Known as the American Riviera for its many similarities to its Southern French counterpart on the Mediterranean, Santa Barbara is the perfect place to gear up for the holidays. There is probably no better way to experience this stunning area than at the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara.
The Four Seasons Biltmore is a property steeped in history. Perfectly situated with stunning views of the pristine Butterfly Beach, the hotel is a short stroll to the cafes and shops of Montecito or a short drive to the heart of downtown Santa Barbara. Set within 22-acres of peaceful, lush gardens complete with Kentia palm trees and meandering red brick walkways, The Four Seasons Biltmore was originally built in 1927 by architect Reginald Johnson. It soon became a preferred escape for Hollywood’s cognoscenti and well-heeled business tycoons.
Since then it has been meticulously renewed and refreshed, yet still maintains its glorious Spanish Colonial calm and charm. With 207 beautifully appointed rooms, many have balconies overlooking the jungle-like gardens. Rooms are airy, bright and spacious with Spanish style furnishings and working fireplaces. Intricate inlaid Spanish tiles feature prominently in the rooms’ nightstands, consoles and coffee tables. Large bathrooms have more of those gorgeous tiles and deep soaking tubs. The luxurious, high-count sheets mean you will sleep like a baby, while in-room Nespresso machines assure you will wake up absolutely an adult.
Decked out for the holidays, the hotel lobby was stunning and put all who entered into a yuletide and festive mood.
Of course it would not be complete without massive gingerbread house and electric train.
The hotel’s large fitness center has ocean facing floor-to-ceiling windows, and if you can keep your eye on your workout, has all manner of cardio machines, Cybex equipment and free weights. The outdoor ‘Resort Jungle Pool’ is nestled amid verdant greenery with two large Jacuzzis, one mineral and one chlorinated. If you are a tennis player, you will certainly want to sign up for a private lesson with Jake Cryan and watch your game significantly improve.
The 10,000 square foot spa has treatment room suites that are all-inclusive possessing private bathroom, shower and personal relaxation areas with that stunning perspective over the blue Pacific. Here skilled therapists will maneuver you into a state of total bliss. If you bring the kids, they can be indulged with a Little Princess Mini Facial or for the budding entrepreneur, a Junior VIP Relaxing Massage. Tel 805/969-2261.
Without a doubt, Santa Barbara and Montecito are towns for seriously innovative culinary delights. Watching one’s waistline not so much.
Opened just six months ago, The Monarch Restaurant located inside the family run Montecito Inn has an industrial chic atmosphere. It is here that “Top-Chef” competitor Chef Phillip Lee of L.A.’s Scratch and his wife, pastry chef Margarita Kallas-Lee, along with their talented team create fabulous dishes from locally sourced ingredients.
Chef Lee’s six-course tasting menu was divine and pays homage to the culinary marvels of California’s central coast. Standouts were abalone with bone marrow breadcrumbs, duck breast with pomegranate, and short ribs so tender that my knife became a table decoration. The vegan panna cotta made with coconut milk served with mango sorbet, berry chip shavings and cacao beans had me swooning in giddy delight. Tel 805/869-0789.
The outdoor patio of downtown Santa Barbara’s Scarlet Begonia with its aged brick walls and french café ambience is a quintessentially perfect setting for a great meal. As the owner Christa Fleming says, “Our approach is simple, thoughtful, food made with natural ingredients.” And that approach is a surefire winner. Try the open-faced Burrata sandwich served on grilled blueberry walnut sourdough with heirloom tomatoes and prosciutto or the green rancheros with organic eggs and grilled shrimp. Make absolutely sure and save room for their incredible house made scones and pastries. Tel 805/770-2143.
There are few places more perfect along this stretch of coast to watch the sunset than at the Four Seasons Resort Biltmore’s Ty Lounge. And there is nothing better with which to enjoy the marvel of nature’s dramatic hues than with a ‘Biltmore Fuerte.”
Touted as the ‘Official drink of Santa Barbara,’ it is made with Cutler’s Artisan Spirits 33 Bourbon distilled in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone neighborhood, organic lemon juice, strawberry pureé and honey from “Super bees” rescued from the Thomas Wildfire. While I never drink Bourbon and generally do not like sweet drinks, the assistant manager Chelsea Shindler was very persuasive that the Fuerte was not to be missed. She was right on the money as that mixed-to-perfection Fuerte was probably the best cocktail I have ever tasted anywhere. Tel 805/969-2261.
Dinner at Tydes located across the street from the hotel at the Coral Casino with head on Pacific Ocean views has a modern, seafood-centric menu. The octopus with squid ink aioli and chorizo was nearly too pretty to eat, but happily I devoured Chef Marco Fossati’s delicious artwork. The lamb T-bone with garlic panisse was tender and bursting with flavor and the fried Brussels sprouts with sweet potatoes and hazelnuts an excellent accompaniment. Tel 805/969-2261.
A classic brunch experience is served at the Four Seasons Resort Biltmore’s Bella Vista Restaurant. The intoxicating views of Butterfly Beach are enhanced by the brunch’s bottomless Mimosas and tasty dishes of every conceivable variety are fit for a royal family. Tel 805/969-2261.
While it is extremely tempting to never leave the bliss of the Four Seasons Resort Biltmore, nearby Santa Barbara has plenty to see and do.
Since retail therapy is practically mandatory this time of year, the shopping on downtown’s State Street allowed me to check many items off my Christmas list. In addition to the usual chain stores, there are many great boutiques selling specialty items and jewelry stores selling very creative bling.
One of my favorites stores was Charleston Shoe Co., selling stylish, handmade shoes made by artisan cobblers in Mexico. Besides, one must love a company that sells Uber comfortable shoes and has as its corporate slogan “from cobblestones to cocktails.”
Once I was nearly done engaging my inner shopper, I turned to cultural matters.
At the Santa Barbara Museum of Contemporary Art, Oakland-based Koto Ezawa’s solo exhibition “The Crime of Art” features light boxes and video animations chronicling the most high profile and infamous museum heists. Through February 3, 2019. Tel 805/966-5373.
Nearby on State Street, the storefront Youth Interactive showcases art and jewelry created by local teenagers. The YI program teaches high school students, ages 14-18, not just art, but useful business and leadership skills. Impressively, in 2017 there were 1,300 volunteer hours, 5,200 hours of attendance and 100-percent of high school seniors who participated graduated and went on to college. So much beauty was displayed that my inner shopper was inadvertently reawakened. I walked out with a fabulous 36 x 48-inch canvas painting, shown below, created by Santa Barbara High School senior Al Williams, whose artistic skills amazed me. Tel 805/617-6421.
While reconstruction is ongoing, the excellent Santa Barbara Museum of Art is open (enter through the gift shop), and has an exceptional collection for a town of Santa Barbara’s size. Exhibiting through February 10, 2019, “Paths of Gold,” showcases Japanese landscape and narrative paintings. Also on display is an exhibit of “Let it Snow” paintings of winter as well as a notable permanent collection. Tel 805/963-4364.
Being able to walk everywhere is a delight and Santa Barbara has made great strides in efforts to keep the downtown area car free. There is a downtown to waterfront shuttle as well as a hop on hop off trolley. Naturally, there are also bicycles to rent.
Also important, a good café, restaurant or bar is never far away when refueling becomes necessary. At the Funk Zone near the waterfront, old manufacturing plants and warehouses have given rise to art studios, more art galleries, wine tasting rooms, craft breweries and artisanal shops.
The lesson learned
Whether you eat, drink, shop or avail yourself of the many outdoor activities in this slice of the American Riviera heaven, without doubt you will be very merry. That will be true if you travel here in advance of the holidays or anytime before, during or afterwards.
Julie L. Kessler is MoneyInc’s Travel & Luxury Editor and writes travel stories for various major media outlets. She is also an attorney and legal columnist based in Los Angeles and the author of the award-winning book “Fifty-Fifty: The Clarity of Hindsight.” She can be reached at Julie@VagabondLawyer.com