Review: Four Seasons Santa Barbara

Filed Under: Hotels
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One of the things I love about LA is how it’s within driving distance of so many places. It’s the perfect “base” from which to take weekend getaways. I’ve been to San Diego many times. I’ve also taken road trips to Palm Springs and Orange County, both of which I love.

I had heard about Santa Barbara, but had never visited. Last year Nick reviewed his stay at the Hyatt Santa Barbara. Based on what he said about the town, I figured it was worth visiting. However, I decided to try a different hotel, since the Hyatt has already been reviewed here.

I had looked at the Four Seasons Santa Barbara, which belongs to American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts. I have access to that on account of The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express.

For booking through Fine Hotels & Resorts, I’d receive the following perks at this hotel:

  • Daily breakfast for two people
  • Room upgrade upon arrival, when available
  • Guaranteed 4PM check-out
  • Noon check-in, subject to availability
  • Complimentary in-room wifi
  • $100 food & beverage credit to be used during your stay


I was visiting midweek in the off season, so rates were quite reasonable, relatively speaking. The rate was $325 for one night, which wasn’t bad when you consider that it included a $100 food & beverage credit, as well as breakfast for two.

But the pricing of this hotel is highly variable. On weekends in summer, base rooms at the hotel go for $1,200+ per night. That’s insane.


Based on looking at pictures of the hotel on TripAdvisor, I came in with low expectations, even though the hotel was well rated (#4 of 52 in Santa Barbara). In general I find hotel branding to by a mystery, as even luxury chains have some great properties and some not-so-great properties. This was especially evident with my recent stay at the Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur, which could have been a Holiday Inn.

Anyway, on to the actual review of the hotel. We drove to the Four Seasons Santa Barbara from West Hollywood, which was about a two hour drive. You can drive almost the entire way on the PCH, which perhaps justifies the trip in and of itself, as it’s a gorgeous drive. If you’re into coastal scenery, I’d argue it’s probably the nicest drive in the country.

The Four Seasons is right across the road from the Pacific Ocean, and the entryway has a country club-style vibe. There’s a lush garden and a brick road which leads to the rather intimate entrance to the hotel.

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara driveway

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara driveway

As we pulled up to the hotel, the friendly bellmen immediately offered to help us with our bags, and also informed us of our parking options — either we could self park for $19, or spend $35 for valet. Parking prices at non-city properties never cease to make me shake my head, but then again I sort of expect that from a Four Seasons.

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara lobby entrance

The hotel has a charming Spanish-style design. Based on the pictures online I would have guessed the whole hotel would be more shabby-chich than charming, but I was pleasantly surprised. Everything seemed well maintained and not run down to the point that it felt like it was from a different era.

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara lobby entrance

The reception desk was located inside the lobby and to the right. There was one person ahead of us in line, though within about a minute we were assisted by an associate. In the past I’ve written about how many luxury hotels (especially in the US) seem to try too hard to the point that it’s uncomfortable and impersonal-feeling, but this associate was extremely good.

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara lobby

She was professional in a non-forced way, and explained all the benefits we’d get for booking through Fine Hotels & Resorts. That included a $100 food & beverage credit, plus complimentary breakfast (which came in the form of a $75 credit which could be used in the restaurant or for room service), guaranteed late check-out, and a room upgrade. She also explained all the features of the hotel. She managed to do all this without sharing too much info either, which I also often find to be a problem (sort of like what’s mocked in this scene from “Curb Your Enthusiasm):

Among other things, she gave us a map of the hotel, given that it has quite a scattered layout, with rooms in several different buildings.

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara map

She also gave us a map with information about the Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club, which is the club across the street from the hotel, right on the ocean. It’s a members-only club with a pool, restaurant, etc., but Four Seasons guests also have access to it.

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara club layout

One of the bellmen escorted us to our room, given that we were staying in a different building of the hotel. As we exited the lobby we had a look at all the Christmas decorations, which were sort of over-the-top and kitschy, but worked quite well with the Spanish-style architecture, in my opinion.

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara lobby

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara lobby

Off the lobby to one side was the hotel’s main restaurant.

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara lobby

Then we found ourselves outside, where we were walked to our room, which was an almost five minute walk away. The bellmen was also extremely friendly (true of the staff at this hotel in general), and told us some more about the hotel as we walked.

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara exterior walkways

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara exterior walkways

The walkways of the hotel were quite “lush,” and felt like they could have been just as much in Southern Florida as anywhere else.

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara exterior walkways

We were assigned room 830, located in the Santa Rosa cottage. Each cottage had a few rooms, and our room was on the ground floor and to the left. There was a glass door on the left, and across from that was a patio area (which technically belonged to our room, though anyone could easily walk onto it).

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara room entrance

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara king room patio

Then there was a pretty cool wood-accented mirror, and to the right of that was the main entrance to the room.

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara room entrance

The room was adorable and charming. While it could have used some more modern appointments, I didn’t think it was run down in any way.

The room featured a king size bed with two side tables with lamps, and then a cute chair for lounging to the right of the bed, which I think anyone could picture in their grandmother’s living room.

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara king room

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara king room

Across from the bed and near the entrance was a flat screen TV, as well as a chest with the minibar and Nespresso coffee machine.

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara king room TV & entrance

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara king room Nespresso machine

Then in the other corner of the room was a desk with a reasonably comfortable (non-office) chair.

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara king room TV & desk

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara king room desk

Perhaps my favorite feature of the room was the fireplace. We were staying on a rather chilly day, as it was upper-50s during the day, and got even cooler at night, so we had the fireplace on for much of the stay.

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara king room desk & chair

The bathroom was the most charming aspect of the room, with beautiful finishes. There were double sinks, a soaking tub, a partitioned off toilet, and a shower with a built-in bench.

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara king room bathroom with double sinks

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara king room tub

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara king room toilet

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara king room shower

Toiletries were Mer & Mistral branded.

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara king room toiletries

Wifi in the room was quite fast, and the only other important thing I’d note is that this hotel is extremely close to train tracks. If you’re staying on the back end of the hotel, the train track is right across the street, so it’s maybe 50 feet from your room. And whenever a train passes you will hear it (and perhaps even feel it).

The hotel’s grounds are beautiful. It reminds me a bit of The Parker Palm Springs, in terms of the beautifully kept lawns. There were tennis courts and a few types of “lawn” activities as well.

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara hotel exterior

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara hotel exterior

There was a small pool on the hotel’s grounds, perhaps intended more for sun bathing than swimming (that’s because the main pool was located at the club across the street).

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara pool

It was a nice area, but due to the cold temperatures, there wasn’t a single person at the pool.

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara pool

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara pool

The hotel also had a gym, which was small and had equipment which was past its prime.

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara gym

As I mentioned above, the hotel is across the street from a country club, which Four Seasons guests have access to. Even just the waterfront across the street from the Four Seasons is gorgeous, as you can walk along the palm-tree lined promenade, or on the beach itself.

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara beachfront

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara beachfront

The club itself is beautiful as well. We had to give our room number and names as we entered, and then had free reign. There was a huge lap pool, which I assume was heated, based on the fact that people were using it.

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Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club Santa Barbara pool

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Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club Santa Barbara pool

There was also a cool poolside bar.

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Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club Santa Barbara restaurant

We had a couple of margaritas there as we watched the sunset. You can charge everything at the club to your room at the Four Seasons, so the food & beverage credit could be applied towards drinks here. That’s a good thing, because the margaritas were $18 each. 😉

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Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club Santa Barbara margaritas

But the spectacular sunset we witnessed more than justified the cost of the drinks.

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Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club Santa Barbara sunset view

We had explored Santa Barbara during the day and were going to have dinner in town, but we had a late lunch and were freezing once the sun was down, so had room service dinner instead.

The room service menu read as follows:

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I had the mahi mahi wrap, which I really enjoyed

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara room service dinner

Breakfast was served in Bella Vista Restaurant, which is open for breakfast from 7AM until 11:30AM. On one hand the restaurant continues with the theme of the rest of the hotel, while on the other hand it’s perhaps a little bit cheesy-feeling.

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara Bella Vista restaurant

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara Bella Vista restaurant

As I mentioned above, we received a $75 breakfast credit for booking through Amex FHR, which was just about enough to cover the buffet for two. While I’m not usually a buffet guy, this one looked good.

For reference, the breakfast menu read as follows:

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Below are some pictures of the breakfast buffet. While it wasn’t to the level of some of the buffets in Asia or the Middle East, it was still quite good. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. In addition to what you can see displayed, you could also order custom-made eggs at the omelet station.

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara Bella Vista breakfast buffet

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara Bella Vista breakfast buffet

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara Bella Vista breakfast buffet

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara Bella Vista breakfast buffet

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara Bella Vista breakfast buffet

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara Bella Vista breakfast buffet

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara Bella Vista breakfast buffet

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Four Seasons Santa Barbara Bella Vista breakfast buffet

We visited the town of Santa Barbara in the afternoon and morning, and thought it was a charming town. The downtown area is cute and feels old-world, and even has a section with wine tasting. If you’re more into wineries, there are some of those in the area as well.

Santa Barbara

I’m happy to have seen Santa Barbara, though frankly I’m not sure it’s a place I need to return to anytime soon. It sort of felt like a “been there, done that” kind of place. From LA I’d much rather return to Palm Springs, for example, which has a more relaxing vibe… or maybe it’s just that I love The Parker Palm Springs.

Bottom line

All things considered I was impressed by the Four Seasons Santa Barbara. It was nicer than the pictures online made it look. And for the off season weekday rate booked through Fine Hotels & Resorts, I thought it was a fair enough deal.

Could I ever imagine spending $1,200 per night to stay here? No, no, no, no, no. But I also recognize it’s driving distance to LA, and therefore it presumably attracts a pretty price-insensitive crowd in summers on the weekends.

But all things considered I give the Four Seasons Santa Barbara a thumbs up, at least for the overall value we got.

Have you been to Santa Barbara, and if so, where did you stay?

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  1. It is a great hotel. One tip is you can park on the street that is shown in the map behind the Casitas. There are actual parking spots and I’ve never had an issue and it’s free!

  2. It is a great hotel and is one of the few FS hotels that was acquired from a prior owner (The Biltmore), but when I have stayed there in the past on the Amex Platinum program, the beach club across the street was not accessible for free to all hotel guests, but only to guests that booked a certain class of room. Guests who booked the lower two classes of rooms had to pay extra to use the beach club (I think it was $200), which can be misleading because the pictures of the hotel on its website show only pictures of the pool at the beach club and not the smaller pool on the property, so it implies that the beach club is accessible for free to all hotel guests.

  3. This hotel was on top of my list for my stay in April. However rates are starting then 600-700+. I am getting a bit desperate as it seems that even the upscale brands are so dated or cost more than 600/day for a standard room. I would have booked the Four Seasons for the rate you got but not so much more. Does anyone have other suggestions for a renovated or new property with fresh feeling and close to the beach? Not just in Santa Barbara, but anywhere around?

  4. Lucky, not to nitpick, but even though us Socal-ers always refer to highway numbers with a “the” in front (ie. the 405), that doesn’t apply to PCH for some reason. So no one says “the PCH” 🙂

    On to the review, nice thorough review as always. I’ve been to a wedding here once and based on what I saw, wasn’t a place I was dying to check out. Based on your pictures, I don’t think I would stay here even at $300/night. Just nothing about it is pleasing to me, but that’s just my own personal taste in decor.

  5. I loved this review! I miss SB; I used to visit regularly when I was in college. Something you should know, especially if you are in CA with any frequency, is that what you call “Spanish style” is called “Mission style”. It is a very common type of architecture in CA.

  6. Not as classy for sure as the Four Seasons but my wife and I stayed at the Fess Parker in Santa Barbara when we visited last spring.Had a nice room with a view of the ocean and walking distance to all that Santa Barbara has to offer. We had a great anniversary dinner on the terrace of Bella Vista at the Four Seasons.

  7. I stay here quite a bit as I have clients in S.B. A few suggestions: If you park behind the hotel in the public lot it is free and usually much closer to many of the rooms. As well, it should be noted for people booking standard rooms but the beach club across the street is NOT included in all the rates. It is free for those booking premium suites only and comes with a hefty add on for regular rooms. I am not sure the category of room Ben had or if he was extended a quiet courtesy to “membership” there but they are quite adamant in not allowing guests there in most rooms unless in the priciest rooms.

  8. Forgot to mention and for no particular reason…but this property is actually owned by Ty Warner Group that also owns the Four Seasons New York. Which is why beanie babies are quite prevalent in both hotels. Go figure.

  9. I grew up visiting Santa Barbara a lot as a child and actually lived in Santa Barbara for a number of years (moving was a very poor decision in retrospect), so I feel like I know the area better than most.

    Concur with the others about the Bacara. It is an awesome property (although it’s quite a ways away from town).

    Like many smaller resort communities, Santa Barbara’s most interesting properties aren’t chains, so they’re not attracting the points and loyalty set (by and large). Similarly, it’s not a community that gives up its most special charms easily. You should definitely go again, spend some time exploring Montecito, the Santa Ynez Valley and, of course, more of Santa Barbara itself.

  10. Looks like a very dated property. Regarding the $1200 rate I don’t think you can call that insane. Ok, let me make this very clear: I would never pay that much money to stay in the property BUT if they are charging that much it is because someone is willing to pay that much. That is Economics 101 and based on supply and demand. Thus, they will find the right balance between getting the hotel full at the highest price possible. Delta does that very well. 🙁

  11. Am I the only one here who expected better? I understand and like the Spanish style, but the property looks dated and in need of a renovation. I cannot imagine paying more than $325 for that room. I agree with Adrian about the paper cups. I happen to like paper cups but it’s bizarre that a Four Seasons would have them.

  12. Nicest drive in the country? You need to keep going further north than Santa Barbara for that–specifically the Big Sur coastline.

    PS Yes, you need to drop “the” from preceding PCH. I have no idea why, but that’s just the way it is. Sorta like the scene in The Social Network when Sean Parker tells them to stop calling it “The Facebook.”

  13. I die at those room service prices…so ridiculous. I guess rich people don’t actually know that pancakes shouldn’t cost $21… LOL. I’d be ubering to the Santa Barbara IHOP before paying $32pp for a breakfast buffet. 😉 Fair disclosure: I have paid ridiculous amounts of money for simple food at astronomical prices. I just cry a little when I have to.

  14. The room looks like my grandmother’s house and I can stay there free. $325 is way too much for that room. $1200 is a rip off. I can rent a 3 bedroom gated villa on the ocean in Santa Barbara for $650 night in the summer. As a bonus furniture from this century is included.

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