It doesn’t take much to fall in love with Santa Barbara.
And I did it all over again recently when I watched the documentary, “Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams.” The film follows the life of famed cobbler Salvatore Ferragamo as he builds his legacy right here in Santa Barbara, working for the American Film Company, making cowboy boots for silent pictures. Before Hollywood was all the glitz and glamor, it was outright Santa Barbara that carried that sparkling flame. They call it the American Riviera for good reason — and stars like Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Gloria Swanson frequented it.
So naturally a town like this needs a perfect hotel. An iconic property that has been near the beachfront since 1925, and seen all this city’s evolvement, is the Hotel Californian. Just recently the hotel reopened after a full renovation, helmed by designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard.
Although only the original facade remains, that Spanish Colonial Revival style is ever-enduring. Almost 100 years later, this style is now colloquially known as “Santa Barbara architecture”, where a melange of Mexican, Mediterranean and Andalusian aesthetics coalesce with materials like stucco and those tiles. And the hotel plays with all of that in a way that might just charm you, with multiple buildings across the street from each other, various views across the glacial Pacific Ocean or the pinky Santa Ynez Mountains, and also these little surprising inner courtyards to discover.
Nothing I love more than hotels offering unique experiences. Something fun I probably can’t do at home, and keeps me very much at the property opposed to seeking it elsewhere. At the time of opening in the 1920s the hotel offered state of the art “soundproof rooms” and “salt water baths” — and today they’re offering HOWL full moon cocktails with tarot readings. With a bunch of lunar cycles — including August’s Sturgeon Moon and Blue Moon –- the hotel has Tarot cards and Runes (think Nordic, think Vikings) readings in their Djinn bar. Could there be a more California way to entertain us?
The hotel has the proverbial tiled floor cocktail bar, Djinn, plus they have The Society State & Mason, which is a wine centric bar with dinky snacks. But where I like to find myself luxuriating is on the terrace at the surprising restaurant, Blackbird, where the air comes right off the ocean. With a nod to Alfred Hitchcock’s thrillers, the space is perfectly paired black and white, with touches of brass. And here Chef Travis Watson brings Central California Coast cuisine to the table with dishes like sea urchin with brown butter sabayon sauce, and Hope Ranch mussels done with saffron. And most of the ingredients come straight from the local Santa Barbara Farmers Market –- just the way we like it most. End your evening with fig pavlova with delights of olive oil.
Told you it would be unexpected.
Pool Rooftop no less, with fabulous views of the Pacific
Gym / Spa Gorgeous on both. The spa’s Moroc flair will inspire
Bar / Scale 1 to 10 Yes, more than one. Djinn will inspire genie mischief.
Service Start to finish everyone was friendly – even to my pup.
Ease in getting to Right downtown, easy from Santa Barbara airport or that scenic 2 hour drive from LA. It’s Hollywood North after all.
Foibles Maybe I want more time there? Does that count?
Most unexpected feature Tarot readings
Price range Call it $600 and up
Hotel Californian, 36 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101 (805) 882-0100