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two luxury hotels in Santa Barbara

two luxury hotels in Santa Barbara

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Old Mar 30, 18, 6:07 pm
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two luxury hotels in Santa Barbara

I was invited on an educational trip sponsored by Belmond El Encanto for a group of Brownell travel advisors. I took the opportunity to expand the trip by booking a two night stay at RC Bacara at the beginning of my trip.

Two very different resorts, they will appeal to different guests. Let me share my impressions.


Ritz-Carlton Bacara Resort

The original Bacara Resort was built in 2000 and sold to its current owner in 2017. The owner immediately hired Ritz-Carlton to manage it, and it was rebranded in October, 2017. Bacara is sized like a typical Ritz-Carlton resort with 358 rooms and suites. Guests currently receive STARS amenities, and the resort is apparently on track to be accepted by Virtuoso.

What’s great about Bacara:

Location… on 87 seaside acres in Goleta, a dozen miles north of Santa Barbara, Bacara is 108 miles north of Los Angeles. Weekend visitors from the LA area constitute the largest demographic of the its guests.

Right on the beach… Bacara borders the ocean, and it’s an easy walk down to the beach (a public beach like all California beaches). Due to California Coastal Commission regulations, this is a natural (i.e., ungroomed) beach with driftwood and unraked sand … but Bacara has a Beach House that offers food service as well as restrooms and showers.

Dining opportunities… Bacara has two excellent restaurants. Angel Oak, the signature fine-dining restaurant, is one of the top-rated restaurants in the Santa Barbara area. Bistro — open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner — offers a more casual and less expensive menu. STARS guests receive daily complimentary Breakfast Buffet for two at Bistro.

Pools and spa… The resort’s central pools (see below) are heated to 85º year round, and we enjoyed our treatments at Bacara’s excellent spa.
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Plans for improvement… while luxury travel advisors have “booked away” from Bacara for years, the new owner is committed to spending what is required to create a world-class resort.

(1) First step: transform the culture with Ritz-Carlton’s brand of service. We were driven from the airport by the resort’s Director of Guest Services. Having worked at Bacara for a number of years in several different staff positions, he shared his enthusiasm, and that of the staff, at RC’s philosophy of staff empowerment. If a guest is experiencing an issue or problem, staff members are empowered to resolve the situation right on the spot … not the way things had been done under previous owners and management. Not yet six months into Ritz-Carlton’s management, the staff is excited about the Ritz philosophy of guest service.

(2) Second step: renovate the public spaces. A complete redesign of the lobby will begin this June. The existing lobby is comfortable but unremarkable, but plans are in place to open up the space and create a contemporary look and feel.

(3) Third step: add traditional Ritz-Carlton services: A temporary Club Lounge will open in April while a permanent Club will be ready in July. Bacara is working with Jean-Michel Cousteau to develop a seasonal Ritz Kids program, scheduled to open by this September.
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(4) Fourth step: room renovations to be undertaken over the next two years. Our Deluxe Suite (bedroom pictured above) was quite comfortable, but Ritz-Carlton is developing storyboards of new room designs to bring guest rooms fully up to date. Plans will incorporate a grey/blue color scheme, reminiscent of what RC Half Moon Bay and RC Laguna Niguel have already done.

There is a lot of excitement around these plans, and I was told that Herve Hummer, the President of Ritz Carlton, expects Bacara to become the flagship resort of the entire chain. These high hopes speak to the investment that ownership and management are prepared to make in Bacara’s future.


Belmond El Encanto

El Encanto, located in the hills above Santa Barbara, has just 92 rooms and suites. Originally built in the 1920’s, Belmond has restored this classic hotel to its present, quite lovely state. El Encanto’s eight acres are dotted with 31 bungalows, 11 built in California Craftsman (board-and-batten) style and 20 in Mission (adobe) style architecture. El Encanto is a member of Virtuoso, and guests can choose between Virtuoso or Bellini Club amenities (depending on your TA's affiliations).

El Encanto is 500 feet above sea level and boats a commanding view of the Pacific. Just 1 1/2 miles from downtown and 3 miles from the beach, El Encanto guests benefit from the serene seclusion of the resort with easy access to the center of the action in Santa Barbara. Free shuttle service is provided within a 5 mile radius, and electric bikes are offered to guests on a complimentary basis.
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The resort’s central pool is heated to 85º year round, and I enjoyed a treatment at El Encanto’s spa on the ground floor of the main building.

I spent three nights ensconced in a Deluxe Premier Bungalow (#1701, pictured below), and I could not have been happier with the room. A spacious Junior Suite in its own detached building, the room’s interior was quietly elegant with a large seating area in front of a gas fireplace. The bathroom was immense with dual vanities, a large step-in shower, soaking tub, WC, and closet space with a dressing area. Although the lead-in Suite category is a Superior Suite (about the same square footage), I recommend you choose the Deluxe Premier Bungalow unless you really prefer a separate living room.
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We were also shown a Deluxe Bungalow (450 square feet) and two specialty suites, Oak Tree (1100 square feet) and Wishing Well (900 square feet), both of which had wonderful character.



Summary

Belmond El Encanto is perfect for those guests who prefer a quiet boutique resort, while Ritz-Carlton Bacara will please guests who want the energy of a bustling resort where their kids can splash in the family pool and they can meet and socialize with lots of other guests.


other luxury resorts in Santa Barbara

Four Seasons Santa Barbara is currently closed for repairs following this winter’s mudslides. We did drive by the resort, but as it’s a construction zone, we were not able to see it. Right across the street from the beach in Santa Barbara with its own Beach Club, the location is great. The goal for its reopening is June 1, but it’s uncertain whether this goal will be met.

San Ysidro Ranch is also currently closed, and many doubt whether it will ever be able to recover from the damage caused by the mudslides.
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Last edited by DavidO; Mar 31, 18 at 9:12 am
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Old Mar 30, 18, 6:21 pm
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My husband and I are heading to Belmond El Encanto in June - we had booked San Ysidro Ranch and were devastated to hear about the damage. Glad to see your review of El Encanto fits what we're looking for!
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Old Mar 30, 18, 10:32 pm
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Thanks, DavidO for that excellent report.
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Old Mar 30, 18, 11:03 pm
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Thanks DavidO! We are headed to El Encanto in ~2 weeks after our wedding and are even more looking forward to our stay after reading your report.
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Old Mar 31, 18, 12:26 am
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Thanks David, El Encanto is great! I'm interested to see the possible RC renovation, but for the time being my belief is El Encanto is the only option in SB. We were actually disappointed in the service levels a couple years ago (booked by you actually), but our most recent trips have left us feeling positive about the direction.
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Old Mar 31, 18, 2:50 am
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Thanks! Always enjoyed my Santa Barbara trips, lovely town.
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Old Aug 21, 18, 6:17 pm
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More news of Santa Barbara resorts including the new Rosewood, from the LA Times: The past meets the present in Santa Barbara, where new ? or in some cases, renovated ? luxury hotel rooms are opening

Including this I did not know:
"The downside? Like its predecessor, it has an active railroad line running through the property. I was told that a 24-hour guard will keep guests from crossing the tracks at the wrong time, removing the need for wailing train whistles. But earplugs might be a good idea when the tracks begin to rumble."

Last edited by KatW; Aug 21, 18 at 6:34 pm
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Old Aug 22, 18, 11:59 am
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Originally Posted by KatW View Post
More news of Santa Barbara resorts including the new Rosewood, from the LA Times: The past meets the present in Santa Barbara, where new ? or in some cases, renovated ? luxury hotel rooms are opening

Including this I did not know:
"The downside? Like its predecessor, it has an active railroad line running through the property. I was told that a 24-hour guard will keep guests from crossing the tracks at the wrong time, removing the need for wailing train whistles. But earplugs might be a good idea when the tracks begin to rumble."
Unfortunately the link don´t work in Europe dur to our great nwe date protection laws.
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Old Aug 22, 18, 2:26 pm
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One thing I will tell all of you, Goleta is NOT Santa Barbara.
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Old Aug 28, 18, 1:29 pm
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Originally Posted by gegarrenton View Post
One thing I will tell all of you, Goleta is NOT Santa Barbara.
I would be seriously disappointed if I was planning to stay in Santa Barbara and ended up in Goleta (past Goleta even) at Bacara
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Old Aug 28, 18, 1:48 pm
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Originally Posted by gegarrenton View Post
One thing I will tell all of you, Goleta is NOT Santa Barbara.
The RC Bacara is about 12 miles north of Santa Barbara proper, or a 10-15 min drive right down the 101 freeway. The former San Ysidro Ranch was about 6 miles south of Santa Barbara proper, but also about a 10-15 min drive due to winding and smaller roads along the route.

The FS Santa Barbara is 3-4 miles south of Santa Barbara proper, actually in Montecito, still a 5-10 min drive.

Belmond El Encanto is 1-2 miles from the center of Santa Barbara.It still can be a 5-10 min drive to various shops and restaurants or to the beach.

I advise about university admission for a living, and the RC Bacara property is just a bit north of the UC Santa Barbara campus in Goleta. I'm up there quite often. I wouldn't let the RC location necessarily dissuade one as much as its size. It certainly can take as long or longer to get to "town" from the closer (but now closed) San Ysidro Ranch as it could from the RC Bacara, ironically.

So the impact of the distance can be a bit misleading.
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Old Aug 30, 18, 6:46 am
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Originally Posted by bhrubin View Post
The RC Bacara is about 12 miles north of Santa Barbara proper, or a 10-15 min drive right down the 101 freeway. The former San Ysidro Ranch was about 6 miles south of Santa Barbara proper, but also about a 10-15 min drive due to winding and smaller roads along the route.

The FS Santa Barbara is 3-4 miles south of Santa Barbara proper, actually in Montecito, still a 5-10 min drive.

Belmond El Encanto is 1-2 miles from the center of Santa Barbara.It still can be a 5-10 min drive to various shops and restaurants or to the beach.

I advise about university admission for a living, and the RC Bacara property is just a bit north of the UC Santa Barbara campus in Goleta. I'm up there quite often. I wouldn't let the RC location necessarily dissuade one as much as its size. It certainly can take as long or longer to get to "town" from the closer (but now closed) San Ysidro Ranch as it could from the RC Bacara, ironically.

So the impact of the distance can be a bit misleading.
I'm a former Santa Barbara resident. My comment was mostly tongue in cheek, but labeling the fine new city of Goleta as Santa Barbara is somewhat offensive to Santa Barbara. It's like calling Oakland San Francisco!
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Old Dec 6, 18, 5:26 pm
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I see that the San Ysidro Ranch is opening again in March 2019 (per their website). Between now and then our local media is indicating that the restaurant is open on a limited basis and apparently maybe some of the rooms.

Around that same time the Rosewood Montecito is opening too. Originally they announced January 7 but that seems to be a bit optimistic.
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Old Dec 6, 18, 5:53 pm
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SYR reopening after mudslide jan 2018 and fire dec 2017 - not completely destroyed as some media claimed

rosewood >
Originally Posted by Kagehitokiri View Post
feb 11 lanai/bungalow
mar 15 beach/manor (day of season / rate increase)
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Old Dec 6, 18, 6:39 pm
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Look forward to reports on how well SYR has recovered. Also interested in first-hand reports on the new Rosewood.
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