Experience the newly renovated Hotel Californian in Santa Barbara.
It’s an exquisite urban oasis.
Written byKaren Young
When presented with the opportunity to spend a night at the new Hotel Californian in Santa Barbara, I decided to turn the getaway into a “European-style” adventure—befitting the seaside city’s reputation as the “American Riviera.”
The Californian building, completely rebuilt behind its original 1925 façade, includes 62 guest rooms, rooftop pool and bar, Moroccan-inspired spa and fitness center.
One morning this past summer, my traveling partner and I boarded the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner in Van Nuys. Speeding through suburbia and farmland, a state of relaxation set in. We arrived two hours later at the historic downtown train station, just a five-minute walk to the hotel.
Built in 1925, the Spanish Colonial Revival-style structure was destroyed by a massive earthquake about a week after opening. It was restored and sold several times over the next few decades and was a popular destination with jetsetters and the Hollywood elite. However the end of World War II brought change, and the area slowly fell into decline. The hotel was eventually abandoned in the late ‘90s. In 2011 LA developer Michael Rosenfeld bought the hotel as well as an adjacent two-acre property.
Hotel Californian reopened in 2017, offering 121 luxurious rooms (from $450) and suites. Occupying three buildings on separate corners of the State and Mason Street intersection, the hotel is part of a central community hub. The original building is now known as the “California”; the two new buildings are aptly named “State” and “Mason.” The urban resort sits on the edge of the arty, wine/restaurant-centric Funk Zone, just steps from Stearns Wharf beach and a block from The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation (MOXI).
LA-based celebrity interior designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard artfully blended lavish Moroccan and Moorish influences throughout, with art deco and Italian mid-modern embellishments. Over 1 million hand-painted Moroccan tiles, along with stenciled ceilings, are other eye-catching features. Bold black- and-white patterns serve as a background to a palette of green, purple, terracotta and yellow jewel tones.
We rode the gold elevator up to our accommodations in the Californian building. One look at the leather-studded, Moroccan star motif on our room’s door hinted the interior would be anything but ordinary. The perfectly appointed, spacious king room with seating area included a dresser disguised as a leather-studded steamer trunk cover that hid a Nespresso machine, a glamorous marble bathroom and a residential-size closet. Whimsical touches such as gold cobra sconces and a large, hanging black-and-white portrait of an edgy, “inked” Marlon Brando made us smile.
We headed to the rooftop pool, where we were wowed by the spectacular panoramic vista spanning the city, ocean and Santa Ynez Mountains. Later the gorgeously tiled, lounge-filled deck proved to be the perfect spot for a nightcap.
Dinnertime took us across the street to Blackbird, the hotel’s stylish indoor/outdoor, 70-seat, signature restaurant and bar in the Mason building. Executive chef Alexander La Motte, previously chef de partie at Napa Valley’s The French Laundry, offers an innovative Mediterranean menu, featuring local ingredients that pair with creative craft cocktails and a strong wine list. We thoroughly enjoyed our meal and the high level of service. For casual dining, patrons can go to The Goat Tree, the hotel’s all-day café, streetside in the State building.
Feeling refreshed from a peaceful sleep, ensconced in luxurious Italian sheets—we headed back to the train. We weren’t ready to leave so soon but were consoled by the fact that the “American Riviera” is only a “staycation” away.