Review: Santa Barbara’s Mar Monte Is the Platonic Ideal of the Historical Hotel
If you were any closer to the beach, you’d be swimming
Since the rest of the world considers Los Angeles a vacation destination, sometimes it feels like a stretch for Angelenos to make — or justify — a real getaway. But even if you live blocks from the beach, there’s nothing like visiting a different beach, and a change of scenery is always a victory (even if it’s the same kind of scenery). Which is to say: Angelenos should go to the beach — leave town and go to the beach! While American spend their time dreaming of international waters, it’s easy to forget that places like the Santa Barbara coast are touted just as widely abroad. Less than a hundred miles away from Los Angeles, this chilled-out coastal haven has acquired a reputation as a celebrity haven for a reason: It’s nearly paradise.
Dubbed “the American Riviera” for a reason, the area is small enough to feel like a secluded beach town, and big enough to host an airport if you’re flying in from further away. With sunny days and balmy, breezy nights, the place to stay in Santa Barbara these days is not the central downtown strip with tourist shops and crowds of people, but just down the street, on a more secluded strip that’s right on the water. After a multi-million dollar renovation during 2020’s pandemic-induced lull in travel bookings, the Mar Monte Hotel is quickly shaping up as an excellent spot for sampling Santa Barbara’s oceanside living. Here’s our rundown of the renovated property’s highlights, with a few reasons why it might be better to start off with a visit in your own backyard before heading abroad.
This historic, 90-year-old property is full architectural details across expansive grounds
Though it’s been thoroughly updated to bring 21st-century amenities into every corner, the Mar Monte Hotel is one of the oldest hotels in the area. First opened in 1931 by hotelier Frederick A. Bartholomew as the Vista Mar Monte, his assertion that when it comes to hotels “there will be nothing finer on the coast” has stood the test of time. Built in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, even the plentiful renovations have left the overall structure of the stucco buildings intact, along with gorgeous, detailed tiles at every turn, whether it be floors, wall details, or bathroom fixtures.
Similar to the now-popular bungalow-style hotels, the property includes four separate buildings with rooms on multiple floors, and a fifth that houses the lobby, valet, ballrooms and meeting spaces, the pool, and both restaurants. This layout gives the property a campus feel, with everything easily walkable and accessible, but with enough space so guests feel like they’ve got their own private area away from the hubbub. There’s a gym onsite, and well-manicured outdoor areas like The Yard and a patio space offer additional space for outdoor gatherings.
All ocean view everything
The Mar Monte is so close to the beach it’s almost shocking — for visitors initially driving by, it might seem like an extension of the city’s Cabrillo Beach Pavillion space. In fact, visitors who want to utilize the hotel for weddings can rent the pavilion in conjunction with their event at Mar Monte, making the dream of a beachfront wedding an attainable reality. But you don’t have to get married at this hotel to get enviable views — there’s at least a glimpse of the ocean from the majority of the guest rooms, including plenty with balconies that boast a direct view of the beach. Both restaurants and the pool are all equipped with a look out at the sea, and if you did decide to workout while staying here, odds are you could gaze at the water while repping that hammer curl. And all those views translate to another benefit from proximity to the sand — even on the hottest days, the cool air coming off the water keeps Mar Monte in a breezy bubble. Ocean breezes while you sit poolside? That’s a life upgrade.
Locally focused food and drink, both casual and formal
Like most great hotels, the Mar Monte understands that some days there’s nothing better than not leaving the property at all. That means, of course, that food needs to be available around the clock — and not just snacks and grab-and-go fare, but real, restaurant meals that fit a bougie vacationer’s bill. Enter Costa Kitchen & Bar, the property’s fine dining offering, a restaurant that focuses on Meditarean and Italian coastal fare executed by chef Nathan Lingle.
Dubbed “Cal-Mediterane,” the brand new restaurant sources from farmers and growers in central and southern California to bring local flavors to classic dishes like flatbread and olives, hamachi crudo, and a rich rigatoni with burrata. Pair all that with a crisp glass of Gruner Vetliner and the perfect evening is underway. Costa is open evenings, Wednesday through Sunday, so to fill in the gaps guests can always stop by the other on-site dining option, Café Lido, for breakfast, a hearty lunch menu, and poolside coffee, smoothies, and cocktails. With everything from green drinks spiked with chlorophyll and spirulina to avocado toast, gem salads, burgers, and tuna tartare, Lido functions as a central hub due to its proximity to the pool.
If you do want to venture off property for a culinary treat on a Monday or Tuesday, waste no time and head directly to the neighborhood staple, Lucky’s, in Montecito. It’s a vintage destination filled with old-world glamour from the chophouse era, with every kind of steak imaginable and necessary accoutrements like wedge salad, shrimp cocktails, and escargot. It ain’t cheap, but little worth having in this world is. (And if you’re not heading to Santa Barbara anytime soon, Lucky’s recently opened another outpost in Malibu.)
Santa Barbara is quickly becoming another top region for American wine
Only a 90-minute car ride from Los Angeles, this sunny college town is home to all sorts of wealthy glitterati for a reason — it’s one of the most beautiful areas in the world. But what do all those rolling hills, shimmering valleys and waves of coastal air translate to? Wine country, baby. Leave Napa behind and embrace the tasting rooms like Paradise Springs Winery, which boast local varietals and bicoastal blends alike.
With another tasting room located in Clifton, Virginia, Paradise Springs is a family-run joint that serves the best of both worlds when it comes to sleek rosé, dry whites, and full-bodied reds. I recommend picking up a bottle of the Pink Ash sparkling rosé, the perfect companion for poolside imbibing during the day. Grab another bottle of one of their massive reds, like the Bordeaux varietal-boasting The Roshi to impress wine snobs at your next dinner party. Named after a zen master, this wine helps sum up everything that makes Santa Barbara great — an immense respect for what’s come before, alongside a determination to make the current moment just as memorable.
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