Historic hotel El Encanto, a Santa Barbara retreat for stars of the silver screen, is once again ready for its close-up. Tidy Californian Craftsman and Spanish colonial-style bungalows sit serenely on seven terraced acres of lush gardens. The golden sand beaches below may beckon, but you’ll be torn about leaving the sumptuous spa, infinity edged pool and elegant dining terrace with clear ocean views.
Get this when you book through us:
Seasonal fruit gift, a half bottle of Santa Barbara wine and (subject to availability) a room upgrade; GoldSmiths and SilverSmiths also get one $50 spa credit a stay
Noon; earliest check-in, 3 pm (both are flexible, subject to availability).
Double rooms from £383.59 ($502), including tax at 12.195 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional resort fee of $35.00 per room per night on check-out and an additional local city tax of $4.40 per room per night on check-out.
Rates exclude breakfast, a resort fee of $35 a room a night, and an additional local city tax of $4.40 a room a night, both of which are due at check-out.
The sweeping ocean views and grounds dotted with fragrant fruit trees, tropical flowers, climbing wisteria and a lily pond take center stage. However, don’t overlook the carefully selected artwork. Damien Hirst created a silkscreen with butterfly wings in diamond dust that hangs in the lobby, and Charles Arnoldi’s dramatic abstract painting welcomes guests to the dining room.
At the hotel
Spa, seven acres of gardens, fitness studio with schedule of classes, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: iPod dock, minibar, coffeemaker and tea service, flatscreen TV and DVD player
Our favourite rooms
The Premier Bungalow poses a quandary: not how, but where to relax? Should you curl up by the open-hearth fireplace or steep in the soaking tub? Does the ocean look bluer from the private patio or the king-size bed? There’s no wrong answer. In fact, every single room on the property has been updated from the gleaming faucets down to the refinished floorboards, so you’ll find soothing elements and luxuries to love in all room levels.
Gaze out towards the glistening waters of the Pacific Ocean from the outdoor heated infinity-edged saltwater swimming pool and sun deck.
Leave the binoculars at home. Peer through one of the telescopes found on the terraces to spy whales in the ocean or distant stars up above.
Public and common areas are disability accessible, and there are several disability access rooms available.
Welcome. Travel cribs and baby monitors are free to borrow. Additional guests are $85 per night (a $50 fee plus $35 and tax for an extra bed), though kids under 18 stay free in suites with sofa beds. The restaurant has a children’s menu and high chairs.
The hotel uses eco-friendly cleaning products, bathroom products and light bulbs. Many herbs and vegetables come from the on-site garden and the menu features locally sourced meat, fish and produce.
Nab a table on the outdoor terrace for a romantic dinner beneath the stars.
Luxurious layers – sport coats for the men, cashmere wraps for the ladies – to drape over shoulders when the sun sinks into the Pacific.
Seasonal California coastal cuisine is quite at home in the light filled dining room (also an outdoor terrace) that maximises the garden and unobstructed ocean views. Chef John Denizot grows herbs and vegetables in his on-site garden to accent dishes such as a red wine-braised Kobe-style beef cheeks and Santa Barbara sea urchin. El Encanto also has house-brand coffee and wine, home-brewed beer and signature cheese from their very own cow, Ellie.
Pop by the intimate bar just off the elegant dining room to punctuate the evening. The bar staff also plucks herbs from the chef’s on-site garden for signature cocktails like the Rocket Gimlet, a gin concoction with fresh arugula.
10pm in the restaurant; the bar closes at 11pm Sunday through Thursday, and last call is 12midnight on Friday and Saturday.
Belmond El Encanto sits on a lush hillside overlooking the California coastline in a residential neighbourhood in the town of Santa Barbara. It’s a 10-minute drive to restaurants, boutiques and the golden sand beaches in town.
Santa Barbara Municipal Airport is the nearest, 10 miles, or a 15-minute drive. The small airport operates flights to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Seattle and other cities within two hours. Los Angeles International Airport, the nearest major hub, is 100 miles – or a two-hour drive – from the hotel.
The Santa Barbara Amtrak Station is three mikes away and runs service from San Luis Obispo down through Los Angeles to San Diego.
Santa Barbara is an ideal stop-off en route from Los Angeles to San Francisco, or as a weekend trip from either city. The hotel has on-site parking for US$35 a day. There are reputable car-hire options at both Santa Barbara Municipal Airport and Los Angeles International Airport.
Worth getting out of bed for
Depart your hillside perch to splash in those crashing waves you’ve been admiring from your private verandah. Hop the hotel’s free shuttle to town, or take one of their custom electric bikes for a spin. Feeling adventurous? Paddle out for a surf lesson. If a mellow beach hang is more your speed, request a picnic-to-go from the hotel, and stake out your spot in the golden sand.
Aside from surf, sun and shopping, Santa Barbara is also home to a vibrant arts community with an abundance of theatres, museums and galleries. The Santa Barbara Museum of Art holds an impressive permanent collection – including a cache of Monets – and presents ever-changing exhibitions of painting, photography and sculpture. Explore the local seafaring heritage – from shipwrecks to surfing – at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, built as a Works Progress Administration project in 1943.
Wrap up the day with a tasting tour of some of the central coast’s finest wines – on foot. The Urban Wine Trail is a collection of wineries with tasting rooms and cellars all within walking distance of downtown.
Bouchon on Victoria Street has a pleasant year-round patio and a daily menu of fresh catches from the Santa Barbara Channel, as well as meat and produce from surrounding farms, all expertly paired with local wines. Fortify with the kurobata pork-belly with potato rösti and poached duck egg or sample the three varieties (chicken, pork, cheese) of traditional tamales, among other authentic Mexican dishes at Los Agaves on Milpas Street. Julienne, an inviting bistro on East Canon Perdido Street is a local favourite, and with good reason. The California-style bistro is known for house-made charcuterie and inventive, seasonal dishes.
Municipal Winemakers on Anacapa Street is a boutique producer located downtown. Grab a seat at one of the communal tables, sip earthy reds and make new friends in this unpretentious tasting room. Stop off for a handcrafted cold one at The Brewhouse (+1 805 884 4664) on Montecito Street, where lagers, ales and Belgian-style brews are made on-site. The pub also serves upscale nibbles and sandwiches, and hosts a line-up of live music Thursdays through Saturdays.
Mrs Smith and I would love a proper vacation – one of those long haul, shut-out-the-world affairs. But we’re living on two coasts and working way too much in between, and any getaway to reconnect is enough for the moment. So we thought an escape up the California coast to Santa Barbara, a breezy two-hour drive from Los Angeles, would do for a quick-fix dose of adventure.
Arriving at El Encanto, a luxury resort perched in Santa Barbara’s rolling hills, we quickly realized that this retreat was exactly what we'd been craving – and then some. Checked in, a lovely host walked us through the landscaped grounds that showed-off ocean views from every manicured corner. Following a spare-no-expense, seven-year restoration project, the original glamour (and tons of new sparkle) was returned to this century-old hideout for Hollywood’s elite. Hey, if good enough for Clarke Gable and Carole Lombard’s trysts, then we’d probably do all right here.
Making our way down the brick walkways connecting the California Craftsman bungalows and Spanish-colonial style casitas, we were overcome by the scent of lavender, eucalyptus and roses from the flora-lined path. Seven acres of terraced gardens were dotted with fruit trees, the original lily pond and a few babbling brooks. Hello, Eden… or the backdrop for a cinematic wedding scene. A popular spot for saying ‘I Do’ we discovered, as we passed a reception just winding down and were told another was booked for the following day.
Led to our Deluxe Bungalow, we surveyed our spacious and well-decorated room. Our host immediately noticed that a doorknob was wobbly, and within minutes someone appeared to fix it. El Encanto absolutely nails it when it comes to customer attention and service, and this was just one of many examples that we experienced during our stay. A good start, to be sure.
Rooms highlights included the heated floors in the ensuite along with a tub big enough for two (and lux bath salts) and an extraordinarily comfortable King-size bed. There was a beautiful desk (tempting me to work – but I resisted) and a cozy sitting area (which I did not hold back on) in front of the gas fireplace. Mrs Smith pointed out that our pillows bore our initials, a nice touch…
The pillows (that bed…. that tub…) beckoned, but it wasn’t time to retire just yet – we had a date at the hotel’s restaurant. Settling in at the lounge, we started with a Moscow Mule for the lady and bourbon for me, accompanied by a jazz vocalist and pianist. Trailing the hostess, we were shown to the outdoor patio twinkling with candlelight. Seated at our table on the terrace edge, we took in the clear views of Santa Barbara below and, just beyond town, the rolling Pacific Ocean illuminated by a steadily rising full moon.
Seasonal, coastal California cuisine is the kitchen’s focus, and many of the vegetables and herbs are straight from the chef’s on-site garden. A just-plucked freshness that was evident in the bright kale and peach salad. We moved on next to a creamy (and downright divine) lobster gnocchi and sea bass dish, all of which was expertly paired with a crisp California chardonnay grown and bottled just 45-minutes up the road.
Asking the waiter for a dessert recommendation (he hadn’t led us astray yet), he mentioned a chocolate cake, adding that the best thing about it was the homemade nutella ice cream (not on the menu). He had uttered the magic word – nutella – and we ordered two scoops of the ice cream – hold the cake. Savoring every last chocolate and hazelnut-y bite while lingering over the sparkling view, we were the last to leave the restaurant.
Waking slowly the next morning, we watched as the clouds made way for a beautiful, sunny Saturday. We checked out the decent gym and took a dip in the perfect-temperature infinity pool before a quick (although not outstanding) brunch.
Average meal aside, we had more important things on the agenda: spa appointments. The pristine service and attention-to-detail elsewhere continued at the spa where we both relaxed into our soothing sage body treatments involving a deep massage and a sage scrub with herbs grown in their garden.
Practically floating on air after our superior spa experience, we took the day to explore Santa Barbara. First stop: tamales and fresh watermelon juice from La Super Rica Taqueria, which is said to be Julia Childs’ favorite taco stand. We explored the pier and took a break from the sun with a glass of wine and game of backgammon in the relaxed tasting room at Municipal Winemakers. And, tipped off by a friend, we indulged in a romantic fireside dinner at the Stonehouse Restaurant in Montecito.
Returning to our resort on the hill, we found that all had quieted down to cricket chirps in the afterglow of another El Encanto wedding. On the way to our room we stopped to get horizontal on a hammock and stared at the sky bursting with stars. Extracting ourselves from the open-air cradle, we noticed the sign for a wishing well. Standing by the little well in the dark, Mrs Smith whispered, ‘We should make a wish.’ I emptied out all the change from my pockets and handed the coins over. ‘But what about you?’ she said. Smiling, I replied, ‘All my wishes came true already.’
Whenever you book a stay at a Smith hotel or villa, we’ll invite you to review it when you get back. Read what other Smith members had to say in Belmond El Encanto’s Guestbook below.
This is a fantastic venue! By far the best we stayed at during our trip. Great hotel, very good service in a nice area. Food is excellent as well. Can strongly recommend it for many different situations; families, couples, weddings etc. Nice hang out by the pool. Good gym. Very accomodating staff. You need a big budget though.
Stayed on 8 Jul 2018
Santa Mezcal for the best Mexican we have ever had; margaritas to die for. With the Belmond there is a real sense of indulgence at every turn. The pool and the views overlooking Santa Barbara is incredible and then when you return to your room what an amazing bathroom, toiletries and superb bedding awaits.
An easy time in getting a table at lunch or breakfast at the weekend – the hotel gets very busy with hotel guests, wedding groups and brunch bookings. Everybody wants to visit the Belmond after all!