encanto and La Super-Rica Taqueria. One of the most famous restaurants in the heart of downtown, is the upscale Mexican restaurant celebrity hotspot, El Paseo known for hosting parties for Ginger Rogers, Salvador Dali, Quentin Tarantino, and Jennifer Lopez.
Best Hotels : Canary Hotel | The Simpson House Inn | Montecito Inn | The Spanish Garden Inn | Kimpton Canary Hotel
Best Exclusive Hotel: Belmond El Encanto (in the hills above downtown)
Best Cheap/Moderate Hotels: Orange Tree Inn | The Presidio
For a real splurge, Montecito is the place to stay. It is the ultimate choice for a romantic luxury getaway. The Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara, sits ons 22 acres of oceanfront with lush gardens and when you stay at the hotel you have access to the exclusive Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club and members-only Montecito Country Club. A hotel with a Hollywood history is the Spanish-style Montecito Inn built in 1928 by Charlie Chaplin. The Montecito area is also home to the best walking and hiking options with spectacular vistas of the coast line. Head to Coast Village Road for a see-and-be-seen experience. Top dining options here are Caruso, Honor Bar and Bettina.
Best Hotel: Montecito Inn | Rosewood Miramar Beach | Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara
Best Cheap/Moderate Hotel (in comparison to the best hotels): Coast Village Inn | Historic Mansion in Montecito
Goleta is a great choice for travelers interested in tranquillity, beautiful scenery and want to be 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 two miles of natural beach as well as a three zero-edge swimming pools, and a full-service spa, hotels tend to much more reasonably priced than Santa Barbara.
Best Hotel: The Ritz-Carlton Bacara
Best Cheap/Moderate Hotel: Kimpton Goodland | Hilton Garden Inn | Courtyard by Marriott Santa Barbara Goleta