Belmond El Encanto, Santa Barbara, US

Belmond El Encanto, Santa Barbara, US

Sprawled across the lush green coastline of the American Riviera, this sophisticated Santa Barbara hotel honours its glamorous Hollywood history

on a hillside above the Pacific
, the verdant sprawl of Los Padres National Forest
crowding in behind, this iconic coastal stay has been open since
1918, offering a warm welcome to guests including Clark Gable,
Barbra Streisand and Franklin D. Roosevelt. It’s no wonder the rich
and famous flock here; rooms – bungalow-style and spread across the
lush grounds – offer intimate privacy. The hotel’s Spanish Revival
architecture – so familiar in this part of the US – adds to its
distinctly old
feel. Friendly and caring, but not overbearing,
service keeps itineraries on schedule and frayed nerves subdued.
Case in point? When we lost a belt for a dress 30 minutes before we
were due to attend a wedding service, the housekeeping staff
happily dug up a similar one from lost and found. It’s that “help
is here when you need it” ethos and quietly confident assistance
that keeps El Encanto at the top of the legends list.

The hotel’s sun-baked exterior, left, and a snug living


The hotel’s 92 elegant bungalow rooms, including 22 suites, are
scattered across the grounds. Tucked behind flowering shrubs and
mature trees, their privacy lends a sense of intimacy to an
otherwise medium-sized retreat – you’d think there were fewer

In keeping with the Spanish Revival architecture, interiors
feature whitewashed walls, dark-wood furnishings and, in most
rooms, working fireplaces. Beds – if you’re in a larger suite – are
enormous. Bathrooms have heated floors and are stocked with
eco-friendly beauty products.

What’s for breakfast?

The menu might be classic (eggs, pancakes and waffles) but the
heated terrace overlooking the ocean really makes your morning meal
something special. There are zany Californian twists on offer, too.
Add CBD to your juice, pick a dairy-free coconut yoghurt parfait to
start or opt for typical Cali plates like huevos rancheros and El
Encanto egg-white scramble. The hotel prides itself on the quality
of its ingredients, and stocks its own signature coffee and

Belmond El Canto, Dining

Dining area views, alongside a snapshot of an airy

How about lunch and dinner?

Chef Johan Denizot is behind the seasonal Californian menus. The
kitchen sources ingredients, where possible, from local farmers and
fishermen, and many of the vegetables and herbs are grown in the
property’s gardens. Top picks for lunch include a lobster cobb,
tortilla soup, tacos and local halibut and chips. This being
California – home of the health-conscious – the menu includes a
“wellness selection”, with full nutritional information listed
alongside dishes. If you’re not feeling too overloaded, we’d
recommend stopping for an afternoon tea, too.

Dinners are more formal, with a vegetable-heavy list of starters
(think heirloom tomato gazpacho and roasted beet salad) and entrees
that include Maple Leaf Farms duck breast and a whole grilled
snapper for two. If you have room, desserts include gluten-free,
vegan ice-cream sandwiches, s’mores, a chai sticky toffee pudding
and a cheese plate made using milk from the hotel’s resident cow,
Ellie. There’s also a caviar menu – it’s that kind of place.

Is there a bar?

Yes, next to the dining room. It does a mean margarita but note
that, this being Cali, last orders are at 11pm.


An outdoor, heated, saltwater infinity pool is open year-round.
There is a medium-sized gym with ocean views and a spa, where we
had one of the best massages of our lives (ask for Adriana Reyna if
you’re booking in). Electric bikes are available for exploring the
area, and the hotel will prepare a picnic for the beach, if you
fancy. In the warmer months, guests enjoy regular al fresco movie

How about their green credentials?

Eco-friendly cleaning products, bath products and light bulbs
are all in use. Vegetables are, where possible, grown in the
gardens and other produce is sourced locally from sustainable

What about accessibility?

There are several specially adapted rooms.

What’s the crowd?

A real mix of well-dressed families and sleek couples, old and
young. The feeling is one of laid-back luxury.

Things I should know

The nearest airport is LAX, which is a two-hour drive away. We’d
head here to kick back during a big Californian road trip, or, if
you’re LA-based, for a luxurious long weekend.

Children are welcome (and those under 18 stay free in suites
equipped with sofa beds); the hotel happily provides free travel
cots, as well as baby monitors. The restaurant has a children’s
menu and high chairs, too. Otherwise, additional guests cost from
£70 a night.

Pets are welcome but you’ll have to pay £124 for one and £62 for
each additional animal.

Within a short walk I can find…

The American Riviera neighbourhood and some beautiful,
lust-worthy houses. More restaurants, boutiques and beaches are a
10-minute drive away: the hotel provides a free shuttle service on
a first-come, first-served basis.

The Lowdown

Doubles cost from £620 a night.

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