Drift Santa Barbara Is a Solo Traveler’s Dream Beach Town Hotel

Those rooms are small — but a perfect location and superlative coffee bar make up for a lot

September 29, 2023 6:30 am
Brown and white hotel room
Drift Santa Barbara is revitalizing the city's downtown
Erin Feinblatt

State Street has been the heart and soul of downtown Santa Barbara for a long time — but the tone of the area shifted for the better when the city converted this central artery into a pedestrian zone. Initially a pandemic-era measure, this decision has meaningfully boosted foot traffic for local businesses and revitalized the city’s downtown, turning it into a promenade that showcases its vibrant local community. 

Into the midst of all that good energy comes Drift Santa Barbara, a new boutique hotel. It’s the latest property from emerging brand TMC Group, which saw its debut in Cabo, with another property in Palm Springs on the horizon. It’s becoming synonymous with impeccably designed buildings with contemporary touches in cool neighborhoods along the West Coast — and their Santa Barbara location is a must-visit if you’re traveling alone or down with the micro-hotel room trend. 

Kitchen area with tall windows and brown aesthetic
Drift Santa Barbara’s penthouse
Erin Feinblatt

High-aesthetic rooms that pack a lot of beauty into a tiny footprint 

Please, please know that the majority of these rooms are small — like smaller than Hoxton Snug small. If you’re traveling with a friend or looking for a bit more space, book into a king bed room or the spacious penthouse, which looks like a glorious place to maybe host a small soiree? It has a kitchen and floor-to-ceiling windows, so if it’s in your budget, that splurge might be the way to go here. Otherwise, if you’re traveling alone or very comfortable with your significant other, you’ll love the high-end finishes from local firm ANACAPA studios, which took the interior of this historic 1920s building and went dark with it. Most Santa Barbara hotels are all whites, creams and tans, and while this one has some of that, the black walls and gold fixtures steal the show. Wood reclaimed from the building itself is used as a rugged accent on the wall above each bed’s headboard, interjecting a bit of drama into the polished vibe.

Coffee maker with bags of coffee beans
Dawn, Drift’s coffee shop, isn’t like your average coffee joint

Dawn, the hotel’s coffee shop, basically transforms coffee-making into an art form

You know those dudes who just get coffee? They know the beans’ terroirs, how they’re roasted, how finely to grind them, and what to mix that espresso/cold brew/drip with to make it taste heavenly and perfect? Well, The Drift’s resident coffee shop, Dawn, has one of those dudes. Enter Alex Werth, a native of St. Louis who moved to Santa Barbara right before the pandemic and linked up with The Drift shortly after. That means this airy daytime spot’s entire menu was masterminded by Werth, who stopped at nothing to make it arguably the best part of the property. There are espresso tonics (with housemade tonic), espresso “Old Fashioneds” with demerara syrup and a proprietary bitters blend, and a cold brew blend that somehow includes citrus, coconut milk and orgeat. This is not your average coffee shop, and the whole street is better now that Dawn is on the scene.

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If contactless, modern and technologically advanced hotels are your thing, this is your spot

Once you book a room at Drift, you’ll start getting emails filled with all the information you need to get ready for your stay. There’s also a text-based concierge equipped to answer most basic questions — essentials like the wi-fi password and checkout time. Parking? Twenty bucks daily in a structure one block away. Check-in? When your room is ready, the personalized door code for entry will be sent to you. Need extra space for luggage? Look for lockers in a miniature lobby area at the end of the hallway on the first floor. If you really do need extra support, flag down one of the friendly baristas or bartenders and they’ll help with room questions, and even offer destination recs. (While you’re waiting, I recommend the matcha shakerato.)

This property is in the heart of everything, right on State Street

Location-wise, it’s hard to envision a better spot for exploring Santa Barbara. Walking up and down State Street a few times will help you get the lay of the land for this beach town’s restaurants, bars and the general scene. As a rule, the funk zone is another great area to visit, where stellar steak, wine and martinis can be found at Rare Society; there are plentiful brunch options at always-busy The Lark (but get the shrimp and grits), and if you reserve a table ahead of time, you’ll be able to feast on one of the best paellas in the state at Loquita. Seriously, the Santa Barbara food scene is a whole thing, but even if you stuck to those three spots alone, you’d have a great culinary visit. And they’re all within a 10-minute walk of your hotel — so yes, location might make up for the lack of a concierge desk. 

People sitting at bar area with bottles on shelves
Dusk is Drift’s on-site mezcal bar

Dusk, the evening bar and snacks, is a welcome contemporary addition to a bustling neighborhood 

Don’t like walking? No problem — wait until about 3 p.m. for the on-site mezcal bar to open up. With a substantial cocktail menu that favors tequila and mezcal, Dusk offers one of the most elevated bar programs in the area — and the community has come out in turn, so starting early might not be a bad idea. This place is packed to the gills as soon as golden hour sets in, so reserve a seat while you can and order up classic bar snacks like chips and guacamole or house-made corn nuts to go, along with your libation of choice. Somehow, the geniuses behind Dusk found the best chips in the world, full of air like chicharones but still light, not overly salty or greasy. More hearty fare — like oysters with lime and serrano mignonette, or fresh ceviche, served on those perfect chips — is also available, plus mocktails and a whole host of beers, an easy option to bring back up to your room when it’s time for a quiet nightcap.


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