A few weeks ago, we realized we had not traveled in months. Because of COVID, we had cancelled all our travel plans since February and were really antsy to go somewhere. Looking for road trips within driving distance of our home base in San Diego, we considered some of our favorites. Santa Barbara was at the top of our list, and a COVID-safe road trip to Santa Barbara was instantly in the planning.
COVID-Safe Road Trip to Santa Barbara
Before planning our safe road trip to Santa Barbara, we did our homework. I consulted dozens of recent articles about traveling during COVID, each with their own recommendations about how to stay safe. Taking the best advice from each of these sources, I compiled a safety checklist for COVID travel. This list helped us plan our getaway. Ultimately it helped us choose the right destination for our family during these uncertain times.
Frankly, we’d have Santa Barbara near the top of our list regardless if times are weird. It’s a city that offers so much to visitors of all kinds, and especially families. Even then, a safe road trip to Santa Barbara checked out after following my COVID-Safe Road Trip Checklist. Use the list in that link for whatever destination you might be considering to visit!
A COVID-Safe Travel Itinerary
Like I said, we’ve been to Santa Barbara many times and love it there. In the past we’ve enjoyed stays at many wonderful Santa Barbara hotels including the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort. On one trip, we took an amazing photo lesson/food tour called Eat This! Shoot That! that filled our bellies and our minds with new information.
This city has been a favorite since, well, since before our kids were even born. In fact, I lived here for a couple of years while attending UC Santa Barbara. I think that’s when I fell in love with all the wonderful things that make Santa Barbara so special. Luckily my family feels the same, and it seemed the ideal place for our first adventure out of the house.
We worked with Visit Santa Barbara to carefully curate an itinerary for our COVIS-safe road trip to Santa Barbara that would keep us interested, but also safe. All of us wanted to relax and enjoy the outdoors and fresh air, not be cooped up inside a hotel room somewhere. Santa Barbara delivered exactly what we were looking for.
Clean and Safe Hotel Experiences
It was really important that we feel safe in the places we chose to stay. With so much emphasis on cleanliness and sanitation during COVID, our COVID-safe road trip to Santa Barbara needed to assure our health and security. I grilled the two hotels we stayed at about their cleaning protocols. Both supplied detailed lists of all the things they were doing to ensure our safety. Not only did each hotel detail their cleaning procedures, but also how their staff would interact with us as guests.
Even more importantly, they also addressed how they expected guests to respect each other’s safety. We were impressed, and planned our stays immediately.
Hideaway Santa Barbara a Sweet Boutique Near the Marina
The Hideaway Santa Barbara is a sweet little 9-room boutique hotel in downtown Santa Barbara. It’s very new, and is a spotless renovation and reimagining of a Craftsman era building originally in this location. It’s just a couple of blocks from the beach and within easy walking distance of the shops and restaurants at Lower State Street and the Funk Zone.
Clearly this hotelier has a design aesthetic and an attention to detail, because the Hideaway is gorgeous inside and out. Our room was perched in the eaves of the front building, with plenty of space for our family to spread out. We loved the design, the way the room provided privacy, the bathroom, the comfy beds… Really it was a wonderful stay.
Their COVID-safe protocols also made us very happy. Sanitizing all touchable surfaces, airing out the rooms, careful consideration of guest personal space and more. Plus they provided one of the most important thing to our little traveling family – great WIFI.
For more information on Hideaway Santa Barbara, check their website for details and rates. (Rates start at around $200/night).
The Ritz-Carlton Resort Provides Luxury on the Beach
We also drove up the road to stay at the Ritz-Carlton Bacara Resort in Goleta, just north of Santa Barbara. Driving down the long entrance road to the resort put us immediately at ease. If we weren’t already relaxed enough, the Bacara was sure to seal the deal. It was the ultimate in luxury on our COVID-safe road trip to Santa Barbara.
Walking into the lobby, we immediately noticed the hand sanitizer stations and complimentary masks for anyone needing them. Check-in was handled behind plexiglass screens with no touch card readers. Restaurant tables were all properly spaced at least 6 feet from each other, and guests were temperature checked before being seated at every meal. Suffice to say, it’s Ritz-Carlton and they are going to do it right. We felt very assured that we could maintain our family’s safety bubble.
The resort itself is a gorgeous love letter to the beachy California vibe, with a luxury twist. It’s a sprawling resort with multiple low-rise guest buildings surrounded by lush landscaping. Some rooms overlook the gardens, others are fronting the pools. And some guests are fortunate to be placed in oceanfront rooms with ridiculous views of the blue Pacific. We were one of those fortunate families with amazing ocean views.
Our suite was spacious and pristine. The master bedroom featured a kingsize bed, seating area and fireplace. The living room came complete with it’s own bathroom and a fold-out couch for the girls. Both rooms opened on to an enormous deck with plenty of furniture to sit and watch the views and wildlife. So many beautiful birds here!
Other spectacular features of this resort include two saltwater pools, both of which were kept clean and safe with proper spacing between lounge chairs and groups. We spent the day lazily basking in the sun at a pool cabana, where we ordered lunch and took dips into the pool when we felt hot. The resort spaced the cabanas so guests were not placed next to each other, and the pool was very uncrowded.
And then there’s the beach, which is literally right down a sandy path from the Ritz-Carlton Bacara Resort. It’s not necessarily a “private beach” but it would be pretty hard to get to this spot if you were not a hotel guest. We went for a morning stroll and checked out the waves, sea birds and gorgeous California bluffs as we started our day. Just beautiful.
View more information on staying at the Ritz-Carlton Bacara Resort here. Their COVID-safe protocols are also easily accessible online. Prices start around $400/night.
Enjoying Outdoor Adventures in Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara was on the top of our list of COVID-safe family road trip options for many reasons. We wanted to spend as much time as possible outside in the fresh air and ocean breezes. Santa Barbara delivers all that and more, with a long list of cool things to do:
Ganna Walska Lotusland in Montecito: 39 acres of magical gardens to get lost in, including a lotus pond, waterfalls, jungles, groves and an enormous koi pond. A must see, but book ahead because spaces fill up far in advance.
Rent Bicycles to Ride Along the Waterfront: Wheel Fun Rentals in the Funk Zone off Lower State Street has bikes of all shapes and sizes. And those pedal-buggies that carry 2-6 people too!
Walk the Labyrinth on the UCSB Campus: Sitting atop a bluff on the backside of a waterfront lagoon and overlooking the Pacific Ocean, this rock-lined labyrinth delivers zen 24/7/365.
Picnic on the Lawns at the Santa Barbara Mission: Even if history is not your thing, the lawns and rose gardens in front of the Mission are free. Grab a picnic and head over for a lazy day in the sun, complete with mission bells in the background.
Enjoy the Warm Sands at East Beach: What is Santa Barbara without its famous beaches? We love East Beach to the left of Stearns Wharf for its wide clean sand, calmer waters and people watching. Oh, the people watching!
Santa Barbara is also a huge wine and food destination. After all, famous chef Julia Child chose to settle here in her later years. There are so many wonderful places to sip wines from nearby vineyards, and sample cuisines from all over the world:
Upper State Street Promenade: A bevy of fantastic restaurants are located along Upper State Street, and now the entire street is closed to cars. Reimagined as a pedestrian promenade, this area offers guests a socially-distanced stroll and plenty of dining opportunities outside in the open air. (The Promenade is currently planned to stay open through the end of 2020.)
Funk Zone: Formerly a rundown warehouse district, this revitalized area is full of life and excitement. Restaurants, galleries, winery tasting rooms and more are part of the colorful and eclectic mix here.
Margerum Winery: Right at the entrance to the Funk Zone, the Margerum tasting room offers wine flights, light meals and an extensive list of tasting opportunities. We fell in love with several of their wines and may have brought home a bottle or two.
Field + Fort: This sweet and chic design shop/eatery is the perfection of California casual with a stylish flair. We loved the food, how they handled the eating areas and the shop is filled with fascinating curios and furnishings. We are hoping to move in, but the owners might frown on that.
La Super Rica: Julia Child blessed this little taco hut as one of her favorites, and the line of admirers has been down the street ever since. We join that line every time we’re in town to gobble our favorite cheesy dish with homemade tortillas made to order onsite.
Shalhoob’s Patio: On past trip to Santa Barbara, we embarked on a fun food tour of the Funk Zone called “Eat This, Shoot That” and Shalhoob’s was one of the stops. They serve the best tri-tip sandwich known to humankind, and we will forever trek here on every visit to this fine city. No frills, but the food is divine.