I visited El Encanto years ago before its recent massive renovation. The hotel was definitely showing its age at the time, but the location, tucked in the hills above Santa Barbara in the Riviera neighborhood was unique and overshadowed any unpleasantries. Thankfully, Orient-Express Hotels rescued the landmark property, which opened in 1918, with a seven-year $134 million facelift bringing one of California’s great old hotels back to life.
I had the opportunity to revisit El Encanto last spring and was not disappointed. In fact, it’s now one of my favorite hotels. The secluded setting I originally fell in love with is now matched with a resort-like, boutique hotel offering amazing service with modern amenities (love the heated bathroom floors). Scattered amid the seven acres of gardens are Craftsman-style and Spanish Colonial bungalows with rooms that feel like a cozy apartment; many with fireplaces and private patios offering views of the gardens or ocean through the Eucalyptus tree tops. Off the lobby is the main dining room, where you could eat inside (but why?) or on the vast terrace overlooking the city. Umbrellas and heat lamps assure comfort. A pretty bar is steps inside with live piano music playing while sipping local wines or a delicious Negroni, offering the perfect spot to end a long, relaxing day. Simply heavenly all around.