Santa Barbara: Exploring the luxurious lifestyle of the American Riviera

The charming town of Santa Barbara is well-loved for its warm weather and its spectacular beaches. Source–James Coleman via Unsplash


Located in southern California, the picturesque coastal city of Santa Barbara is one of the most popular cities on the west coast of America, and for good reason. The charming town is well-loved for its warm weather, its spectacular beaches, and its striking Spanish colonial architecture. The celebrity-favorite city is also home to some of the best vineyards in the country and is frequented by wine lovers. Additionally, for decades, Santa Barbara has been the city of choice for Hollywood’s elite and other wealthy people. Oprah Winfrey, Tom Cruise, Jennifer Lopez, Ellen DeGeneres, Gwyneth Paltrow, Drew Barrymore and Michael Dammann Eisner (former CEO of Disney) are some famous personalities who own homes in Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara is a getaway with awe-inspiring scenery, delectable food, and plenty of relaxing things to do. Source–Zoi Palla via Unsplash

Moreover, Santa Barbara is often referred to as the American Riviera for several reasons. Firstly, the city’s climate is similar to that of the French Riviera, with warm, sunny weather year-round. Secondly, Santa Barbara’s architecture is evocative of that of the French Riviera, with a number of Spanish colonial-style buildings. Finally, Santa Barbara features an ambiance that is reminiscent of the French Riviera, with a focus on enjoyment, luxury, and excellent food.

Earlier this year, we made our way to Santa Barbara as we were looking for a getaway with awe-inspiring scenery, delectable food, and plenty of relaxing things to do. Here’s a glimpse of our sumptuous vacation in Santa Barbara.

El Encanto, a Belmond Hotel, is one of Southern California’s most well-known hotels. Source–Visit Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara: Stay

We chose to stay at El Encanto, a Belmond Hotel, one of Southern California’s most iconic hotels. A Santa Barbara landmark since the 1920s, the hotel emerged from a seven-year, $134 million renovation by Belmond (formerly Orient Express) in 2013. Since then, the property has consistently earned distinction as a Forbes star-rated resort. The property’s design showcases two styles of early Santa Barbara architecture—California Craftsman and Spanish Colonial Revival. The sprawling resort is home to 92 well-appointed bungalows and suites set on seven acres of well-landscaped historic gardens offering panoramic vistas of Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean.

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El Encanto’s guest rooms boast well-appointed interiors. Source–El Encanto, a Belmond Hotel

El Encanto’s guest rooms feature aesthetically pleasing interiors with elegant furnishings and state-of-the-art appliances. The rooms come with private balconies or patios with views of the gardens or the ocean. The hotel offers a range of dining options, including the award-winning The Dining Room and Terrace at El Encanto, which serves scrumptious California cuisine made using the freshest local ingredients.

El Encanto, a Belmond Hotel is home to an outdoor zero-edge saline pool with a backdrop of the Pacific Ocean. Source–El Encanto, a Belmond Hotel

The property also houses an outdoor zero-edge saline pool, a spa, and a fitness center. Furthermore, El Encanto has numerous event spaces, including a ballroom, a garden, and a beachfront terrace, which are often booked for weddings and corporate events. I thoroughly enjoyed strolling through the hotel’s beautiful gardens and lounging by the pool, as well as unwinding with a book on my very own private porch.

Sailing along the Santa Barbara coast, you will have panoramic vistas of the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Channel Islands. Source–Santa Barbara Sailing Center via Facebook

Santa Barbara: Things to do

After checking into our hotel and freshening up, we made our way to the quaint Santa Barbara Harbor for a private cruise on Santa Barbara Sailing Center’s Catalina 42’ markII Four Cabin Centerline model along the coast of the city. Our boat housed a spacious salon with two cabins forward and two cabins aft. Below deck, the interiors featured varnished teak joinery, ash hull side paneling, as well as excellent light. While sailing along the Santa Barbara coast, we had the backdrop of the majestic Santa Ynez Mountains and the Channel Islands were ahead of us. We were lucky to spot California sea lions, dolphins and a variety of coastal birds.

Don’t miss the Old Mission Santa Barbara, a Franciscan mission that was founded in 1786. Source–Old Mission Santa Barbara via Facebook

Thereafter, we made our way to State Street and Funk Zone, the primary downtown area in Santa Barbara, which is lined with a variety of shops, boutiques, and restaurants. After indulging in retail therapy, we explored Old Mission Santa Barbara, a Franciscan mission that was founded in 1786. We took a tour of the mission, learned about its history, and strolled in the verdant gardens. The next day was kept for the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden and to relax on the beautiful beaches of the city such as Leadbetter Beach, Butterfly Beach, or Arroyo Burro Beach. We ended our getaway with a wine tasting trip to the nearby Santa Ynez Valley.

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The Dining Room & Terrace at El Encanto boasts some of the best views in the city. Source–El Encanto, a Belmond Hotel

Santa Barbara: Eat and drink

To begin, we dined at The Dining Room & Terrace at El Encanto. The menus at this upscale eatery draw inspiration from Californian cuisine and feature seafood and plant-based options made with ingredients sourced locally. The restaurant also boasts some of the best views in the city. The highlights from our meal included the Avocado Toast, Cheese and Charcuterie Platter, Classic Caesar Salad, Santa Barbara Burger, Local Halibut Fish and Chips and the Grains and Greens Bowl.

Margerum Wine Co. is a family-run winery located in the heart of the city’s Funk Zone neighborhood. Source–Margerum Wine Co. via Facebook

In addition to dining at our hotel, we also explored the thriving food scene of Santa Barbara. We began our Santa Barbara food and drink expedition with a wine tasting session at Margerum Wine Co., a family-run winery located in the heart of the city’s Funk Zone neighborhood. We tasted a range of handcrafted wines exhibiting their own individual characteristics and personality. My favorite was Margerum’s Sybarite, a blend of sauvignon blanc grapes, which happened to be served at former President Barack Obama’s White House State Dinner.

The Lark is a lively eatery that celebrates Californian produce. ​​Source–The Lark Santa Barbara via Facebook

Wine tasting was followed by a leisurely meal at The Lark, an expansive restaurant that celebrates Californian produce. Situated in an historic fish market building, the interiors of the restaurant pay homage to California train travel. I particularly enjoyed the Crispy Brussel Sprouts, Hand Cut Pappardelle Pasta, The California Fisherman’s Catch and Kaffir Lime Mango Sorbet. The food prepared by chef Jason Paluska was perfectly balanced and hit the spot. The other notable restaurants and bars from the trip are Loquita Santa Barbara, The Good Lion and Yoichi’s Santa Barbara.

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Pallavi is a Los Angeles and Mumbai-based freelance journalist with over 11 years of experience. She studied Economics and English in the US and currently writes about luxury design, travel and lifestyle for leading Indian and international publications and brands. An avid traveler and design enthusiast, she finds inspiration in everything she encounters, be it her immediate environment or her travels around the world.