The Best Place to Stay in Santa Barbara Is Not on the Beach

With just 24 rooms and a walkable locale, the new Palihouse outpost is exactly what the city was missing

August 19, 2022 7:14 am
The exterior of Palihouse Santa Barbara, a hotel we recommend in the downtown neighborhood
Time to book a trip to Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara has been a quintessential escape from Los Angeles for decades, and for good reason. Getting there takes under two hours by car and about 30 minutes longer by train from downtown’s Union Station. It’s also unbelievably beautiful, with enough to do to keep you busy for a night or a lifetime. I’ve long been tempted to desert L.A. for this stretch of the California coast. For now, spending the occasional night in one of the city’s incredible hotels gives me the fix I need. 

For my most recent stint, I stayed at Palihouse Santa Barbara, a 24-room boutique hotel developed, designed, owned and operated by hotelier Avi Brosh’s Palisociety. If you’re an Angeleno, chances are you’re already familiar with the L.A.-based Pali brand thanks to their hotels around the city, including the effortlessly cool Silver Lake Pool & Inn. But this relatively new Santa Barbara property, which opened mid-pandemic, might not have hit your radar yet. It’s time to fix that. 

Here’s everything you need to know to make the most out of your stay.

The Location

When it comes to Santa Barbara hotels, you’ve got options. Perhaps best known are the larger luxury hotels located outside the city center, like the Rosewood, Belmond and Four Seasons. Palihouse Santa Barbara set out to create something different. In the words of Avi Brosh, “Santa Barbara has long been known for five-star beach retreats and luxurious getaways, but we saw a need for a smaller, truly unique offering that could offer a European club-style environment with all the touch points of a quaint inn.” Palisociety achieved this, in part, by opening their outpost not on the beach or in the hills, but on a quiet street in downtown’s historic Presidio neighborhood.

This location helps visitors feel more like a local than a tourist — and not just any local, but one living in a beautiful yet discreet Spanish Colonial-style building built in 1920. Here, you’ll be within walking distance to everything downtown Santa Barbara has to offer, including a multitude of bars, restaurants and shops, and the Santa Barbara Art Museum. 

Pro Tips 

  1. Utilize the hotel’s fleet of complimentary bicycles and head six blocks south to the Funk Zone, where you’ll find tasting rooms featuring wines from nearby Santa Ynez Valley.
  2. Upon arrival, take the two-minute walk to Cheese Shop Santa Barbara to pick up some snacks to enjoy on your room’s balcony or patio.

What to Expect

Arriving at Palihouse Santa Barbara, a collection of cozy common spaces (the Lobby, Living Room and Bar) feature a lighter, airier take on Palisociety’s signature design aesthetic — stylish mix-and-match furnishings, new and vintage pieces, and a touch of irreverent whimsy. I call it Wes Anderson-lite, but the hotel’s team describes it as vintage preppy meets American Riviera. Where the property really shines is the SoCal-meets-Mediterranean garden courtyard. Centered around a relaxing fountain and lit by market lights at night, you’ll find pale pink umbrellas over tables and lounge areas set with furniture upholstered in classic beach club stripes and florals. It’s the ideal place to enjoy breakfast or an afternoon cocktail.

Continuing deeper into the property, you’ll find a tucked-away heated pool and a 24-hour fitness center complete with Peloton bikes and NordicTrack treadmills. All in all, and given the fact that you’re likely to spend much of your time out exploring, the property provides everything you need and nothing you don’t.

The Classic room at Palihouse Santa Barbara.
The Classic room at Palihouse Santa Barbara.

The Rooms

The hotel’s collection of just 24 rooms are split between a few types, with king beds or double queens. Like the common areas, the Pali style continues here with an assortment of custom and vintage furniture, along with unique pieces of art and decor. All rooms have been thoughtfully appointed with a gas fireplace and outdoor space in the form of a balcony, Juliette balcony or patio, as well as a full-size Smeg refrigerator (in most rooms), Diptyque bath amenities, Nespresso coffee machine, and Marshall Bluetooth speaker (ideal for playing the Pali Vibes playlist). 

During my stay, I checked into room 18, a Deluxe King on the second floor. I appreciated the spacious balcony, comfortable bed and vaulted ceilings, and I had no complaints aside from the lack of a desk. If you’re the type to splurge on more space, check out the hotel’s largest accommodation, El Apartamento. This expansive one-bedroom suite features a separate bedroom and living room, as well as two private balconies — including one with views of the mountains. Oh, and for added privacy, ask for a room facing the pool.

Breakfast, Lunch and a Mini Bar Fit for a King

Though the hotel has no formal restaurant, their food and beverage program offers all the essentials. Breakfast and lunch are served daily from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and best enjoyed near the fountain in the garden courtyard — though dining by the pool and in-room are also possibilities. The succinct menus, which change seasonally, include standouts like a brûléed grapefruit and smoked salmon for breakfast and a shrimp ceviche and salmon poke bowl for lunch. At the Bar, which offers a tightly curated list of coffee, cold drinks, smoothies, beer, wine and cocktails, personal favorites include the Santa Maria Martini (vodka, strawberry, lemon, balsamic vinegar, black pepper) and the Polo Club (Pimm’s No.1, Aperol, ginger ale, cucumber, lemon).

When it comes time for dinner, it’s quite possibly for the best that the hotel doesn’t serve it. This will give you even more reason to visit one of the many restaurants within a short walk. The concierge recommends Zaytoon for Lebanese fare on a beautiful patio, Finch & Fork for fine coastal California dining and Sama Sama for Southeast Asian cuisine made with ingredients from local farms.

For 24-hour-a-day snacking, Palisociety hotels offer one of the best, if not the best, mini bars I’ve ever come across. You’ll find a basket packed with a mix of commercial standbys and artisanal eats, along with a bar tray stocked with mezcal, whiskey, vodka and the mixology tools you’ll need to get the job done. Plus, inside the Smeg fridge, you’ll find canned cocktails and coffees, rosé and a complimentary bottle of chilled Prosecco to start your stay right. Be sure to check the freezer, too — that’s where you’ll find two pints of ice cream from local institution McConnell’s (it’s worth the $15 per pint price tag, trust me).  

For a deal, and to meet some other weekenders, be sure to snag a free drink during the hotel’s complimentary cocktail hour, which happens from 5 to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

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