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Santa Barbara luxury hotels overview

Santa Barbara luxury hotels overview

Old Apr 27, 19, 6:51 pm
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Santa Barbara luxury hotels overview

While staying 5 nights at the Ritz-Carlton Bacara here in Santa Barbara, we today had the chance to visit the other luxury hotels in/around town with a few friends. So that I don’t forget the prescient details, here is a quick summary of what we thought. I will try to add more detailed reviews with photos as time allows in the near future.

Properties are listed in the order we saw them.

(1) Four Seasons The Biltmore Santa Barbara

I expected to dislike it. But we all loved it. It has a rich, authentic, and beautifully historic and timeless decor. A real sense of place, much more than even the very lovely but much larger and newer Ritz-Carlton. At 206 rooms it isn’t boutique, but it didn’t feel as big as that, either. Few rooms and suites really have great ocean views; most have over the rooftop views that I wouldn’t normally characterize as ocean view, but that didn’t detract at all for me from the quality of the hotel or experience.

The garden/jungle rooms and bungalows had a spectacular location on the property’s amazing gardens and immaculate landscaping, and those actually were our favorite. The rooms had quite a bit of different looks to them, so the room or suite or bungalow category can make a big difference in ambience—and concomitant price.

Service from the valets, the front desk, the concierge, the gardeners, and even the agent who toured around with us was stellar.

Highly recommended. It ain’t cheap, but it’s one of the best Four Seasons I’ve seen in quite some time.

(2) San Ysidro Ranch

Wow. The epitome of the getaway luxury boutique experience in every way. With only 41 bungalows/units, it was truly special. The gardens and landscaping are truly amazing here in the hills above Santa Barbara’s most exclusive enclave of Montecito. It’s incredible that only 3 bungalows are still closed and being refurbished/repaired since the tragic Santa Barbara mudslide of 2018 took the lives of 23 people and did massive damage to this property. You couldn’t tell beyond those 3 being repaired that anything had happened here in decades other than an interior refurbishment.

The bungalows we saw were spectacular. Wonderfully calming and warm interiors, giving the sense of a mountain retreat more than a hotel. Spacious, spectacularly appointed, and very private. With nature flooding in through windows as French doors. Decks usually had jacuzzi tubs and plenty of space to take in the beautiful scenery all around you.

Lunch at the famed Stonehouse Restaurant was not as impressive. While we were grateful that they’d agreed in advance to allow our dog, they seemed unaware of that previous promise when we arrived. They finally relented, but that was disappointing. The service then was shockingly slow and tedious. We waited almost 10 min for water, and 20 min for ​​​​​​sometime to take our orders. It took over 90 min for our lunch, and the food wasn’t so great. The chicken sandwich tasted fine but was so poorly constructed as to fall apart at the first grab. My husband’s chicken was underdone in parts and over cooked in others. Our salads were bland. Complaints about our friend’s tortilla soup being cool caused barely a reaction, though they did bring a warmer soup for her husband. All in all, it was all a bit sad and pitiful.

Still we highly recommend this property—the service otherwise and the hard product overall are really intimate and incredible. We just might eat elsewhere or hope they get their act together before then!

(3) Rosewood Miramar Beach

I expected to love this the most. But we all hated it. The sterile architecture was uninspired and felt more at home in the Hamptons than California. The whole place felt austere and forced, from its unusual location straddling the railroad tracks to the obviously see-and-be-seen crowd of people who cared far more about what they were spending than what they were getting in return. The staff was way too pretty not to notice, and the service betrayed that almost immediately: people were hired who looked good and not because they had any experience with or interest In hospitality at this level.

We weren’t able to see any rooms because they were fully committed, not that we even could get to ask at the front desk due to the sheer chaos. I don’t know whether they were too understaffed or just had the most demanding guests of all time, but the front desk was madness—staffed by only one woman. It was the emptiest reception I’d ever seen for such a busy hotel scene. The concierge wanted to help but couldn’t seem to figure out whom to ask. He did love our dog, though. I waited at reception for about 10 minutes and got nowhere. So we moved on.

We tried to have dessert and drinks by the seaside bar on the cliff across the railroad tracks...only to have the most clueless server in some time. Pretty, but clueless, indeed. He couldn’t remember what we ordered not a few minutes after we ordered. He brought me a coffee even though I’d ordered an iced mocha. Then he brought me an iced coffee. After that, I asked the hostess if someone might assist us with the debacle. I went to the washroom only to return to find nothing had happened and the server and hostess laughing it by the entrance. They apparently had comp’d our drinks...even though I’d not received mine yet. How gracious. We left quickly.

I don’t recommend it. I absolutely hated it. Pretty people can learn, but dumb people never will bother. Service looks to be atrocious,

(4) Belmond El Encanto

I didn’t know what to expect, but we arrived to find a beautiful hilltop location with wonderful views and surly staff. We had been told in advance there would be rooms available to view, but were told differently on arrival. The person who said she’d be there to welcome us was nowhere to be found. We discovered soon that she wasn’t the only one!

The property looked lovely and boutique, of a less sophisticated veneer than the others but with a freshness nonetheless. Then it all went downhill again.

We were seated for desserts and drinks since I never had gotten mine at the Rosewood. A lovely server took our order for drinks and 3 desserts—strawberries and cream and 2 orders of s’mores. Our drinks arrived maybe 10-15 min later as we were beginning to wonder if delays were contagious at luxury hotels in Santa Barbara today. Then that was it: no desserts even after another 20 min. I finally had to ask a nearby bartender if he could track down our desserts or our actual server. He came back 5 min later to let us know someone would be out. Another 5 min and I was ready to go...as a lovely manager came to meet me as I was heading to the front desk. She said she’d be happy to look into the matter. Seriously. I told her they could comp the drinks and we would be leaving. She capitulated and apologized. Then she agreed. But I think they still might be searching for their server and our desserts even now...or tomorrow. We left.

Of course, getting away proved trickier than we thought. The valets had lost the keys to one of the cars in the entry car circle. So after some maneuvering, we had to back out to make our escape. I may have uttered a few choice words to suggest the place had some problems as we backed up.

Ironically, our friends had been several times for lunch and dinner here and said the valets losing keys was something they’d seen before. Oh my.

Not recommended. They’ll still be trying to process your drink order on arrival as you check out. And then they won’t be able to find your car, anyway.

(5) Ritz-Carlton Bacara Santa Barbara

We have spent 4 nights already here and tonight is our 5th and final night. Because of my Marriott Ambassador status, we were upgraded before arrival from an entry level award room to a One Bedroom Garden View Suite. After some noise issues from kids running loudly above us and some other not so impressive service issues with that ground floor suite, we were moved on our second day to a 3rd story One Bedroom Oceanview Suite—one of the best on property as it were.

The property is quite large at 367 rooms—and it most certainly feels like it. While our first garden view suite was ground floor and didn’t have views, it also felt a bit dark and still felt a bit exposed. Most of the rooms here that look into the central part of the resort are very exposed and don’t have balconies or even windows that are private at all.

The property is expansive, lovely, and and feels very of Santa Barbara. It actually is a very nice hard product—authentically Santa Barbara feeling with the mission white wall/Spanish style. The landscaping is also lovely. But the Four Seasons puts it to shame in terms of majesty and historical authenticity.
The pool area is probably the most impressive of any of the hotels discussed herein, with two dramatic pools looking out at an angle onto the Pacific Ocean, with jacuzzis on the sides and between them. The overall effect is quite impressive, even more so when they are lit up at night.

The dining at the fine dining restaurant, Angel Oak, is fabulous. World class food and service. We loved it so much our first night, we booked again for our last night (tonight). We can’t wait.

Breakfast and lunch at the Bistro, on the other hand, has been a bit less stellar. The food is wonderful. The breakfast buffet is nice. But the service has been very uneven, and sometimes downright stupid. Two servers on our first day tried to change propane tank for the heat lamp right next to me just as I was seated. The Bistro for lunch the next day seated us on wet cushions by mistake...and then barely apologized or offered any recovery. The Bistro server two days ago insisted I use the buffet omelette chef rather than order through him off menu—and then literally walked me to make sure I did that and didn’t order as if I were in a proper restaurant. The Bistro yesterday said the kitchen was backed up after it took 20 min to get cappuccinos and 35 min for us to get our order...and it wasn’t even half full. The Bistro hostess on our first day said she’d get a towel from the adjacent pool for our dog...and then never did.

Service elsewhere also also has been messy, Housekeeping today knocked on our door—twice—despite the privacy sign obviously displayed and after I’d complained the first time. Housekeeping for 2 of our 3 nights thus far has made the bed improperly in 2 different suites in a very strange/awkward manner that keeps coming apart/loose during the night. Calls to the hotel or to the operator ring endlessly and unanswered for 12-15 rings, forcing us to call back and wait for an answer way too many times. Housekeeping forgot to bring extra water for our new suite. Parking valets forgot to bring our car around despite being called in advance. Trash and empty alcohol bottles were outside our first suite door on arrival—very poor impression. We asked for larger dog bowls on arrival, which they never brought.

It’s been a comedy of errors of stupid mistakes, thoughtlessness, and poor training. We retuned from our luxury hotel visits at 5 pm to notice our room service dishes and pillaged food still siting outside our suite. Not impressive again.

Even as we’ve had those many fails, other staff have been incredibly warm and helpful. The “luxury guest curator” here has been amazing. She basically put together out wine tasting excursion for two days, as well as arranged our hotel visits today. She followed up on all of our dining reservations, making sure everything was right and that everyone knew it was our 9th wedding anniversary. She put rose petals throughout our second suite for our actual anniversary evening, along with wine and cheese as a special amenity. A bartender at the pool bar struck up conversation with us on our actual anniversary—and had a round of champagne sent to us at dinner in town at Bouchon that same evening. That was a great touch and really moved us. The entire team at the Angel Oak fine dining restaurant know us by name even after that first night and keep asking us to come have a drink at the bar before our final night’s dinner there. Some of the parking valets have gotten pretty friendly with us, too. So there’s definitely some real potential with the staff here.

Overall, this hotel reminds me more of a convention/conference JW Marriott than a Ritz-Carlton—both in terms of the size and unfortunate density of the property and the lack of proper 5 star luxury service across the board. While we maximized the value of our stay and got more luxury than most, I don’t think it quite compares with the level of luxury afforded at least by the Four Seasons or San Ysidro Ranch. With the service blunders at the Rosewood Miramar and Belmond El Encanto, though, I’d be more pleased to return to the Ritz-Carlton!

Last edited by bhrubin; Apr 28, 19 at 10:37 am
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Old Apr 27, 19, 7:18 pm
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Terrific report and very illuminating. Thanks.
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Old Apr 28, 19, 1:52 am
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Congrats on your wedding anniversary! Wonder how you follow up next year for the big one!

Shame about Rosewood, I had hoped it would be better. Wonder if Caruso had a say in the hiring process...
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Old Apr 28, 19, 4:22 am
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Only stayed at FS but was very satisfied when I did.
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Old Apr 28, 19, 8:08 am
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Wonderful trip report! Sounds like the two of you need to go away next weekend to make up for the comedy of errors on this weekend’s trip! Wishing you a much better anniversary next year on your 10th!
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Old Apr 28, 19, 9:30 am
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Originally Posted by LinLant View Post
Wonderful trip report! Sounds like the two of you need to go away next weekend to make up for the comedy of errors on this weekend’s trip! Wishing you a much better anniversary next year on your 10th!
Thanks!

Actually, this was only the first 5 nights of our 2 week anniversary trip. Today we leave Santa Barbara for 2 nights at Ventana Big Sur, followed by 2 nights at the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay (already pre-upgraded to a Guest House Firepit Oceanview Suite), followed by 3 nights at Calistoga Ranch, and ending with 2 nights at my favorite St Regis San Francisco (already pre-upgraded to my favorite Metropolitan Suite as usual). We still got game!
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Old Apr 28, 19, 11:03 am
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Thank you for the report. Loved all the detail and your subjective as well as objective notes.

I wonder if some of the congestion you observed at the Rosewood check-in desk was related to the time of day. (Hard to say since you didn't note the time in your reports.) But one person staffing a desk in non-peak times (e.g. midday) wouldn't strike me as unusual.

To be seated while someone changes a propane tank for a heat lamp (Ritz Carlton) would not throw me as it isn't always easy to predict when the tanks will run out. Provided staff are familliar with the procedure it shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes.

OTOH to be served even some undercooked chicken in a sandwich is appalling (San Ysidro), that is a deal breaker.
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Old Apr 28, 19, 11:11 am
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We stayed at the Four Seasons and were very impressed.
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Old Apr 28, 19, 12:20 pm
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Eager to hear about the other properties!
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Old Apr 28, 19, 1:01 pm
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Thank you for another wonderful report- it’s very helpful. Santa Barbara is an ideal Staycation for us.

On our last visit we were supposed to stay at San Ysidro but it, the RC and the FS were all closed for the fire. We ended up at Encanto and FWIW had a lovely stay, though it was due to a very nice hard product. I thought the staff was terrible- it was embarrassing having to push for our FHR upgrade when the hotel (not the restaurant) was deserted. ( The few other guests were “refugees “ whose homes had been damaged in the fire). They (reluctantly) upgraded us to a very nice 1 Bedroom suite. We did also have 2 very good dinners at their restaurant.

Appreciate you “taking one for the team” and scouting the properties on your anniversary trip. Your husband is more patient than mine!

And now that I know you have prescient details I understand why so many of your stays turn out great (r&dfc.
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Old Apr 28, 19, 1:11 pm
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Originally Posted by damon88 View Post
Thank you for another wonderful report- it’s very helpful. Santa Barbara is an ideal Staycation for us.

On our last visit we were supposed to stay at San Ysidro but it, the RC and the FS were all closed for the fire. We ended up at Encanto and FWIW had a lovely stay, though it was due to a very nice hard product. I thought the staff was terrible- it was embarrassing having to push for our FHR upgrade when the hotel (not the restaurant) was deserted. ( The few other guests were “refugees “ whose homes had been damaged in the fire). They (reluctantly) upgraded us to a very nice 1 Bedroom suite. We did also have 2 very good dinners at their restaurant.

Appreciate you “taking one for the team” and scouting the properties on your anniversary trip. Your husband is more patient than mine!

And now that I know you have prescient details I understand why so many of your stays turn out great (r&dfc.
We too had an excellent stay at El Encanto (and also chose it because the FS, RC, and YSR were closed due to the fires) primarily due to the hard product. Service was as poor as you can get at at luxury hotel, but we had a good time nonetheless. The frontline staff was mainly college-aged kids and they were trying, but simply didn't have the resources or training to execute. Made for some frustrating orders at the bar/restaurant but the setting was beautiful so we survived.
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Old Apr 28, 19, 1:33 pm
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A few photos of Encanto from our visit
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Old Apr 28, 19, 9:16 pm
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There really aren't that many reviews of all the luxury properties in SB. Much appreciated!
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Old Apr 28, 19, 10:33 pm
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I was another discomoded by the fire and subsequent mudslides so our January 2018 reservation was cancelled at SYR.

I have heard poor reactions from friends to the FS but now am motivated to try it.

Had high hopes for the new Rosewood but now will avoid. Also not a fan of the architecture. Same reason we don't go to Meadowood in Napa. Its architecture and style are New England rsther than Napa.

I probably would choose SYR over El Encanto given both are dicey service-wise.

Thanks for the scoop on these venues.
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Old May 7, 19, 10:55 pm
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bhrubin,

Thank you you very much for this review! My husband and I will go to Santa Barbara in early July to stay with friends at their beach house for a few days. Prior to that we have planned to stay in a hotel for 2 nights to visit with other friends. For many years I often stayed at the Biltmore ( now Four Seasons) and more recently San Ysidro Ranch both of which we like very much. We were thinking of trying the Rosewood Miramar Beach this stay, but after your feedback, and the fact they have recently raised the price of their Beach House King Room ( liked idea of staying on the ocean but this is a room, not a suite!) to $3700 per night ++ we have decided to go back to the Four Seasons for 2 nights. Thank you for the great feedback!
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