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Where to Go on Your Next Trip to Santa Barbara

By Kathryn Romeyn | August 8, 2019 |

Forget the car. With a chic new city-adjacent hotel and lots to do in the "zone," it's time to hop a train to Santa Barbara.


Now is not the time to write off LA’s northern neighbor, Santa Barbara, as a sleepy surf town. The postcard-perfect enclave known as the “American Riviera” has far more than local vino on tap this season. For one, there’s the uberluxe Hotel Californian (36 State St., 805-882-0100; A-list designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard studded the bespoke Moroccan-meets-Spanish Colonial property with more than a million pieces of indigenous, custommade tile. Original artwork references Old Hollywood in a wholly modern way, while cobra-like amulets—which represented great wisdom in ancient Egypt—decorate the 121 rooms and suites that boast tile wainscoting, Mascioni linens, mashrabiya paneling and $3,700 Kallista shower heads. Sweet.

The exotic Moorish inspiration goes beyond Bullard’s plush, colorsplashed guest rooms. The grand shared spaces of the circa 1925 hotel (the original façade was preserved)—including a glam ballroom, rooftop pool, and Moroccan-inspired spa—also feature his distinctive six-point-star theme. But the designer doesn’t expect guests to stay ensconced in his hideaway, however idyllic. Says Bullard, “Hotel Californian is perfectly placed at the end of State Street, where the beach and the town intersect, making it a primo location to enjoy all that Santa Barbara has to offer.” On foot, for a change!

Indeed, the hotel’s Funk Zone-centric neighbors include MOXI, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation (125 State St., 805-770-5000; (Law & Order’s Dick Wolf and wife, Noelle, are major benefactors), which opened with 70 interactive family-friendly exhibits, such as a studio where visitors can make soundtracks to Fox Studios film clips. And while the hotel’s twin restos—led by executive chef Alexander La Motte—promise to titillate taste buds, the profusion of dining destinations within walking distance begs for an extended stay. The months-old Santo Mezcal (119 State St., 805-883-3593), just down the street, focuses on fresh seafood and boasts a super-creative mixology program that highlights its namesake and of-themoment spirit. Around the corner, Somerset Restaurant (7 E. Anapamu St., 805-845-7112;, with chef Lauren Herman (Lucques, A.O.C.) in the kitchen, wows diners with its California farm-to-table fare (all ingredients are exclusively sourced within a 100-mile radius) and European “grand café” atmosphere, which blends white Calacatta marble and zinc tabletops with original 1950s sconces. Good taste in every sense—like dreamy Santa Barbara itself.