Nicknamed the American Riviera, Santa Barbara is an old Spanish town sandwiched between the Pacific Coast and the Santa Ynez Mountains. It is located 100 miles north of Los Angeles, where Central California begins.
Santa Barabara is called American Riviera thanks to its palm tree-lined beaches, laid-back atmosphere, vineyards, and upscale restaurants. This gorgeous city offers amazing culinary scenes, a chance to try many wines, enjoy epic coastal views, luxurious hotels, spas, and upscale shops. Once you visit Santa Barbara, I guarantee that you will be looking forward to coming back again! You wouldn’t want to miss your favorite hotel. Don’t forget to book your favorite place now once you’ve chosen!
Although Santa Barbara is not a very big city, different areas might attract different kinds of travelers. There are 5 main areas in the city, and in this article, I will help you find the best neighborhoods and hotels in Santa Barbara to suit your taste.
I want to remind you that it is very important to book in advance for accommodations as they have high demand and most of them have a free cancellation policy so you won’t lose anything.
Let’s find out your answer to where to stay in Santa Barbara.
If you are in a hurry
Here are some amazing accommodation options in Santa Barbara with good locations and reviews from budget to luxury.
Four Seasons Resort
Best luxury hotel
An Airbnb with amazing reviews
Harbour View Inn
Best value for money
Coast Village Inn
Best affordable accommodation in the center
To visualize easily, here is a Santa Barbara map with all the 5 areas that I will be mentioning in this blog post.
1. West Beach & the Funk Zone – where to stay for first timers
The most popular place to stay in Santa Barbara is West Beach where you will find many ocean view restaurants, shops, and museums. If you are visiting Santa Barbara for the first time, West Beach and the Funk Zone is the best choice, as most of the sightseeing areas are found here, plus you will be close to the beach, of course!
Start your day with a nice bike or walk along the path on West Beach. From the beach, walk inland, and you’ll see Funk Zone. Funk Zone is an industrial area full of abandoned warehouses that have been transformed into creative studios by artists. You will not only see many instagrammable murals and graffiti here, but this vibrant area is filled with many restaurants, bars, and wine tasting cafes.
This is also the best spot in town to hit the bars with its great nightlife. West Beach has everything to entertain all kinds of travelers. Let’s have a look at the best hotels in this lovely neighborhood. Don’t forget to make your reservation in advance!
One of the best hotels in West Beach, Hideaway Santa Barbara, has a very convenient location close to the beach, Santa Barbara Museum of Art and Museum of Natural History. The hotel features free parking, nicely decorated comfortable rooms, free wifi, and a nice breakfast
Other accommodation options in West Beach
Things to do in West Beach
- Go for a stroll at Ambassador Park
- Have dinner in the harbor at Stearns Wharf
- Snap a picture with the graffiti art in the Funk Zone
- Visit the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center
- Learn about the history of Santa Barbara at Santa Barbara Maritime Museum
- Go to Santa Barbara Fish Market
- Have a photo at Winslow-Maxwell Overlook
- Bike ride down the West Beach path
2. East Beach – where to stay in Santa Barbara to relax
Compared to West Beach, East Beach is a more laid-back and less touristy area, making it a perfect place to stay for those who want to discover Santa Barbara without the hassle of the commercial center. Despite its relaxed atmosphere, you will still be no more than a 10-minute drive to the main areas of Santa Barbara when you want them.
East Beach is located in front of the Stearns Wharf Pier area. This is the widest part of the beach, so naturally, there are a lot of activities happening at East Beach. You will see many sand volleyball courts, grass parks with picnic tables, restaurants, and art centers. No matter if you are a solo traveler, couple, or family, there are very nice places to stay in East Beach for everyone who wants to have a relaxed holiday.
Centrally located right near the beach in Santa Barbara, the hotel features an outdoor swimming pool, an excellent breakfast, and ocean view rooms. You will enjoy boho-style interior design and nice gardens with palm trees. One of the best chick accommodation choices in East Beach
Other accommodation options in East Beach
Things to do in East Beach
- Have a chilled time on the East beach
- Visit Santa Barbara Zoo
- Have a picnic at Dwight Murphy Park
- Eat tacos at East Beach Tacos
- Play tennis at the Municipal Tennis Courts
- Have a walk at Chase Palm Park
3. Downtown – where to stay in Santa Barbara for culture
Downtown Santa Barbara is the center of culture, history, and business. It is also a great area to stay for its proximity to the beach and other neighborhoods. If you want to be within walking distance to the main attractions, you can choose to stay in the downtown area for its location too. Plus, the other Santa Barbara neighborhoods are not longer than 10 minutes drive!
State Street in the Downtown area is where you will find many great restaurants, cafes, all kinds of shops, Mediterranean-style architecture, and cultural sites. There really is a bit of everything for everyone in Downtown. You can find Monet paintings at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, learn about history at the Museum of Natural History, climb to the top of the clock tower at the Old Mission Santa Barbara for an amazing city view, have a wine tasting tour, and go shopping in upscale boutiques.
Right at the heart of downtown, this hotel offers continental breakfast, free parking and wifi, plus, the Santa Barbara Museum is just 10 minutes walking distance. Rooms are furnished in an English style, and you can enjoy a lovely garden. Also, this nice cottage offers wine and cheese every evening!
Other accommodation in Santa Barbara Downtown
Things to do in Santa Barbara Downtown
- Visit Santa Barbara Museum of Art
- Attend a Funk Zone Food Tour
- Visit El Presidio de Santa Barbara Historic Park
- Have fish and chips at Stearns Wharf
- Try one of the wine or beer tasting room in the downtown
- Go on a trolley tour of Santa Barbara
- Visit Old Mission Santa Barbara
4. Goleta – where to stay in Santa Barbara on a budget
Located 10 miles west of Santa Barbara, Goleta is a great option for those traveling on a budget. It has its own beach and is the closest area to the mountains and forest. Don’t worry, if you base here, you will still be close to the luxurious town and main attractions of Santa Barbara too!
Enjoy being close to the oceanside, scenic views, and local experiences. There are so many nice cafes, bakeries, and restaurants in this neighborhood!You definitely won’t have any problem finding local breweries, wines, and ciders unique to Santa Barbara. The University of California Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara Airport are also located in Goleta, which means this area is full of bright young people looking for a bargain!
Even though there are all kinds of accommodation options suitable for every budget in Santa Barbara, Goleta definitely provides the most for your money. So if you are looking for more spacious luxury hotels for smaller prices, you’ll find them here!
Located right in front of the beach, Ritz Carlton is one of the most luxurious hotels in Santa Barbara, Goleta. This gorgeous hotel features an outdoor pool, amazing ocean view, seafood and steak restaurants, fitness center, tennis courts, and fully furnished rooms. They have family-friendly rooms too!
Other options in Goleta, Santa Barbara
Things to do in Goleta, Santa Barbara
- Hike at the Obern Trail or the Goleta Beach Trail
- Have a beach day at Campus Point, Devereux, and Sands
- Visit the aquarium Reef and learn something new at the Research Experience & Education Facility
- Explore The More Mesa Preservation and Beach
- Try mouthwatering foods at Kyle’s Kitchen
- Have a fish dish at Nikka Fish Market and Grill
- Try ciders of Santa Barbara Cider Company
- Enjoy the contrast of Santa Barbara. Goleta is the best area to hike in the mountains and surf on the same day!
5. Montecito – best in Santa Barbara for luxury lovers
Just 10 minutes drive from Santa Barbara Downtown, Montecito is a very affluent area where you can find a lot of fancy shops, fine dining restaurants, and cafes. Not only that, Montecito is one of the most popular wedding destinations in Santa Barbara and is known as the place to go for a romantic getaway! With its posh resorts, boutique hotels, and upscale restaurants, Montecito is also best for those who are looking for a romantic honeymoon.
This neighborhood is known for its luxurious celebrity houses. For example Charlize Theron, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Kevin Costner are some of the residents of this neighborhood. So it’s not uncommon to stroll the streets to spot stunning homes and celebrities here. However, Montecito is not only for nice houses, it’s also a great place for outdoor activities. It offers scenic views of the coastal area, and there are more than 15 nice hiking trails for those of you who like to keep active.
Four Seasons Resort, The Biltmore, is the most preferred 5-star hotel in the area. Located at the private Coral Casino Beach, the resort offers a spa, an outdoor swimming pool, fine dining restaurants, and bars. You will find everything that you can expect from a luxurious hotel in this one great location!
Other accommodation in Montecito, Santa Barbara
Things to do in Montecito, Santa Barbara
- Hike at Hot Spring Canyon Trailhead and Cold Spring Trail
- Go to Lotusland and enjoy amazing nature
- Have a beach day at Butterfly Beach
- Play golf at the Valley Club of Montecito
- Visit The Casa del Herrero to see amazing architecture
- Go for a brunch at Jeannine’s Restaurant & Bakery
- Taste some delicious wines at Montecito Wine Bistro
BONUS: Best Luxurious Hotels Preferred by Celebrities
Offering many ultimate luxurious hotels, Santa Barbara is one of the top destinations visited by lots of celebrities like Tom Cruise, Jennifer Lopez, Kevin Costner, and Oprah Winfrey.
I’ve already mentioned that Montecito is the neighborhood for celebrity spotting, and also I’ve given luxurious options for each of the areas. Still, if you really want to have the same experience, these are some of the most popular hotels amongst the stars who visit Santa Barbara.
- The Four Seasons Resort the Biltmore – The Four Seasons Resort the Biltmore is most known for being the preference of Kardashians. Located in the fancy neighborhood Montecito, this gorgeous beachfront hotel combines modern and Spanish-style architecture. Offering lush gardens, a spa, an outdoor swimming pool, fine dining restaurants, and many more facilities, the hotel will give you more than 5-star accommodation.
- Belmond El Encanto – Another incredible hotel famous for celebrity guests is the Belmond El Encanto. Since 1918 the hotel has been part of Santa Barbara’s celebrity scene. Belmond El Encanto offers a fantastic ocean view, a heated outdoor swimming pool, a spa, and a wellness center. If you would like to experience a celebrity lifestyle, this hotel is perfect for you.
- Simpson House Inn – Located at the heart of downtown, Simpson House Inn is an award-winning luxury house. Simpson House Inn offers gourmet breakfast in its spacious English garden too. If you want to pamper yourself during your Santa Barbara holiday, Simpson House Inn is a great option.
If you have already made your decision, don’t forget to book your favorite hotel now. As these hotels have very high demand, I would highly recommend you to book in advance.
Frequently Asked Questions About Santa Barbara
🏠 What is the best area to stay in Santa Barbara?
If you are visiting for the first time, stay in West Beach for its beach and city access. If you are more interested in culture and shopping, the best area to stay for you is Downtown.
📸 Where do the Kardashians stay in Santa Barbara?
The Kardashians stay in The Four Seasons Resort the Biltmore. If you want to spot celebrities, you can pick a hotel in the Montecito area.
💰 Is living in Santa Barbara expensive?
Santa Barbara is one of the most expensive cities in Central California. However, you can find relatively cheaper areas a bit outside of Santa Barbara.
🙇🏻♀️ Is downtown Santa Barbara safe?
Yes, downtown Santa Barbara is safe. As in any other city, you should be careful walking at very late hours of the night.
🌊 Is Santa Barbara worth visiting?
Santa Barbara is definitely worth visiting with its nice beaches, wine yards, and fancy dining options.
I hope that this guide will help you find the best area and hotel for your taste in Santa Barbara. I mentioned activities and things you can do in 5 great areas to give you an idea about the vibe. I also suggested hotels and Airbnbs from luxury to budget options, to help you find the best place to suit you!
To sum up, here are the best hotels in Santa Barbara that I would definitely recommend for their location and features. They have very great reviews too!
- The Ritz-Carlton – Right at the beach, this hotel offers world-class service with amazing facilities
- Harbor View Inn – Great value for money in West Beach, amazing swimming pool and charming rooms
I am sure you will have a great time on the United States’ riviera coast. If you are planning to continue your trip around California, have a look at this post for where to stay in Los Angeles. If you think a more private vacation rental might be more your style, check out the best Airbnbs in California.
If you’ve found your perfect place to stay, don’t forget to book it now. You wouldn’t wanna miss it! And don’t forget to leave a comment below if you have any other questions and recommendations about Santa Barbara.
Have a nice trip!