As any seasoned Angeleno will tell you, the quick drive from LA to Santa Barbara makes the coastal destination the obvious choice when it comes to a weekend getaway— killer beaches, stunning views, and great shopping just 2 hours north— slam dunk.
But with Valentine’s around the corner and expectations, er, romance in the air, we took a slight left, moving away from the water over the Santa Ynez Mountains. Still technically Santa Barbara wine country, the landscape and vibe were every bit as enchanting as the destination’s popular cousin.
Shortly after arriving in Santa Barbara, we checked-in at Belmond El Encanto—the American Rivera’s renowned resort that happens to be a l920’s landmark, fusing original architectural features with contemporary renovations.
The charming Forbes “Five Star” resort is perched atop a sizable hill, secluding the property and creating an enchanting ambiance for romance or rediscovery. The California-styled suites and bungalows complement the lush, terrace grounds complete with a wishing well, lily pond, and bocce ball court. The seven acres are decked with beautifully landscaped gardens framed by sweeping views, which frankly, their website doesn’t do justice. We were tempted to get cozy— but our driver was waiting.
For the unindoctrinated, wine country can be done several ways. Yes, you can hire someone off of Craigslist (but um, buddy system), you can also have a limo drive you around, there’s the shuttle bus option (for tourists)—but ultimately, we recommend a more authentic experience.
There’s something to be said for experiencing the Santa Ynez Valley from someone from the region—someone who knows what’s up. After some research, we decided on Wine Canyon Tours. Being planning enthusiasts, we chose the custom tour option which Rick, the owner of Wine Canyon Tours, happily obliged. Rick provided insight into the valley, touching upon the origins of vastly different wine styles that are produced from the many micro-climates within the region. Complete with stops to Los Olivios and for obligatory photo opps, we thoroughly enjoyed the custom tour (see more on ours here), but if you’d rather relax on the details and let Rick and his team show you around, you won’t be disappointed. They offer a range of options to choose from: group tours, private tours, and specialty tours such as the Grand Cru tour that features a gourmet lunch, ultra exclusive wineries, and reserve wine tastings with the winemakers.
We won’t tell all and spoil the special touches back at El Encanto, but taking advantage of their romance package has its perks, including fresh chocolate dipped strawberries and a bottle of champagne awaiting your return. A day of booze and exploration, you’ll probably soon be on the market for something substantial for dinner.
Foodies, rejoice! Santa Barbara offers plenty of options: Lucky’s, Cava, and Lark were all contenders, but after a full day and a beautiful room with a glowing fireplace and the bathroom’s heated marble floors—we settled on room service. Order a movie to unwind, or take a late-night swim in the infinity-edge swimming pool anchored by the Santa Barbara lights— the property offers a full scope of relaxation options.
Wake up to views of the Pacific, make a Nespresso, contemplate life on your private patio, and then head over to the hotel’s restaurant for an epic breakfast. Seriously, this could be the best we’ve ever had. Not only was it delicious, but the plating was flawless and the view was to die for. After breakfast, we recommend making some time to enjoy the hotel’s spa, which features an assortment of seasonal organic and specialty treatments with world-class products from Beverly Hills’ Linda Ross and our ever favorite—SkinCeuticals.
Belmond El Encanto also offers exercise classes at the fitness studio, or if you’re keen on laying low in the cozy bungalow—enjoy a range of board games such as Clue, Scrabble, and Monopoly.
In the mood to explore? The hotel’s Mercedes Sprinter motor coach is on hand to transport you to a number of locations. Personal transportation more your bag? The hotel offers a fleet of electric bicycles—perfect for making that trip back up to the Rivera neighborhood on your own schedule. Feeling completely rejuvenated, it’s a quick trip back to LA – but already looking forward to our next stay.
See more on Belmond El Encanto’s Valentine’s packages here.