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Santa Barbara is one of those places in California — like a Big Sur or an Ojai — that really needs no introduction. (I’ll give it one anyways; it’s a matter of respect.) Cut between the Santa Ynez mountains and the sea, bursting with old-school beach town charm, and touched with every amenity of a 2023 vacation destination (read: ample natural wine and tasting rooms, amazing bakeries and breakfast spots, antique stores that command two-story warehouses, and Michelin star dining), you’d be a lunatic not to have it on your weekend getaway list.
When SB enters the vacation conversation, most minds are drawn to Montecito: where the luxury hotels are abundant, and would require me to sell all of my possessions in exchange for one night’s stay. (A sacrifice I would gladly make!) And yet, The Drift — a sexy, youthful counterpart to its older, more moneyed sister in Montecito – is making downtown Santa Barbara just as alluring. Nestled in the heart of Santa Barbara on State Street, blocks away from what I consider to be one of the top three farmer’s markets in California (more on this later), and ideal for car-free exploring, The Drift is what vacation fantasies are made of.
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Blink And You’ll Miss It: A Hidden Haven
Folded into the bustle of Santa Barbara’s State Street — a long stretch of shops, bars, restaurants, and Himalayan Salt Caves — The Drift feels like your new best-kept secret. After checking in via text, I received my room number, a key code to enter, constant access to Drift’s concierge team, and an abundant offering of complimentary surfboards, yoga mats, bikes, a luggage rack, ironing board — even a table to work on. I couldn’t imagine needing anything more, but I suppose I’m high maintenance, and the Drift hotline answered. I wore the wrong shoes while out exploring on a Saturday afternoon, and my Drift guardian angel procured an assortment of band-aids in a matter of minutes. Enough said.
The rooms themselves are snug and chic, with everything you need — and nothing you don’t. If you’re riding solo, the Cozy rooms are your ticket, with a queen bed, TV, coffee maker, wood paneling, and raffia light fixtures; splurge on a Premium or Penthouse if you’re in the market for a romantic getaway with a balcony and views of the city or Santa Ynez mountains. The rooms are ideal for your beauty sleep, but in reality, you won’t be spending much time in silo. You’re in the heart of Santa Barbara, after all.
Why Ever Leave The Premises?
While you might not spend much time in your room, it’ll be hard to leave the hotel for coffee or cocktails. Throw on one of the linen robes hanging in your entryway, and make your way down to Dawn, Drift’s morning cafe serving up local coffee, matcha, pastries, and delicious seasonal beverages. When I first checked in, Dawn was bustling — it’s clearly a guest favorite, with an energy that feels laidback and relaxed, even when busy.
When evening rolled around, the Dusk Bar stole the show. What’s better than having the craft food, beverage, and fabulous social energy come to you? I was blown away by the situation at Dusk. With a lengthy and well-curated mezcal and agave spirits list, dangerously delicious cocktails (alcoholic and non), and an impressive wine selection, the menu did not leave me wanting. Things got very serious — read: I considered marriage, or move-in — when I met the raw bar and snacks. The freshest oysters I’ve ever had, with a unique house mignonette and chili situation. And it might seem like I’m prone to hyperbole at this point, but the chips and guac were so excellent, I influenced several other guests to order their own, too.
Sorry – a moment for the guac, oysters, and beverages almost too pretty to drink. Almost being the operative word.
A Michelin Starry Night, And A Totally Scandinavian Morning
While you might be tempted to eat every meal at your hotel, you’ll be rewarded for branching out. Santa Barbara is bursting with must-try restaurants, cafes, and antique stores, all within walking distance. If you have room for only one dinner while in SB, Bibi Ji just made its way into the Michelin Guide this year, and it exceeds the hype. Indian food and natural wine? Make some friends, order the whole menu and definitely the uni briyani, and thank me after. Also on State Street and also in the Michelin Guide, head to Sama Sama for shareable and unforgettable Indonesian food.
If you’re willing and able to venture a hop skip and a jump over to Montecito — which you should, if only for a hike, skip, and jump into natural hot springs — make a reservation at Bettina for some of the best wood-fired pizza and farm-to-table vegetable sides, and Oliver’s for upscale vegetarian fare that’ll please everyone in your party.
In the morning, hit Dune for a perfect drip coffee, which you can take across the street to the Santa Barbara Farmer’s Market, if you’re lucky enough to be there on a Saturday. In my book, this is one of the top three farmer’s markets in California (it’s battling with Hollywood and Ojai).
Give yourself at least an hour to do a few loops, sample all the nut butters, Santa Barbara pistachios, and farm fresh berries and stone fruit. Finish your morning with a walk to Oat Bakery, a Scandinavian bakery that is so singular, I have considered (on several occasions) making the drive from LA to Santa Barbara just to acquire a loaf of bread and some seed crackers. The Hygge bun will have you considering a move to Denmark, or at least SB.
Your Weekend Essentials
I’m action-oriented, so aside from experiencing as many food and beverage situations as possible, I also walked half a mile up from The Drift and accidentally stumbled upon a stretch of tasting rooms, wine gardens, restaurants, and antique shops named “The Funk Zone.” Aside from what is an obviously incredible title, the Funk Zone holds some treasures within. Stop by Mollusk for all your chic surf shop needs, and save at least an hour to pore over every corner of The Blue Door, a two-story antique collective brimming with art, glassware, books, furniture, and vintage clothing. Keep walking and you’ll reach the beach.
Now that you know your schedule — book your stay at Drift to coincide with a Saturday farmer’s market, spend at least a few days in order to hit all the requisite restaurants and bakeries — here are a few things you might consider packing in your weekender. Vacation SPF because when that sun breaks through the morning fog, you’ll want to be protected. A Janessa Leone straw hat for similar reasons, until you can buy your Santa Barbara Farmer’s Market merch. I brought Living Libation’s Seabuckthorn Best Skin Ever Oil — for both cleansing and moisturizing purposes — an Olio E Osso Balm, and a mini Liis fragrance to comprise my full beauty routine for the weekend. Moon Juice’s Mini Dew and Magnesi-Om for hydrating and resting, respectively. Keep it simple, you’re in Santa Barbara and the living is easy.