Cool and unusual hotels in Santa Barbara

Top 15 cool and unusual hotels in Santa Barbara

Once more traditional and picturesque than hip, the laid-back SoCal city is becoming increasingly more creative mostly thanks to its new “Funk Zone.” Now sitting amongst its gorgeous beaches, historic harbor, stunning mountain background, and beautiful ocean views is the very arty warehouse district which is filled with tasty eats, cool coffee shops, independent stores, and even an Urban Wine Trail. If you’re looking for accommodation, of course, there is still plenty of what Santa Barbara does so well such as some very cute and stylishly quirky boutiques. Here are our favorite cool and unusual hotels in Santa Barbara (no particular order)

1. The Waterman, Waterfront District – a hip and funky hotel set in the trendy Funk Zone neighborhood 

Cool hotel Santa Barbara

Hip Hotel Santa Barbara

Located between the East Beach and the West Beach in the Waterfront district of Santa Barbara and only three blocks from the beach, The Waterman is a good-looking Marriott hotel in a Spanish villa style with a wonderful heated outdoor pool.

That it belongs to the Marriott Bonvoy group is the only corporate connection; it’s a small, immensely enjoyable, funky hotel with uniquely designed rooms and bags of charm. It is perfectly located just a short walk to nearby restaurants, award-winning microbreweries, wine tasting rooms, shopping, and local beaches and attractions. There’s no onsite restaurant but, if you don’t want to walk out, there’s a very well-equipped communal kitchen to prepare your own food.

2. Kimpton Goodland, an IHG Hotel, Goleta – a trendy, upscale boutique hotel with a surf-shack inspired design

Unique place to stay in Santa Barbara

Chic hotel in Santa Barbara

Unique hotels in Santa Barbara

West of Santa Barbara, in the Goleta district, is Kimpton The Goodland. A retro-inspired hotel imaginatively designed to maximize the bright Californian days with space and color. Artful guest rooms and suites feature earthy, eccentric textures and fabrics with a nod to surf-culture nostalgia, including record players with a choice of vinyl.

There’s a nice, quirky-casual, restaurant serving locally sourced dishes; craft cocktails, local beers, and wines in an unfussy, cool bar; a fitness center, and a large outdoor pool which hosts occasional live entertainment. There’s even a ballroom if you fancy inviting a few hundred friends for a boogie.

3. Palihouse Santa Barbara, Presidio District – a stylish upscale Mediterranean-style boutique hotel set in the historic Presidio District

Boutique hotel in Santa Barbara

Best boutique hotels in Santa Barbara

In the heart of Downtown Santa Barbara is the lovely Palihouse; a hacienda-style hotel with white walls, curved arches, and plenty of terracotta tiles. Parasols and palm trees provide shade around an internal courtyard with an exquisite heated outdoor pool. The 24 rooms and suites are charmingly styled with a mixture of well-chosen traditional and modern furnishings, and many have private patios or balconies to make the most of the lovely gardens.

There’s a delightful garden café, cocktail bar, and lobby lounge which combine to make a very pleasant, relaxing oasis in what feels like your own private villa. Borrow a bicycle or just step outside to experience the history, romance, and intrigue of this charming Spanish colonial-inspired neighborhood.

4. Blue Sands Inn, A Kirkwood Collection Property – intimate accommodation with a trendy, contemporary design

Coolest hotels in Santa Barbara

Retro cool Santa Barbara

Hipster hotel in Santa Barbara

Tucked back from the noise of the beachfront boulevard, yet just two minutes walk across the little Cabrillo Park to East Beach, is Blue Sands Inn. A cute motel-type property vaguely reminiscent of a small ship, with decks, galleys and a lovely little pool.

The rooms are wonderfully styled in simple beach-cabin designs with pastels and natural woods enlivened with pieces of local art. There is no restaurant on-site, but plenty of choices in the surrounding streets. The Blue Sands Inn is the perfect place to unwind after a day getting out and about to explore the delights of the American Riviera.

5. Harbor View Inn, Waterfront District – a boutique oceanfront hotel where casual meets luxury

Modern hotel Santa Barbara

Modern hotel Santa Barbara

In the perfect location exactly where Stearns Wharf and Mission Creek meet the beach, is the Harbor View Inn. It’s a resort-style hotel, not a small inn, built in a vaguely Spanish style directly across the boulevard from West Beach and at the very end of the bustling State Street. The contemporary guest rooms are robustly styled and feature a patio or balcony. All the suites have balconies with views, separate living rooms with wet bars, and sunken tubs in the bathrooms.

Hotel amenities include an outdoor heated pool, a hot tub, an adults-only exercise room, and a good spa offering facials and massage. Dining options include the poolside bar and grill, a coffee bar with light snacks, and a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant with more of those ocean views.

6. El Encanto, A Belmond Hotel, Santa Barbara – an upscale hotel offering a mix of Spanish Colonial Revival and Craftsman buildings set in lush gardens

Design Hotel Santa Barbara

Modern hotel in Santa Barbara

A beautiful resort hotel, a mix of Spanish colonial revival and craftsman buildings begun in the 1920s, amid 7 acres of lush gardens, on a private hillside setting in the Riviera neighborhood overlooking Santa Barbara. The 92 refined, elegant guest rooms, suites, and bungalows at El Encanto Santa Barbara feature marble bathrooms with heated stone floors and classic hand-picked furnishings.

Some have a private garden or terrace, and full fireplaces. Perks include a gorgeous outdoor infinity pool, fitness center and a spa with a big range of facials, massage and body treatments. The swanky on-site restaurant serves California Coastal cuisine, much of it locally sourced and all of it superbly presented.

7. Beachside Inn, Waterfront District – a relaxed hotel set in a retro 1940s, motor court-style property

Retro chic hotel Santa Barbara

Beachside Inn, Waterfront District SB

If anywhere has the right to call itself Beachside, it’s this place. Adjacent to Pershing Park, across the street from Santa Barbara Harbor and so close to the beautiful West Beach you could almost roll out of bed into the sand from the cute Beachside Inn Santa Barbara. There’s a small, heated pool, but this isn’t a hotel for rest and relaxation, it’s located in the heart of Santa Barbara with shops, restaurants, bars, and clubs on the doorstep.

There are 69 rooms and suites furnished in a simple, comfortable style, try and book one with a balcony overlooking the harbor for unforgettable views, and a hearty breakfast with a grab-and-go option if you need to hit the town in a hurry.

8. Kimpton Canary Hotel, an IHG Hotel – a unique boutique hotel which provides the quintessential Santa Barbara hotel experience

Kimpton Canary Hotel, an IHG Hotel

Designer hotel in Santa Barbara

In Downtown Santa Barbara, located just steps from lively State Street, is the Kimpton Canary Hotel. An attractive Spanish colonial boutique hotel which artfully combines Mediterranean roots and contemporary California style in its authentic décor.

Take in panoramic views, and maybe a cocktail, from the glorious rooftop pool deck, featuring details like hand-painted tiles and elegant wrought iron, savor locally sourced cuisine and a world-class wine list at the restaurant, then retire to a generously sized guest suite offering a luxurious four-poster bed and city views. An excellent hotel, perfectly located for everything you want to see or do in beautiful Santa Barbara.

9. Cheshire Cat Inn & Cottages, Downtown – cute, cozy, and stylishly quirky

Quirky hotel in Santa Barbara

Cute accommodation in Santa Barbara

Set in two incredibly pretty colonial-style houses dating from the 19th century and an annex, this genteel bed and breakfast is 4 blocks from the State Street center of downtown Santa Barbara. Quaint, individually decorated rooms and suites with a delicate Victorian vibe look out over sumptuous gardens and shady verandas.

Some rooms at Cheshire Cat Inn & Cottages have fireplaces, private balconies, whirlpool tubs or hot tubs, all have a subtle country charm and fleeting references to Alice in Wonderland. There are also 4 adjoining cottages with kitchens if you want more space. A continental breakfast buffet (with hot dishes on weekends) is available, but the best is afternoon wine and snacks served on the patio and occasional evening sweets.

10. Mar Monte Hotel, in The Unbound Collection by Hyatt, Waterfront – a polished hotel with a 1930s Spanish Colonial vibe

Interesting hotel in Santa Barbara

Mar Monte Hotel, in The Unbound Collection by Hyatt, Waterfront

The Mar Monte Hotel looks out across Sycamore Beach; a particularly pleasant stretch just far enough away from East Beach to be quieter, but close enough to walk to the delights of Santa Barbara. The hotel is almost resort-looking with large public areas designed in a statement Californian style and guest suites and rooms in a simpler, yet very appealing, fresh beach design.

There is a good restaurant, a very lovely café adjacent to a great little pool – not that you need it with the Pacific Ocean just across the street. There are some great rooms with views across the ocean, but you need to book well ahead if you want to see the famous sunsets from those balconies.

11. Hideaway Santa Barbara, A Kirkwood Collection Property – one of the best boutique hotels in Santa Barbara with stylish contemporary decor

Beautiful hotels in Santa Barbara

Chic boutique California

Near Pershing Park and West Beach in the Waterfront District is the delightful Hideaway Santa Barbara, a very beautiful genuinely boutique hotel tastefully designed in a pale California beach styling. The rooms are thoughtful, bright, and airy with big windows opening onto balconies for mountain or garden views.

Cleverly chosen soothing colors, soft fabrics, and natural woods make for a very comfortable and relaxing ambiance throughout. Hideaway prepares an excellent breakfast each day and there are dozens of really good restaurants featuring local cuisine, as well as regional wineries and tasting rooms, within a short walk.

12. The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, Santa Barbara – an upscale, Mediterranean-style resort with gorgeous ocean views

The Ritz-Carlton Bacara in Santa Barbara

The Ritz-Carlton Bacara in Santa Barbara

A large 358-room resort hotel in over 7 acres of grounds at the far western edge of Goleta. The Ritz-Carlton Bacara is laid out as a collection of white villas in picturesque, landscaped gardens with its own 2-mile beach. There are three good-sized pools, one refreshingly for adults only, all designed to complement the gardens and exploit the ocean views.

Each of the rooms or suites is furnished with chunky Mediterranean décor and has a balcony or terrace to make the most of the lovely gardens and stunning views. There are a staggering six restaurants, an enormous spa, and fitness center as well as a wine tasting room boasting a selection of over 12,000 bottles.

13. Bath Street Inn, Downtown – a quaint beauty set in 1890’s Victorian Santa Barbara house

Bath Street Inn, Downtown

Unusual places to stay in Santa Barbara

In Downtown Santa Barbara, a few blocks back from the bustling State Street is the very cute Bath Street Inn, a bed and breakfast in an old Dutch-looking Victorian weatherboard home. Set between the main building and a summer house, the 12 charming rooms feature Victorian décor with vivid patterns and original pieces.

Some rooms have private entrances or balconies, fireplaces, window seats or scenic views of the mountains. Complimentary perks include a fabulous full breakfast served on the garden patio or in the dining room, plus occasional wine nights, or afternoon tea with homemade cakes and lemonade. A beautiful escape from corporate accommodation and a great location to wander into Santa Barbara.

14. Lavender Inn by the Sea, Waterfront District – beautiful accommodation located within walking distance from the waterfront and the trendy Funk zone

Lavender Inn by the Sea, Waterfront District

Quaint boutique hotel Santa Barbara

Surrounded by fragrant lavender gardens and just a couple of blocks from the beaches and harbor is the appropriately named Lavender Inn. The 23 rooms and suites are a little old-fashioned, but spacious, comfortable, and all smell of lavender.

When you’re ready to explore Santa Barbara, you can borrow a complimentary bicycle to cruise the oceanfront bike path or visit the nearby Funk Zone, home to boutique tasting rooms, cafés, and galleries. Afterwards, return back to the Lavender Inn for wine on the patio or a dip in the, frankly, luscious outdoor heated swimming pool before strolling back to the oceanfront for an evening at one of the many restaurants nearby.

15. Circle Bar B Guest Ranch, Los Padres National Forest – for a unique outdoor focused Santa Barbara break

Circle Bar B Guest Ranch. Los Padres National Forest

Ranch hotel Santa Barbara

High in the mountains behind Santa Barbara, overlooking the American Riviera, and a long way from civilization is the remote Circle Bar B Guest Ranch. Actually, it’s just 4 miles from Refugio Beach, but it feels remote. Cowboy Western-style rooms offer wet bars with minifridges, plus a shared deck to admire the evening sunsets. Casual cabins have private porches and wood-burning stoves, while rustic-chic cottages feature separate living spaces with hardwood floors.

There are also 2-story houses with stone fireplaces. Perks include complimentary meals and a bar with live dinner theatre, plus an outdoor pool, a games room and a snug library. The real magic, and what most people come for, is horseback riding through the exquisite, majestic, peaceful scenery of the mountains.

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Born in England, with a few family roots from Bavaria, and a special fondness for Scandinavia I've always been a bit of a restless soul. My first true adventure began as a six month voyage around South East Asia as a fresh faced backpacker and ever since I've lived a semi nomadic existence, clocking up visits to over 40 countries. I'm a lover of US Road Trips, deserted beaches bathed in warm glow of a sunset, Cuban mojitos, travel destinations far away from the tourist crowds and all things Scandinavian - from cloudberry liquors to Nordic noirs. When not wandering the world, you'll find me walking my rescue dog in leafy South West London, strolling around the Brighton Laines on random day trips, hunting for photogenic landscapes or daydreaming about returning to my favourite places; Havana, Copenhagen, Italy, Thailand and the frozen landscapes of a wintry Iceland.

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