: A sweeping view of the iconic Belmond El Encanto, Santa Barbara, California
Santa Barbara, California is a highlight for most passengers on a West Coast fall cruise. San Francisco has the beauty, Los Angeles has the glam, but Santa Barbara is where everyone chills and soaks up charm. The city teems with enjoyable activities, from bicycling nature trails and wine-tastings, to shopping boutiques and touring an iconic mission.
Foodies who visit grin from ear-to-ear. So much fresh seafood prepared with only-in-California flair. If you’ve got but one day and seek a perfect lunch, how to decide? My vote goes to Belmond El Encanto, an enchanting hotel with a knockout quintessential Santa Barbara restaurant, just a short taxi or Uber ride away. Escape from the cruise ship masses and find this retreat. Belmond El Encanto is like Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles, or Belmond Hotel Cipriani in Venice. It’s that one-of-a-kind memorable.
El Encanto opened in the 1920s, as a high-in-the-hills hideaway for the rich and famous, with breathtaking ocean and city views. Belmond, an upscale hotel group, recently bought the resort and spent millions upgrading seven acres of glorious gardens, and restoring and building 92 suites and rooms in California Craftsman and Spanish Revival bungalows dotting the grounds.
Enter the intimate lobby and you’ll just want to exhale. The setting is so serene. Subtly posh furnishings, the sort usually seen in one-percenters’ country homes. You may want to curl up on a cozy sofa and never get up. Meanwhile, birds chirp, gentle breezes waft, and the scent of wildflowers fill the air.
Dining on The Terrace captures the Mediterranean-style of Santa Barabara)
A short stroll through the lobby leads to The Dining Room. Hopefully, you’ve made a reservation in advance and requested a table on The Terrace. The Terrace is the place to dine. It’s as if you are suddenly in the hills of Provence, France, high above the Med. The outdoor setting is impossibly chic (yet not snobbish), with the bluest ocean in the dreamy distance.
The menu reads so well – 180-degrees from hotel sterile. It showcases California coastal cuisine embracing Santa Barbara ingredients. Of course it changes frequently, but here’s a sampling of bucolic offerings. There could be charcuterie, with grilled fig bread, mustard, and cornichons (tiny pickled gherkins), to start. Or artisanal cheeses from nearby farms, served with dried fruit and fresh grapes. Sashimi, often hamachi, comes with a twist - radish and jalapeno slaw, and Meyer lemon sorbet.
Fresh fish of the day tacos at The Terrace)
And since you’re in California, expect carefully constructed salads. Ahi tuna, for instance, brightened with quail egg and brioche croutons. Caesar, with Scottish salmon, or classic Cobb with fresh-picked tomatoes so sweet, they taste sugarcoated.
Should you decide to calorically splurge on the ‘21’ burger, you’ll have no regrets. The recipe is from New York’s famed ‘21’ Club restaurant (also owned by Belmond). What a burger – a juice-dripping plump Angus patty peeks from a buttery brioche bun. Grilled red onion, sharp Cheddar and ‘21’ secret sauce elevate it to ridiculously awesome heights.
I went bonkers over fish tacos. Two big flour tortillas are stuffed with seafood and julienned cabbage, with guacamole, sour cream, and lime wedges for toppings. And the freshly baked bread – crisp lavash, chewy baguette slices, and brioche rolls – is served with soft sweet butter and worth every carb.
If you’re in Santa Barbara on Sunday, be sure to order brunch. First comes ahi tuna, chilled prawns, and smoked salmon presented family-style. Then choose between elaborate entrees like lobster frittata, Santa Barbara cioppino, or nutella and banana-stuffed brioche French toast. Finally, visit the array of dazzling desserts on display in the adjacent Wine Room and pick a favorite (or two).
Don’t leave without a grounds stroll, taking in the infinity-edge pool, iconic architecture, and rare flora. This resort is a microcosm of Santa Barbara perfection, resplendent in one unforgettable hotel. (belmond.com; 805-845-5800 or 800-393-5315)