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Where to Stay in Santa Barbara: 7 Best Areas & Neighborhoods

Where to Stay in Santa Barbara: 7 Best Areas & Neighborhoods

Are you planning to visit Santa Barbara and aren’t sure where to start? Don’t stress. It can be overwhelming to decide where to stay in Santa Barbara; there are many Santa Barbara hotels that are comfortable, luxurious, and prime locations for outdoor adventures, wineries, shopping, and exploring the area.

Also known as the American Riviera, Santa Barbara is known and loved for its Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, rich heritage, wine, and food scene. Santa Barbara attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors annually for its unique landscape, sights, and delicious eats.

Here are our favorite accommodations and places to stay in one of the most beautiful cities in Southern California.

TLDR; Our Favorite Accommodations in Santa Barbara

Areas to choose within Santa Barbara

  • Best area for first-timers – West Beach
  • Best area for budget travelers – Goleta
  • Best area for luxury travelersMontecito
  • Best area for safety – Upper East
  • Best area for families – East Beach
  • Best area for food – Haley Corridor
  • Best area for shopping – Downtown Santa Barbara

Where to Stay in Santa Barbara, California

1. West Beach: Best Area for First-Timers

West Beach Santa Barbara

If you’re a first-time visitor to Santa Barbara and want to experience the main attractions, beach access, and a bustling part of town, West Beach will make for a memorable first visit to Santa Barbara.

West Beach is a very popular neighborhood in Santa Barbara that draws crowds from all over the world to experience its beaches, fish restaurants, pier access, and other tourist attractions, like majestic fireworks on the 4th of July. West Beach is spread along Santa Barbara’s waterfront, the Santa Barbara harbor.

A hotspot in West Beach is Stearns Wharf, where guests can enjoy water taxi rides, explore the underwater creatures at the Sea Center, or do some fishing off the edge of the pier. Stearns Wharf has several unique dining options, from casual dining to prime rib and fine wines.

Harbor Restaurant and Santa Barbara Shellfish Company are some local and tourist favorites. Still, we’re confident you’ll find a restaurant that satisfies your taste buds and provides a taste of local specialties in West Beach.

Visitors will find fine wine at Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone or Oreana Winery and can enjoy a dose of Asian and American art at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in West Beach as well. For a history lesson, don’t skip the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum. It’s an amazing relic preserving the maritime history of Santa Barbara’s coast through artifacts, exhibits, and galleries.

If you brought the kids to Santa Barbara, Chase Palm Park offers an open grassy area, a bike path, and walkways from Stearns Wharf to East Beach. On the mountainside of Chase Palm Park, kids will enjoy an impressive playground, fountains, and a lagoon.

If you’re in the area in the summertime, be sure to catch the summer concert series as well. If your kids want to swim, visit Los Baños del Mar for a pristine public swimming pool right on one of Santa Barbara’s beaches.

Many enjoy the West Beach area for its easy beach access and many activities nearby. You can play volleyball, use the paved bike path, or watch the windsurfers and sailboats out on the water. West Beach provides stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.

It is a bustling neighborhood perfect for first-time visitors who want to experience the coastal, laid-back vibes that Santa Barbara offers.

Whether you’re visiting West Beach in Santa Barbara for the day or booking a stay here to explore the area like the locals, we highly recommend this area for tourists and first-timers. If you decide this is the neighborhood you’d like to stay during your Santa Barbara trip, here are our top recommendations for the best hotels in West Beach.

If you’re looking for a boutique hotel to experience Santa Barbara in its unique glory, these recommendations will greatly satisfy your party. Here are some of the best hotels in Santa Barbara’s West Beach.

  • Best Budget Hotel in West Beach: Riviera Beach House – Riviera Beach House offers guests a fitness center, a library, plush bathrobes, and free WiFi.
  • Best Mid-Range Hotel in West Beach: Harbor House Inn – Harbor House Inn offers unique rooms, complimentary beach chairs, umbrellas, and towels for guests’ convenience, along with free parking.
  • Best Luxury Hotel in West Beach: Hotel Californian – Hotel Californian is one of the most beautiful hotels in Santa Barbara. Complete with a rooftop pool and lounge chairs, a hotel spa, and two restaurants, and it is just steps from the beach.

See Related: Most Exotic Places in California to Visit

2. Goleta: Best Area for Budget Travelers

Goleta Santa Barbara

The city of Goleta just recently became officially established in 2002, and it’s becoming quite a popular spot in southern Santa Barbara County. Goleta is home to many beaches with fantastic swimming, surfing, paddle boarding, kayaking, and other water sports. Goleta is an excellent option for visitors to Santa Barbara who want to spend most of their time at the beach.

The city’s most famous beach, Goleta Beach Park, draws visitors to its extensive coastline for a relaxing day in the sun and sand, complete with bike paths, a grand pier for fishing, and plenty of walking areas to enjoy the great outdoors. Goleta Point is a small peninsula 3 miles south of Goleta that is great for surfing and swimming.

Goleta has tons of fascinating history to be explored by travelers as well. A visit to the Rancho La Patera & Stow House will teach you all you need to know about this region in California and how it came to be, while the South Coast Railroad Museum provides a fascinating look into the history of railroading.

Visitors can witness the monarch butterflies in all their glory as they migrate to Goleta every November through February at Goleta Butterfly Grove. The grove is a protected area and includes designated trails and beach access.

Goleta is home to many hole-in-the-wall food joints, casual restaurants, and fine dining. For a delicious local Mexican food joint, try Los Agaves in Goleta. The city’s entrepreneurial spirit and laid-back atmosphere create an exciting, innovative foodie scene. You’ll find craft beer, local farm-to-table menu items, and a little bit of everything else.

Goleta is also home to the University of California Santa Barbara, so the students keep the area young, exciting, and adventurous. With many local hangouts welcoming visitors, you can save money on attractions and things to do in Goleta by simply doing what the locals do. Enjoy the outdoors, grab a bite to eat from a local restaurant, and explore the area on foot or bike. 

Depending on the length of your stay in Santa Barbara and whether you’re looking for a luxurious hotel or a cheap place to lay your head at night, we’ve laid out a few options to make your stay in Santa Barbara comfortable, relaxing, and budget-friendly. Here are the best hotels in Santa Barbara’s city of Goleta.

  • Best Budget Hotel in Goleta: Best Western Plus South Coast Inn – The contemporary Best Western Plus in Goleta features a fitness center and an outdoor pool. The hotel offers a complimentary breakfast, and guests can enjoy the hot tub, gardens, and lounge chairs on the terrace.
  • Best Vacation Rental in Goleta: Ocean View Villa – Guests of the Ocean View Villa will enjoy stunning rooftop views, a hot tub, and free parking. The villa contains three bedrooms along with convenient amenities, including a dishwasher, washing machine, refrigerator, and oven.
  • Best Luxury Hotel in Goleta: The Ritz-Carlton Bacara – The Ritz-Carlton in Goleta offers beautiful ocean views, a heated outdoor swimming pool, a fitness center, a hot tub, and on-site restaurants, and every room features a private patio with a view. Enjoy tennis courts, hiking trails, and one of the largest spas on the West Coast.

3. Montecito: Best Area for Luxury Travelers

Beach at Montecito Santa Barbara

Montecito is Santa Barbara’s finest, most luxurious destination for those who enjoy the finer things in life. If you seek privacy and luxury, Montecito will provide you with all that and then some.

Overall, the neighborhood is relaxed and laid-back, but you can undoubtedly find high society if you know where to look. Many celebrities vacation in Montecito for its private allure.

Start your day with a peaceful, refreshing stroll on the beach. Montecito beaches are beautiful, well cared for, and easy to access. Don’t miss a stop at Montecito Beach, Hammond’s Beach, and Miramar Beach for lovely views and room to walk. Manning Park has picnic areas, tennis courts, horseshoe pits, and a playground for the little ones. Leashed dogs and alcohol are permitted.

Butterfly Beach is loved by locals for its pristine shoreline, surfing, swimming, and suntanning. You can kayak, paddle board, swim, or simply enjoy the views. Keep your eyes peeled for whales and dolphins on the horizon line. You’ll see it all at Butterfly Beach!

Nearby hiking trails can provide an outdoor adventure if that’s what you’re in the mood for. Popular hikes in Montecito include Hot Spring Canyon Trailhead, Tangerine Falls, Buena Vista Trailhead, and many more. Ganna Walska Lotusland is a beautiful botanical garden in Montecito that is home to over 3,000 plants from all over the world.

Montecito is also home to high-fashion boutiques and designer shops if you’re looking to drop some cash during your stay in Santa Barbara. From home interiors at Maison K to cool-girl fashion at Jenni Kayne’s, there’s a shopping destination for everyone in Montecito.

When you get hungry, stop in at Jeannine’s for brunch or Ca’ Dario Montecito for Italian. Montecito is full of fine dining, like Lucky’s, an upscale steakhouse serving surf and turf with an old Hollywood glamour and elegance.

If you’re open to exploring Santa Barbara and all its unique cities and neighborhoods, the beach town of Montecito must be on your list. It may not have the most tourist attractions, but you’ll experience a quieter, more refined area of the city and appreciate its splendor even more.

It’s no secret that Montecito’s hotel selection is grand, and you’ll pay for the quality you receive. However, there are affordable options in the area if you’re compelled to stay here while you visit Santa Barbara. Here are the best hotels in Montecito.

  • Best Budget Hotel in Montecito: Coast Village Inn – Coast Village Inn is near the beach and has a restaurant and bar on-site, along with convenient bike rentals. Guests will enjoy free coffee, a fitness center, and much more.
  • Best Mid-Range Hotel in Montecito: Mar Monte Hotel – Rest in style at Mar Monte Hotel in Montecito. Guests can enjoy an outdoor heated pool, complimentary continental breakfast, a fitness center, and a hot tub while enjoying stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.
  • Best Luxury Hotel in Montecito: The Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore – As far as beach hotels go in Santa Barbara, The Four Seasons Resort does it all in luxury and comfort. With two outdoor pools, three restaurants, a fitness center, tennis courts, and much more, guests will feel elegant and well-cared for at The Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara.

See Related: Fun & Best Things to do in Long Beach, California

4. Upper East: Best Area for Safety

Old Mission Santa Barbara

For a stay in Santa Barbara that’s slightly off the beaten path, away from the hustle and bustle of the East Beach area and the local tourist attractions, a stay in the Upper East will satisfy travelers who want a peaceful, quiet getaway in Santa Barbara. The Upper East slopes upwards away from downtown Santa Barbara on State Street and Valerio Street.

The Upper East is home to the iconic Old Mission Santa Barbara, which is a must-see spot whether you’re staying in the Upper East or not. Today, the mission serves as a museum and gallery with artifacts dating back to the mission’s inception by Spanish missionaries in 1786.

The Mission Rose Garden is nearby and is worth exploring for its beauty. If you’re interested in local history, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History also resides in the Upper East.

For some entertainment in the Upper East neighborhood, SOhO Restaurant & Music Club provides nightly live music, fresh seafood, and gourmet pizza. If you’re searching for a great breakfast spot, Garrett’s Old Fashioned Restaurant has the best pancakes in town!

Take the kids to Mission Historical Park and Kid’s World Playground at Alameda Park for some fun in the sun and to burn off some energy. The Upper East is home to many lovely outdoor parks for families to enjoy.

The Upper East neighborhood connects major Santa Barbara streets, including State Street and Mission Street, making public transportation easy to access for residents and those visiting Santa Barbara.

If we’ve sold you on the Upper East for your stay in Santa Barbara, your best bet is to choose a boutique hotel in this neighborhood. Some of these boutique hotels in Santa Barbara offer an outdoor swimming pool and are within walking distance from downtown Santa Barbara and provide a safe, quiet stay surrounded by lush gardens and stunning views. Here are the best hotels in the Upper East.

  • Best Budget Hotel in the Upper East: Orange Tree Inn – Orange Tree Inn is 2 miles from the beach. The hotel features an outdoor swimming pool with a sundeck, free parking, and many thoughtful amenities within the rooms.
  • Best Mid-Range Hotel in Upper East: Simpson House Inn – The Simpson House Inn is a Victorian bed and breakfast surrounded by lush gardens and features hardwood floors, a gourmet chef, and free bikes for guests to use.
  • Best Luxury Hotel in Upper East: El Encanto – El Encanto offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, an outdoor pool, a hot tub, and a fitness center. The boutique hotel features spacious rooms and an on-site bar and restaurant.

5. East Beach: Best Area for Families

East Beach Santa Barbara

For a beach stay in Santa Barbara that isn’t quite as busy as West Beach, East Beach is a great choice for families who still want to be close to the water. East Beach is perfect for families to spend the day parked at the beach with food, games, and lots of time to spend together near the Pacific Ocean. Make sure to watch a game of volleyball on the famous courts at East Beach.

For activities in East Beach away from the water, there are quite a few things to do. East Beach is in close proximity to the Santa Barbara Zoo (just 2 miles from State Street), Stearns Wharf, and the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center.

Take the kids on a day’s adventure and see as much as you can. East Beach makes it easy to get around and explore the area. Sunflower Park is a small neighborhood park where the kids can burn off some energy on the playground and swing set. The grassy open spaces and picnic areas make it a great place to stop and enjoy lunch and the sunshine.

The best ocean-view restaurants in East Beach include The Beachcomber, Convivo Restaurant & Bar, and Bluewater Grill. Grab lunch or dinner on the beach and enjoy the sunset with delicious, fresh seafood and tasty burgers.

For a family-friendly stay in Santa Barbara, East Beach has a beachfront hotel or two that will excite your kids and keep them entertained throughout your stay in Santa Barbara. The Santa Barbara Inn is a gorgeous hotel and a local and tourist favorite for its location and amenities.

There are a few big resorts that offer fitness centers, pools, free parking, and transportation. Here are a few of the best hotels in East Beach:

  • Best Budget Hotel in East Beach: Motel 6 Santa Barbara – For an affordable stay in East Beach, the Motel 6 Santa Barbara fits the bill. With an outdoor pool and modern guest rooms, you’ll get all you need for a comfortable stay at Motel 6.
  • Best Mid-Range Hotel in East Beach: Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort – One of the best hotels in Santa Barbara for a moderate price point is Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort. Guests will enjoy a large outdoor pool, garden and ocean views, and an on-site tasting room.
  • Best Luxury Hotel in East Beach: Santa Barbara Inn – Guests at the Santa Barbara Inn will enjoy an outdoor swimming pool, hot tub, fitness center, and an on-site restaurant with ocean views.

See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Los Angeles, California

6. Haley Corridor: Best Area for Food

Haley Corridor in Santa Barbara is a 9-block emerging neighborhood that is gaining culinary recognition for its wineries, eateries, and breweries. Haley Corridor is adjacent to the downtown Santa Barbara area and is eclectic, artsy, and exciting.

For the foodies reading this, Haley Corridor offers an extremely diverse community of restaurants that you have to experience for yourself. Come hungry, though! Here are a few of the innovative food spots in Haley Corridor that can’t be missed.

What foods are you in the mood for? Stop at Rose Café for some authentic Mexican food. Buena Onda Empanadas offers eight different variations of empanadas that are sure to blow your mind.

Arnoldi’s Cafe features Italian comfort food, and The Kitchen is the local brewery, Third Window Brewing Co’s eatery, offering items like burgers and shawarma from Tamar Santa Barbara. Grab a coffee from Low Pigeon or an organic pressed juice from ah Juice. Speaking of coffee, if you like yours with booze, CAJÉ Cafe Santa Barbara takes coffee mixology to the next level.

For the 21-and-up crowd, the wineries and breweries in Haley Corridor are next-level awesome. Grab a craft beer from Third Window Brewing Co., or stop in for a cocktail at the speakeasy Lab Social. The wineries in the area include Potek Winery, Carr Vineyards, Jaffurs Wine Cellars, and Renegade Wines.

Haley Corridor hosts 2nd Saturday, a monthly local block party where locals and visitors gather to experience the variety of industries, arts and eats on Haley Street.

Since Haley Corridor’s expansion is fairly new to the area, you’re better off in downtown Santa Barbara for more attractions and things to do. For now, Haley Corridor features an eco-art gallery, a chocolate shop, a consignment shop, a contemporary women’s clothing store, and an electric bike shop.

There are also a few home decor and interior shops for unique, hand-crafted items by locals. Most come here to eat, and they are not disappointed with what they find!

For a close stay to Haley Street in Santa Barbara, here are a few of the best hotels nearby in West Beach and downtown Santa Barbara.

  • Best Budget Hotel in Haley Corridor: Haley Hotel – Haley Hotel features non-smoking rooms, a shared lounge, barbecue facilities, and more. There are bike rentals and a sun terrace also available at the hotel.
  • Best Mid-Range Hotel in Haley Corridor: Riviera Beach House – Riviera Beach House is elegant and contemporary; its European-style rooms feature platform beds, plush bathrobes, and more. With a business center and a fitness center on-site, guests will feel relaxed and peaceful.
  • Best Luxury Hotel in Haley Corridor: The Waterman Santa Barbara – The Waterman Santa Barbara features an outdoor swimming pool, communal spaces including a dining room and kitchen, free parking, and much more.

7. Downtown: Best Area for Shopping

Downtown Santa Barbara
Image by travelview / Shutterstock.com

For those who want to know where to stay in Santa Barbara for shopping, look no further. State Street in downtown is home to Santa Barbara’s shops, restaurants, architecture, and cultural sites. Whether you’re on the hunt for clothing, interiors, art, or name-brand stores, you’ll find it all on State Street.

It’s the heart of Santa Barbara’s main shopping area, and it draws shoppers from all around the world. State Street is also a beautiful place to explore and take in all of Santa Barbara’s beauty. Spanish-style courtyards beg you to wander through them while enjoying the stunning architecture, hidden side streets, and mountains in the background.

State Street is also home to a new promenade, converting the retail district into an expansive 10-block pedestrian walkway so visitors can explore, shop, and people-watch without worrying about any car traffic.

Start with a visit to Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone, the district filled with contemporary shops, boutiques, and unique art galleries. From artisan clothing shops at Love Worn to vintage and modern home goods at The Blue Door, the unique and eclectic goods at Funk Zone will serve as memorable souvenirs from your Santa Barbara trip.

Next up, Paseo Nuevo is an open-air shopping mall with retail stores, locally-owned small businesses, and boutiques. From refined women’s clothing at Montecito Collective, antiques and vintage items at the SB Urban Flea Market, and artisan-made goods at Seaside Makers Collective, you’ll find every item on your shopping list.

Downtown is also home to the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, which explores the history of the Santa Barbara area. Visitors will learn about the Chumash, the region’s earliest residents, the Silent Film Era, and the founding of Fiesta.

While downtown, you can’t miss the iconic Santa Barbara County Courthouse, one of the most beautiful public buildings in Southern California and the country. Tour the clocktower and admire the elegant arches, and explore the beautiful lush gardens and grounds at the Santa Barbara courthouse.

Some of the best hotels in Santa Barbara are right in the downtown area, just waiting to be enjoyed. Plan your stay in Santa Barbara at one of the many hotels that range in prices for all lifestyles, including cheap hotels for those who are traveling on a low budget.

  • Best Budget Hotel in downtown Santa Barbara: Best Western Plus Santa Barbara – With a heated outdoor swimming pool and a hot tub, guests at the Best Western Plus Santa Barbara will enjoy an on-site restaurant, craft beer, and local wine during their stay.
  • Best Mid-Range Hotel in downtown Santa Barbara: Drift Santa Barbara – Drift Santa Barbara offers guests free bikes, family rooms, a hotel terrace, and an on-site bar. It’s within walking distance of East Beach and 10 miles from Santa Barbara airport.
  • Best Luxury Hotel in downtown Santa Barbara: Hotel Santa Barbara – Guests at Hotel Santa Barbara will enjoy comfortable beds, free parking, and a Starbucks coffee shop within walking distance. Located in the heart of Santa Barbara, you’ll find attractions and beaches easy to access.

FAQ

What are the best places to stay in Santa Barbara for tourists?

Tourists are sure to love the West Beach and East Beach areas in town, right by Santa Barbara Harbor. With many attractions like Stearns Wharf, Funk Zone, and Chase Palm Park, there’s plenty for tourists to experience in this cool beach town. For more things to do for tourists, East Beach is home to the Santa Barbara Zoo and Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Sea Center.

What hotels in Santa Barbara are best for families?

The best hotels in Santa Barbara for families are Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort in East Beach, Simpson House Inn in the Upper East, and Harbor House Inn in West Beach.

Where are the best beaches in Santa Barbara?

The best beaches in Santa Barbara include Goleta Beach Park, Hammond’s Beach in Montecito, and Leadbetter Beach, just west of the Santa Barbara Harbor. These unique Santa Barbara beaches offer fun for the whole family, from surfing, swimming, paddle boarding, and kayaking, to areas to enjoy lunch, walking paths, and much more. A Santa Barbara beach vacation will be a memorable one!

What are the best hotels in Santa Barbara?

The best hotels in Santa Barbara range from luxury and high-end boutique spots to comfortable, mid-range hotels that provide convenient amenities for families, couples, and solo travelers. The best hotels in Santa Barbara are The Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara in Montecito, El Encanto in the Upper East, and The Ritz-Carlton Bacara in Goleta

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