Bacara Resort & Spa Rating: 4.5 Pearls
Santa Barbara, California, United States

Oyster Review Summary

Photos and Review by Oyster.com Investigators

Pros

Cons

  • Small, rocky beach
  • Costly spa services
  • Daily valet parking fee (no self-parking)
  • Spotty T-Mobile and Sprint cell phone reception
  • No sound insulation in the bathrooms (embarrassing)
  • Hefty cleaning fee if you bring a pet
  • 20-minute drive to the heart of Santa Barbara

Bottom Line

There is much to love about the Bacara, a destination resort located on a rocky stretch of coastline about 20 minutes west of Santa Barbara. It has a gorgeous spa, two respected golf courses, top-tier organic Spanish cuisine, a kid- and pet-friendly vibe, and gorgeous coastal scenery. It's expensive, even after you check in, but many guests find the splurge worthwhile.

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Oyster Hotel Review

 Scene

Somewhat isolated, celebrity-grade golf and spa resort

Located in the coastal college town of Goleta, about 20 minutes outside Santa Barbara proper, the sprawling, 78-acre Bacara resort is one of the finest luxury hotels in Southern California, for the right kind of person. Who exactly is this person? That's actually a little tricky to answer. It needs to be someone who isn't coming to lounge on the beach -- the rocky, tar-coated swath of coastline isn't ideal. It needs to be someone willing to either linger inside the resort or drive a good while to get to Santa Barbara's restaurants, museums, and beach (there's not much to Goleta outside the hotel). It needs to be someone fit enough to hike the grounds (uphill) every time they leave their room (not ideal for young children). It needs to be someone looking for a remote, quiet atmosphere, but who doesn't mind some dogs barking and kids splashing in the pool (or, at least, he doesn't mind paying extra to stay in a cabana at the more exclusive pool).

Ideally, the resort is for someone after a great golf course (there's two stand-out public courses just outside the hotel), an exceptional spa, and fresh-grown organic fine dining (in small portions). Plus, this person must be willing to pay considerably more for these things than he would just about anywhere else (including other luxury hotels). So, who exactly is this person? Some examples: Michael Jordan, Bill Gates, Nicole Richie, and Fergie (all former guests).

 Service

Prompt and attentive, most often

  • 24-hour room service
  • Poolside food and drinks service
  • Concierge services
  • Babysitting services (arranged by the concierge)
  • Morning newspaper delivery

 Location

About 15 minutes north of Santa Barbara, off Highway 101, on a rocky stretch of coastline behind the Santa Ynez Mountains

To some, the Bacara is a quiet hideaway, blissfully detached from the Santa Barbara bustle. To others, it's an exhaustive, sprawling resort in a middle-class college town just off the highway and alongside a less-than-ideal stretch of rocky coastline. While the Bacara's mailing address claims Santa Barbara, the resort's sprawling 78 acres are located in Goleta, California, a sparsely-populated middle-class city. Goleta lacks Santa Barbara's fine dining, especially clean air, and a beautiful beach. Beyond the resort itself and its golf courses, Goleta doesn't really have a whole lot to it: a few housing (and mobile home) developments, the University of California Santa Barbara campus (technically in the neighboring city of Isla Vista), a K-Mart, and a few middling restaurants designed to attract locals and college kids (not luxury-minded vacationers). Of course, you're not entirely cut off from Santa Barbara -- a drive down the coast takes you to Santa Barbara's main drag, State Street, in about 20 minutes -- but the experience of staying at the Bacara, a destination resort, is different from more centrally-located properties.

  • On two miles of Pacific coast, but not an ideal beach -- slight sand (only in low tide, really), large rocks, and excessive tar
  • Surfing (surfboards and body boards available to rent), sailing, yachting, biking trails, and horseback riding (arranged through the concierge) all available along the beach
  • 20-minute drive to the beach, the museums, and the dining in Santa Barbara
  • About a 10-minute drive to Los Padres National Forest
  • About a 35- to 45-minute drive to various wineries in Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, and Solvang
  • 10-minute drive from Santa Barbara Airport
  • 2-hour drive from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)

 Rooms

Clean and comfortable; not extraordinary

Partial Ocean View Room
Partial Ocean View Room

Housed inside one-, three-, and four-story Mediterranean-style villas, the Bacara's 311 guest rooms and 49 suites span 78 acres. The manicured gardens and scenic coastal setting is beautiful, but long hilly hikes to the pool aren't right for everyone (guests with mobility challenges, seniors, and families with young children, take note). Golf cart shuttles regularly circulate the grounds, but it's hard to rely on a courtesy lift. Similarly, with so many people trekking across the property and a great many of the Garden View rooms directly facing the pathways (or other hotel rooms), it can be hard to maintain a sense of privacy inside the rooms without closing the drapes. For this reason an Ocean View upgrade can be well worth it (though these rooms are in short supply).

On the inside, the rooms are clean, spacious, and up-to-date. They aren't breathtaking, but they are certainly comfortable -- provided you don't mind being within audible range of your partner while on the toilet (bathroom doors all have louvered wooden slats).

Room types:

  • The standard room types -- Village View and Partial Ocean View rooms, all a roomy 450 square feet -- come with either a king-size or two double-size beds. The Premiere Ocean View rooms are basically the same in terms of size and layout, but they only come with king-size beds.
  • Junior Suites offer a bit more space (545 square feet), and they all include a separate dressing area, a fireplace, and a larger balcony than you'd get with a standard room. Note, however, that these rooms only come with a view of the gardens (and other villas) and two double-size beds.
  • One-bedroom Executive Suites (820 square feet) also include a large sitting room with a sleeper-sofa, a dining area for four, and a private bedroom with a king-size bed, but no fireplace. These rooms also only overlook the gardens.
  • One-bedroom Terrace Suites (850 square feet) are similar to the Executive Suites, though they also offer views of the ocean and the gardens, a fireplace, a wet bar, and two full bathrooms.
  • The Signature Suites are a bit larger (925 square feet), but have essentially the same features as the Terrace Suites.
  • The two-bedroom, two-bath Sea Haven suite (2,000 square feet), unlike the other suites, comes with an open, loft-like layout in the common area with floor-to-ceiling windows (spectacular ocean views), a pantry with modern, Viking kitchen appliances, and a large wraparound terrace.
  • The Penthouse is essentially the same as the Sea Haven, though it also comes with a large dining area that seats eight.
  • The two-story private Residence (3,700 square feet) is closer to the ocean than any other room on the property and comes with an outdoor fireplace (seats ten), two bedrooms (each with a king-size bed and a full bath), a dining room (seats six), and a large sitting room with a wet bar and indoor fireplace.

All rooms include:

  • Patio (ground floor) or balcony (higher floor)
  • Free high-speed wireless Internet access
  • Excellent bed; Frette linens
  • Soft Frette bathrobes, slippers, and towels
  • Sony flat-screen TV and entertainment system with DVD player; DVD selection available at the concierge desk
  • Electronic safe large enough for a laptop
  • About half of the rooms (all room types) have either a gas or wood-burning fireplace

 Features

All the resort essentials (pools, tennis courts, spa, gym, golf courses), plus a private ranch just outside the property

Pool
Pool
  • Three saline-filtered pools, each with a gradually-sloping, 'zero-depth' entry: one at the spa, one often occupied by kids, and one exclusive to guests who reserve a cabana
  • Tennis Center: court rental ($20 per person, per hour); private instruction ($80 to $90 per hour); adult and junior clinics ($30 to $35 per person, per hour)
  • The Ranch, about 1,000 acres of rugged, resort-owned hiking trails and organic gardens that back into the Los Padres National Forest (just outside the resort proper); guided tours ($35 per person, or $50 for two) and picnics available
  • Computer, fax, copy, and express delivery services at the business center, open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • 211 seat screening room
  • 25,500 square feet of social and meeting space (popular wedding and conference destination)
  • Resort shop (books and gifts); spa shop (swimwear and sports accessories); luxury boutique (clothing and accessories from Burberry, Tse Cashmere, and Plein Sud, among others)

 Spa

Large, Mediterranean-style villa entirely dedicated to wellness and rejuvenation

  • Broad range of massages: Swedish, Thai, Shiatsu, prenatal, hot stone, reflexology, reiki, and ayurveda (about $150 to $200 per hour)
  • Skin treatments range from fake-tanning to citrus-avocado exfoliation to acid peels and facials specifically designed for teens and men (about $150 to $300)
  • 36 treatment rooms; massages available inside and outdoors
  • Access to sauna, Jacuzzi, Swiss showers, and eucalyptus steam room
  • Personalized wellness programs
  • Top-notch gym with cardio and strength training machines (personal training from $130)
  • Dedicated yoga and Pilates studios, free classes throughout the week (privates from $130) as well as beachside yoga, chi gong, tai chi, and meditation exercises
  • Full-service beauty salon (make-up, hair, nails, waxing, and bridal packages)
  • Private sunbathing available (no tan lines!)
  • All-organic Spa Café

 Golf

Two 18-hole courses

  • Two courses: Sandpiper (by the ocean) and Glen Annie (in the mountains) have both hosted PGA and LPGA tournaments and were rated among the top public courses in the nation by Golf Digest.
  • The resort provides a free shuttle to both courses
  • Soft-spikes required; no blue jeans allowed
  • No caddies; riding golf carts optional
  • Rentals: Callaway and Titlelist clubs
  • Private, professional training available
  • Tip: Be sure to reserve a tee-time prior to your arrival (the best slots fill up fast).

 Family

Fine for families, but note the long uphill walks and less-than desirable beach

  • Kids' Club for kids ages five to 12 (kids under 5 need to be accompanied by a parent or full-time nanny): Daily activities range from air hockey, to kite-flying on the beach, to movie-making on iMac computers, to nature hikes and trips to the monarch butterfly preserve and the Globose Dune Beetle Habitat (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; evening activities during holiday weekends)
  • Six-to-one child-to-adult staff ratio at the Kids' Club; all childcare staffers are CPR and First-Aid certified
  • Large rooms and suites; cribs, rollaway beds, and highchairs available upon request
  • Kids' menus available at the Bistro restaurant

 Food

Excellent, but pricey (even by resort standards)

  • Miró offers Basque-Catalonian fine dining (and an excellent wine list) in an artsy dining room or on a stunning cliff-side terrace. Menu items -- halibut with brussel sprout leaves, navel orange, parsnip, and almond milk, for example - incorporate fresh ingredients grown nearby at the Ranch. (Open for dinner only)
  • The Miró Bar and Lounge, beside the restaurant, also offers a range of tapas to go along with homemade sangria.
  • The Bistro, a more casual Mediterranean and Continental restaurant overlooking the ocean, uses a wood-burning oven to cure and smoke its own fish, meats, and veggies (also from the resort's private garden). Menu items (all about $15 to $35) include blueberry waffles with honey-pecan butter (breakfast); a grilled chicken pizza with artichoke, basil, tomato, roasted garlic (lunch); and lemon-oregano crusted rack of lamb, olive risotto, stewed artichokes, baby fennel, and charred radicchio (dinner).
  • Spa Café features healthy, all-organic (even the wine), indoor-outdoor dining by the spa's tranquility pool. (Open for breakfast and lunch)
  • 24-hour in-room dining

 Bottom Line

There is much to love about the Bacara, a destination resort located on a rocky stretch of coastline about 20 minutes west of Santa Barbara. It has a gorgeous spa, two respected golf courses, top-tier organic Spanish cuisine, a kid- and pet-friendly vibe, and gorgeous coastal scenery. It's expensive, even after you check in, but many guests find the splurge worthwhile.

Things You Should Know About Bacara Resort & Spa

Address

  • 8301 Hollister Avenue, Santa Barbara, CA 93117

Room Types

  • Executive Suite
  • Junior Suite
  • Partial Ocean View Fire Room
  • Partial Ocean View Room
  • Premiere Ocean View Fire Room
  • Premiere Ocean View Room
  • Sea Heaven
  • Signature Partial Ocean Suite
  • Signature Premier Suite
  • Signature Village Suite
  • Terrace Premier Suite
  • Terrace Village Suite
  • The Penthouse
  • The Residence
  • Village View Fire Room
  • Village View Room

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Hotel Features

Number of Rooms: 360
Pool: Yes
Fitness Center: Yes
Spa: Yes
Internet Access: Yes
Pets Allowed: Yes
Cribs: Yes
Kids Club: Yes
Jacuzzi (in room): Some
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Hotel Information

Location: Santa Barbara, California
Address: 8301 Hollister Avenue, Santa Barbara, CA 93117
(See Map)
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