Santa Barbara is sometimes called the American Riviera because of the Mediterranean-like weather, but don’t be fooled — this coastal city is one-of-a-kind. Santa Barbara is a mash-up of chic urban living, college life (courtesy of University of California, Santa Barbara) and outdoor adventure. Nature lovers can hop a ferry to visit the Channel Islands, a national park of five islands that is one of the richest marine biospheres on the planet and home to dolphins, whales, sea lions and birds. Kids will line up to feed the giraffes (for an additional fee) at the Santa Barbara Zoo, and families can spend time relaxing at the beach and kayaking or hiking to the hot springs at Gaviota Peak. One of the oldest organic farms, Fairview Gardens, is in nearby Goleta, while picking fruits and veggies with the entire family can be done at Apple Lane Farm, Morrell Nut & Berry Farm or Restoration Oaks Ranch & Blueberry Farm. There’s plenty of refined pursuits for grown-ups, too, with lots of shopping, fine restaurants and historic sites like the Old Mission Santa Barbara. This sleepy (pop. 92,000) city can have big-city traffic (there’s just one thoroughfare going in and out) and also tends to shut down earlier than nearby Los Angeles, but the many tourists who venture to this pricey beach getaway don’t seem to mind.
Looking for a place to stay? These are the best Santa Barbara hotels for families, as rated by our staff of experts and other families like you.
Written by Liane Bonin Star
While The Wayfarer is technically a hostel, 27 of the 31 rooms are private and have bathrooms en suite. The community spirit of a hostel, though, can be found in the eat-in communal kitchen available to all guests, though a complimentary continental breakfast is also available daily for those who prefer the hotel experience. Rooms, which can sleep up to a family of five, are small but well-designed, with fun decor. Rooms on the first floor have higher ceilings, and some have Murphy beds, though cots are also available if needed. Some ground-floor rooms have French doors opening out onto the pool, which may be a plus for families with older kids. However, rooms that look out onto the freeway can be noisy. Still, many guests feel this is the biggest bargain in town.
Bacara Resort & Spa
This destination resort is a short drive outside of Santa Barbara, but there's a chance most guests never bother to make the drive into town. With more than 35 guestrooms and suites, the fully-renovated resort has infinity pools, five onsite dining options, nature paths, tennis and a kids' program. Families should note that several of the restaurants are a bit too formal for shorts and flip-flops, though there is also dining by the pool. Guests also may not want to carry their own bags after check-in, as the paths to the hillside accommodations can be steep. Rooms at Bacara Resort & Spa feature two poster beds and fireplaces, and some are pet-friendly.
Harbor View Inn
Located on the beach and close to Stearns Wharf, the Harbor View Inn is a short stroll to boutiques and restaurants. The downside of being in the midst of the city scene is that there has been construction going on around (but not in) the hotel, so before checking in ask about the view. East wing rooms also overlook the street, which can be noisy. Guestrooms come with one king or two queen beds, and suites always have a separate living room. The inn has a pool, spa, fitness center and onsite dining choices.
Decorated by local artists, this 53-room inn has a unique look (it's actually three separate, unrelated buildings eventually bought by the same owner) that offers a convenient location near both the beach and shopping, but is tucked away on a side street for additional privacy. Suites at the Franciscan Inn accommodate up to six people, and all have exterior access and full kitchens. Guestrooms have double, queen or king beds. Kids will appreciate the 3 p.m. cookie break and the small, heated outdoor pool, while the DVD library ensures they'll be entertained later.
Hotel Milo Santa Barbara
The 2.5-acre property has 122 guestrooms directly across from the beach and sits a short stroll from both Stearns Wharf and State Street, putting it right in the heart of what most people come to Santa Barbara to see. Most families will find the Hotel Milo is a convenient, comfortable choice at the right price. Though some describe the rooms as worn, others gush over the pool and hot tub, private poolside cabanas, full-service gym and spa. Kids will enjoy the Ping-Pong table, or renting a complimentary bike (included in the service fee) to see the sights. The hotel offers a complimentary, European-style continental breakfast to guests, but parking comes at an additional $18 a day.
The Fess Parker
A Mission-style Santa Barbara hotel with 360 guestrooms on 24 acres with five onsite restaurants, The Fess Parker is a step up from other Doubletree Hotels - in quality, as well as price. Every room has either a balcony or patio, as well as a minibar. Guestrooms offer two queens or one king bed, while suites come with an additional bedroom or a sofa bed. Kids will appreciate the shuffleboard court, putting green and expansive green lawn just steps from the beach. A heated outdoor pool and whirlpool spa, plus three lit tennis courts and a fitness center are enough to keep the family busy without ever leaving the grounds, too.
This is a converted motel with all rooms facing the outdoor pool, so families looking for peace and quiet (or privacy) may want to look elsewhere. But teens and tweens who will enjoy a California cool vibe will likely get a kick out of The Goodland, one of the best Santa Barbara resorts. Every room has a portable record player and a collection of vinyl to play as well as pet rocks for the guests. Other perks include pool toys and a photo booth, plus vintage surfboards and trailers on display. Kids will likely appreciate the movies on the lawn and live music on weekends, as well as kid-friendly social hours. Located in Goleta, the hotel is up the coast from Santa Barbara, so be prepared to drive, but the onsite restaurants get such glowing reviews you might want to stay in for dinner.
Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara
With more than 100 years of history, this iconic property has undergone a $19-million dollar restoration - and has a price tag to fit. However, most reviewers note that service is exceptional, pets are allowed, and guestrooms range from spacious standard rooms to one-bedrooms and even cottages by the beach. Kids will feel welcome thanks to two pools, plus activities catering to young ones including dance parties, pool games and S'mores nights. Located close to the water, the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara isn't as close to Santa Barbara's restaurants and nightlife (it's actually located in Montecito, not Santa Barbara) but is more restful because of it. Still, Montecito's boutiques and eateries are just a short stroll away.
Canary - A Kimpton Hotel
One of the tallest hotels in the area (Santa Barbara has since placed limitations on new construction), this six-story hotel has a rare bonus - a rooftop pool with unobstructed 360-degree views. Because the Canary is also the only luxury hotel in downtown, guests also may have to deal with road noise. Ask for a room on a higher floor or away from the street for a quieter option. While some of the furniture is older, the hotel is in the midst of refurbishing rooms and many are like-new. Dogs are welcome, but those who aren't four-legged fans should know the fourth floor is pet-free. Rooms have either one king or two double beds, and cribs are available. Free bicycles are available, and an upscale restaurant is onsite.
San Ysidro Ranch
Want to stay where John and Jackie Kennedy honeymooned or where Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier wed? San Ysidro Ranch, which was originally a sanctuary for monks in the 1700s, is the place. The historic ranch is made up of 41 individual cottages and suites, and each cottage has a private yard, fireplace, and outdoor spa. The ranch also has an outdoor pool, a full-service spa, and onsite dining, and there are hiking trails behind the resort. While most guests are there for a quiet retreat and families with kids may want to keep that (and the significant price tag) in mind, the ranch tries to make families feel welcome with snacks for the kids and treats for any birthday celebrators.
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