Steak and seafood restaurant with 12,000 bottle wine list, plus a tasting room
Monarch kids' club with lots of activities for children ages 3 through 12
Bar with upscale takes on pub food, beers, wine, and cocktails
Kayaks, surfboards, stand-up paddleboards, and mountain bikes for rent
Gorgeous ballroom plus extensive conference facilities for weddings and meetings
Tennis center with four clay courts and instruction available
Free hotel-wide Wi-Fi
Courtesy golf carts on hand for shuttling guests around the vast property
Off a freeway, without any points of interest within walking distance
Daily resort fee and extra charge for parking
Kids' club only open on weekends
Beach has lots of rocks and tar, but not much sand
Some long treks to pools and beach
Bacara Resort & Spa is a luxury spa resort on the California coast, about a 20-minute drive from downtown Santa Barbara. The 358 rooms and suites here feature detailed decor (some with fireplaces) and come with balconies or terraces, many with views out on the ocean. There's also a huge spa, excellent on-site dining (with an extensive wine), and lots of event space for conferences. The resort offers a ton of on-site activities, from kayaking to mountain biking to catching sun next to one of the three outdoor pools. However, there's a daily resort fee and the beach here is far from ideal, with lots of rocks and tar. Travelers who want to be near a beach with a bit more sand are better off staying at the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara, instead.
Luxury spa resort popular with well-to-do vacationers as well as conference-goers and wedding parties
Spread out over 78 acres overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Bacara Resort & Spa is a chic property situated on a two-mile stretch of coastline. While the views here are pretty, it's not the best place for tanning (there's not much sand except at low tide), just lots of tar and rocks. Guests enter into a white mission-style main building featuring an elegant, country-chic lobby with wooden beamed ceilings, recessed lighting, and archways leading to cozy seating nooks filled with classic wood-framed furniture and plush crushed-velvet sofas. Large floral-printed carpets spread out over rust-and-cream marble floors add a familiar homeyness to the space, as do ample candles, bowls of fruit, and expensive floral arrangements. A sweeping staircase sits off to one side.
The grounds here are equally attractive (and impeccably maintained), with paved pathways flanked by a mix of hedges, shrubs, and palm trees along with paved walking trails. The rooms here are housed in multiple villas that range from one to four stories and all have the same white stucco facade and terra-cotta roofs found in the main building.
Bacara attracts a mix of guests, including wedding groups, conferences, and lots of vacationers willing to shell out a good deal of cash for a luxurious spa getaway that feels far removed from city life (past guests include the likes of Michael Jordan, Bill Gates, and Fergie). Although the property is located off the freeway, it's set back far enough that it doesn't get traffic noise, and the overall vibe is peaceful. Note that the spread out property includes hills and some long walks to the pools and beach. Golf cart shuttles are on hand for a lift, but can be few and far between.
Quiet Pacific Coast location, a 20-minute drive from the heart of Santa Barbara
Although Bacara's mailing address claims Santa Barbara, the resort is actually located in Goleta, California, a sparsely populated middle-class college town just off the highway on a stretch of rocky Pacific Ocean coastline. Goleta lacks Santa Barbara's fine dining and beautiful beach, and doesn't really have much going for it beyond a few retail outlets and suburban sprawl. However, it's only about a 10-minute drive to the Santa Barbara Airport or a 20-minute drive down the coast to Santa Barbara's main drag of State Street. There are also three excellent golf courses in the area, including the Sandpiper Golf Club right by the property. Los Padres National Forest is about 10 minutes away by car, and there are several wineries within a 45-minute drive of the hotel, primarily in Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, and Solvang. Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) takes about two hours to reach by car (depending on the city's notorious traffic).
Luxe rooms and suites with big marble bathrooms, and terraces or balconies, some with ocean views
Bacara offers a huge variety of gorgeous rooms and suites, mostly differentiated only by the extent to which their views look out over the ocean. Lodgings on offer range from snug Superior Rooms with garden-facing balconies clear up to 925-square-foot (86-square-meter) Signature Suites with sleeper sofas in the living rooms, separate bedrooms with king beds, and two bathrooms. Decor is consistent across categories, with dark-wood floors and (some) fireplaces coupled with a mix of cream-hued and blue-toned decorative touches, including plush contemporary chairs, ceramic lamps, and patterned throw cushions. Bathrooms are roomy, with red terra-cotta tiles, roomy walk-in showers, and separate tubs, plus long marble vanities with plenty of counter space. All rooms have balconies or terraces furnished with padded patio furniture. Standard amenities include minibars stocked with everything from Red Bull to Champagne, Keurig coffeemakers, safes, irons and ironing boards, and free Wi-Fi. 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).
Extensive activities, a massive spa, three pools, two dining outlets with huge wine lists, and beautiful event space
Bacara offers fantastic amenities aimed at vacationers. There are plenty of activities on offer, from painting classes to stargazing, along with a weekends-only Monarch Kids' Club offering recreation for children ages 3 through 12. However, the resort's piece de resistance is the gigantic Spa at Bacara, which offers everything from medical-grade facials to herbal bolus massages -- it's the main selling point for many guests, who come here strictly for relaxation and rejuvenation. The spa complex also features a 24-hour fitness center with tons of weight-training machines (though they are a tad dated) along with exercise bikes and treadmills.
The dining here is equally fantastic, especially for wine lovers. The main Angel Oak restaurant focuses primarily on steak and seafood, with a 12,000-bottle-strong wine collection. There's also a tasting room in partnership with The Foley Food + Wine Society (FFWS) located on the property, and special tastings, cooking classes, and other culinary- and wine-related activities can be arranged on request. Outdoor and indoor dining is available. For drinks and more casual dining, Bacara Bar offers wines, liquors, appetizers, and high-end takes on pub food either indoors or out on an ocean-facing terrace. Room service is available around the clock.
Although the beach isn't great for sunbathing, it is good for water sports, and the resort can arrange surfboard, stand-up paddleboard, and kayak rentals. Mountain bikes are available for exploring the mountainous hinterlands. Because the beach is rocky and doesn't have much sand, travelers wishing to swim or sunbathe are better off hitting up one of three saline-filtered pools, each with a gradually-sloping, zero-depth entry: one at the spa (just for spa guests), one often occupied by children, and one exclusive to guests who reserve a cabana. There's also a tennis center with four lighted Har-Tru clay tennis courts and available private instruction.
The resort hosts business events as well as weddings, and includes a huge ballroom with gilt-framed mirrors and six balconies plus a number of medium-size and smaller rooms that seat anywhere from 80 to 1000 people. Wi-Fi is free throughout the property. Parking incurs a daily fee. Guests should also expect to pay a daily resort fee.
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