Four Seasons Biltmore resort in Santa Barbara, Calif: a West Coast classic
SANTA BARBARA - You drive up to the Four Seasons Biltmore here in luscious Santa Barbara and you pretty much understand right away why it’s special.
There’s a lush lawn out front and an incredible array of flowering shrubs and plants and a gurgling fountain fronting Spanish-style architecture on one side of the road. Across the way, a mere 20 feet or so, is a walkway along Butterfly Beach, a long stretch of sand that runs south of Santa Barbara along the front of the posh town of Montecitos, where Oprah Winfrey is said to stop in regularly for meatballs at a place called Trattoria Molly’s and where you feel guilty driving up to the Starbucks in anything less than a Mercedes convertible.
The grounds are amazing, which makes sense when you consider there are acres and acres of land and a main hotel building and a dozen cottages surrounded by some 2,000 species of plant, all tended by a dozen or so groundskeepers. There are gnarly Moreton Bay fig trees, deep yellow hibiscus flowers, deep green African tulip trees spouting bright orange flowers and deep pink roses, all surrounded by thick shrubs and palm trees and perfectly tended lawns abutting meandering brick pathways lit by gas lamps. Some specimens are quite rare, and it’s so remarkable that they give botanical tours in the summer.
The regular rooms are terrific, but the cottages are ultra-special, with fine wood furnishings, hardwood floors and deep bathtubs and steam showers and heated floors. The place is elegant as all get out but you don’t feel guilty about wearing sweats or shorts and a California surf t-shirt.
The place is owned by Ty Warner of Beanie Babies fame. He also owns the Four Seasons New York and another posh hotel near here and another in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico and a bunch of golf courses. Oddly enough, you can buy Beanie Babies in the Four Seasons gift shop. Whoda thunkit?
As great as the rooms and the grounds are, not to mention the gorgeous bar with a roaring fireplace and a soaring, wood-beam ceiling and a patio that looks out to the ocean, it’s the Coral Casino across the street that really grabbed my attention.
It’s a private club that almost no amount of money can get you into, but guests of the hotel have access. There’s a full sauna and such and beautiful, poolside cabanas. The deck chairs and umbrellas are white but there are sensuous splashes or orange-pink that feels a bit like South Beach, and there’s an Olympic-sized pool with sea water and four swim lanes and a diving board with more bounce than Dolly Parton. They also have a terrific change room with saunas, a kids’ pool, a hot tub, a bar, a swanky restaurant with some of the best beach views in California. And it’s 15 feet from the ocean.
“We’re almost a hybrid between a city property and a country one property,” says public relations director Gena Downey. “You can get away from it all and just retreat, or you can get out and go to restaurants in town and go wine-tasting.”
The spa features local products such as grapeseed and lavender and they also use seaweed. They have couples packages and it’ shugely popular with weddings, but it’s also great for kids with children’s programs, a second pool in what looks like a jungle, croquet, a putting green and more. They have complimentary bikes and, when the weather’s right, they roast Smores.
The hotel was built in the 1920s and was initially a Biltmore property. Folks in the area still call it that, and the Biltmore name is out front, but it’s very much a Four Seasons property, with awesome service and tons of attention to detail.
Rooms tend to run from about $425 and up, but it’s a fabulous escape that’s only 90 minutes from L.A. and, all in all, it’s one of the great properties in North America.