COVID-19 shutdown gates have opened. Angelenos are scrambling to get out of town. Here are seven new or recently updated hotels — and three restaurants — in Santa Barbara County, an easy-drive destination for beach, biking and wine-tasting vacations. The properties follow stringent COVID-19 sanitizing protocols; several are pet-friendly. But a word to the wise: Demand is off the charts for weekend rooms in summer, so Friday-to-Monday travelers may face two- or three-night-stay rules, higher rates and bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 101.
Open since March, Palihouse Santa Barbara is set in a handsome Spanish Colonial-style structure built in 1920 as the Santa Barbara School of the Arts. The 24-room boutique hotel exudes a colorful “vintage preppy” vibe: pink bathrooms and decorative bowls of green tennis balls. (There’s no tennis court, but there is a small pool.) Guest rooms vary in configuration and size and feature fireplaces and balconies or patios. The public spaces include an intimate lounge, bougainvillea-brightened courtyard cafe and the after-hours honor bar. Guests are welcome to take a spin on a Peloton bike in the fitness room or on a Linus bike through the historic Presidio neighborhood.
Info: 915 Garden St., Santa Barbara; (805) 564-4700. From $395 a night.
When the pandemic closed most of Santa Barbara’s large hotels last spring, the luxurious nine-room Santa Barbara Hideaway became a refuge for first responders and displaced international travelers. “We lowered our prices and were glad to help out,” said Alex Kirkwood, whose Kirkwood Collection acquired the 111-year-old California Craftsman house and bed-and-breakfast in 2018. A 14-month, multimillion-dollar renovation yielded a charming Cape Cod-meets-Central Coast inn, its rooms done in soothing blue, sand and white. Accommodations include studios with queen beds and king suites with fireplaces, patios and mountain views. During the pandemic, the complimentary breakfast was boxed and delivered to the rooms. Now it’s served in the light-filled solarium.
Info: 420 W. Montecito St., Santa Barbara; (805) 965-2333. From $245 a night, including breakfast.
Santa Ynez Valley
In 2018, the Nomada Hotel Group transformed the vintage Skyview motel in Los Alamos into a rustic-chic hotel with a pool and restaurant. During the pandemic, the group worked its renovation magic on the old Meadowlark Inn outside Solvang. The result is the similarly rustic-chic Hotel Ynez, which opened in March. The 18 rose-trellised rooms — 10 with fireplaces, eight with wet bars — open on front patios. Redwood and oak trees shade the garden courtyard outfitted with a bocce ball court, fire pits and tables for sunset wine tastings. Guests enjoy use of the small pool and complimentary bicycles and receive a complimentary breakfast. There’s no restaurant, but for $50 you can order a Santa Maria barbecue kit for two with spice-rubbed baby back ribs to cook on a Weber grill delivered to your patio.
Info: 2644 Mission Drive, Solvang; (805) 697-5444. From $199 per night, including breakfast.
The three-story Vinland Hotel & Lounge is the sleekly modern but budget-friendly 2020 redo of a former Holiday Inn Express in Solvang. The 82 generously sized guest rooms feature bathrooms with separate vanities. Some have balconies and valley views. Guests who have been winery-hopping all day can convene in the V Lounge for craft cocktails, light bites and more wine tasting. Local vintners Alma Rosa, Westerly Wines and Zaca Mesa have partnered with the hotel on three suites that come with wine-tasting vouchers, a bottle of wine and Vinland wine glasses.
Info: 1455 Mission Drive, Solvang; (805) 688-2018. From $149 a night.
“Invisible service” is the catchphrase at Winston, a luxurious new 14-room hotel in Solvang’s Old Mill Clock Tower building. Guests are emailed check-in instructions and an entry code. Once they’ve settled in, their every wish is just a text message away. The staff at sister property Vinland Hotel & Lounge provides housekeeping service, restocks the honor bar and delivers complimentary breakfast. Each accommodation has a unique layout and decor; all have luxe, white-tiled bathrooms. Guests can gather in the comfy library, decorated in a palette of vibrant colors and accented with antiques and art pieces. The design of Winston is surprisingly more New York sophisticated than laid-back wine country.
Info: 486 1st St., Solvang; (805) 688-2965. From $379 a night, including breakfast.
Zaca Creek opened in August 2020, a combination boutique inn, bar-restaurant, and wedding and event venue on 3 ½ grassy acres once owned by the founding Buell family of Buellton. New owners spent more than a year transforming the original yellow-clapboard 1960s buildings; the Buellhouse wedding venue had been a cowboy disco, the Tavern at Zaca Creek a rowdy bar. Today they look like centuries-old stone-and-timber structures you’d find in Provence or the English countryside. The inn’s six stone-walled suites are furnished with handsome antique and contemporary pieces; their oversize bathrooms — also with stone walls — are equipped with soaker tubs and rainfall showers. Guests can swim in the “bio-lagoon.” They’re also a few steps from the Tavern, which serves local farm-to-table fare such as grilled snap peas with mint and feta, buttered rock crab and Hope Ranch mussel toast.
Info: 1297 Jonata Park Road, Buellton; (805) 688-2412. From $350 a night.
Santa Barbara County high desert
If the COVID-19 shutdown made you dream of wide-open spaces, Cuyama Buckhorn is the destination resort for you. The stylish 2018 restoration of a 1950s roadhouse is off California 166 in the high desert of Cuyama Valley, about a 2 ½–hour drive from L.A. West Hollywood-based designer-architects Jeff Vance and Ferial Sadeghian added what they call “midcentury cowboy” touches to their 21-room inn, including cowhide rugs on the black-and-white tile floors and vintage cowboy hats on the walls.
What is there to do in the middle of nowhere? Hike the nearby Caliente Mountain Ridge Trail, taste wines at the local Condor’s Hope Vineyard or loll by the 60-foot-long swimming pool that opened just in time for summer.
No need to go out to eat. The resort features craft cocktails and farm-to-table cuisine served inside or out in the garden. Chef Daniel Horn’s specialties include Santa Maria red-oak-barbecued tri-tip, smoked pulled pork tacos and a fried chicken sandwich. After dinner, fix yourself complimentary s’mores at a fire pit, marvel at the blanket of stars above and dream of the breakfast burrito made with fresh local eggs you’ll savor in the morning.
Info: 4923 Primero St., New Cuyama; (661) 766-2825, cuyamabuckhorn.com. From $229 per night.
La Paloma Cafe opened in October in the historic State Street building where it had thrived from 1940 to 1983 as Santa Barbara’s premier Mexican restaurant. Guests dine outside or in on specialties that honor the area’s ranchero history: Santa Barbara Mission chicken is scented with lemon peel and rosemary and served with apple-pink peppercorn sauce; red-oak-grilled nopales come with red onion, cotija cheese, corn, jicama and avocado-lemon dressing.
In Buellton, the Hitching Post II Santa Maria-style barbecue restaurant, made famous by the 2004 movie “Sideways,” erected a “big top” out back to accommodate alfresco diners during the pandemic. Popular demand has kept it there even though the dining room has reopened.
Another Santa Ynez Valley favorite, Bob’s Well Bread in Los Alamos, opened a sister bakery-cafe in Ballard in October. Bob’s artisanal pastries and sandwiches, made on its artisanal bread, are served on the garden patios at both cafes.