Destination: California: Santa Barbara
In 1968, New York entrepreneur Alvin Dworman bought seventy-eight oceanfront acres just north of Santa Barbara. He spent thirty-two years and $240 million, all the while withstanding scores of public hearings, multiple lawsuits, environmentalists’ lobbies and the threat of angry Native American spirits (nearby burial grounds) to build his dream hotel, which finally opened in 2000. Located on a bluff overlooking a two-mile stretch of beach, the two dozen Spanish Mission-style buildings comprise 360 guest rooms, 3 restaurants, a 42,000-square-foot spa and several meeting rooms. At the center of the village-like layout is an enormous infinity-edged pool surrounded by blue-and-white-striped cabanas. Since it opened, Bacara has managed a delicate balancing act of hosting convention business and drawing A-list stars (Debra Messing stayed here on her honeymoon, and Jude Law and Sienna Miller have spent the weekend.) That said, the staff is so smooth, they make you feel like a star; the ocean views are so heartbreakingly beautiful, the memories of the lost summers they inspire will feel almost within reach; and even when the resort is full, it doesn’t feel crowded. Besides, if it did, you could pull a Greta Garbo and hide out in your room, which has all the standard five-star-hotel amenities: Frette sheets, a top-of-the-line TV and DVD player; a marble bathroom and a balcony or patio, and upper-level suites have fireplaces.
Bacara’s main attraction, though, is its location. Just ten minutes from the Santa Barbara airport and a 90-minute drive from Los Angeles, the resort is easily accessible, and it offers sunny days year-round. Guests have access to two eighteen-hole golf courses, the oceanside Sandpiper and the mountainside Glen Annie. Spa concierges will create customized nutrition, fitness and beauty programs for you. A thousand-acre ranch at the foot of the Santa Ynez Mountains offers horseback riding and mountain biking. Santa Barbara and Montecito are only a short drive away, as are the vineyards of the Santa Ynez Valley, which is being touted as the next Napa. Tennis, croquet, hiking and water sports are also available. But my favorite things to do there surprised me: lingering over breakfast at the spa café, where the chef serves grilled white peaches and oatmeal-cinnamon brûlée; taking a trail ride over the dunes and galloping along a beach, deserted except for a few surfers and sandpipers; and at night, sitting by one of the outdoor fireplaces and watching the stars blink onto the evening sky. Rates from $475.
Room To Get: The Presidential Residence at the top of the beach walk (most popular for honeymooners) feels like a house of your own on the edge of the Pacific. Rate upon request.
The Bottom Line: A good option for that ever-increasing army of sophisticated travelers desperately seeking long weekends in a warm place where they can be guaranteed great food, spa treatments and golf, and for families who want access to Santa Barbara but at a slight remove.
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