Belmond El Encanto, Santa Barbara

Contributor/ Amy Guttman

Best Known For

The El Encanto has a pedigreed guest list, with Gable, Streisand and Ms. Stone among some of the biggest stars ‘in residence’ throughout the hotel’s history. This is a place, so far, remarkably untouched by the Kardashian crowd. In fact, I suspect most guests are not even on Instagram. First opened in 1918, the El Encanto is the oldest operating hotel in Santa Barbara.  This is proper old school.

The Good Stuff

It’s all about history and exclusivity. The seven-acre, secluded property possesses a sense of grandeur dating back to the golden age of the movie industry, when it was a great escape from Hollywood for many a starlet or a leading man looking for down time and discretion.

Back then, Santa Barbara, the Pacific-lined city beneath the El Encanto, earned its nickname, “American Riviera,” for it’s sun, surf, and elegance. Just 90 minutes up the 101 freeway, it’s proximity to Los Angeles made it an easy destination for a weekend, or even a boozy day trip, with a long lunch turning into an overnight at the El Encanto.

The Vibe

Despite the high-end crowd that inhabits the El Encanto, the mood is relaxed and the California uniform of shorts and t-shirts are very much the norm here. Guests range from couples and families to solo guests. It’s a property that welcomes back regulars time and time again, with friendly staff and a familial atmosphere.  One central building houses the reception desk, and an indoor/outdoor dining room serving locally-sourced California cuisine with expansive views of the Pacific.

Inside the hotel – 8/10

Brick-laid paths and landscaped gardens lead to a series of terraced and balconied bungalows displaying fine examples of Spanish colonial and California craftsman architecture. In our bungalow, a large bedroom is the backdrop for a corner fireplace, flanked by comfy chairs and a coffee table – perfect for reading. Marbled bathrooms with under-floor heating are enormous with similarly-sized fluffy towels, a large tub, and a shower built for two. Etro-brand bathroom amenities from the Milanese design house are generous. Beds are set with welcoming pillows monogrammed with guests’ initials, befitting the resort’s glamorous reputation.

Outside the hotel – 9/10

The El Encanto is more of a retreat, set in the hills above downtown Santa Barbara. A shuttle service provides guests with transport within 5 miles of the hotel. One of the first Spanish missions established in California is nearby. State Street is the central artery of downtown Santa Barbara, with more than a mile of shops and restaurants leading to the historic wharf. Many of the region’s wine estates have tasting rooms within a small radius of one another, forming an urban wine trail, which is a must for any visitor.