Why Everyone’s Talking About Montecito Now
Where mountains meet the surf—and the stars.
Its name means “little mountain,” and Montecito is indeed pocket-sized: a village of just eight square miles, tucked along a stretch of south-facing coastline next to Santa Barbara. But the town has an outsized appeal for people who appreciate its approach to laid-back luxury.
The Chumash people settled here millennia ago, followed by retired soldiers from the Santa Barbara Presidio in the early 1800s, and citrus farmers soon after. By the late 19th century, rich easterners had discovered this sanctuary, and began building estates among the foothills of the Santa Ynez mountains. Celebrities and billionaires, drawn to Montecito’s unfair abundance of natural beauty, now own many of these historic properties, studded with coast live oaks and eucalyptus trees. Their homes are eclectic yet tasteful—mega-mansions discreetly hidden at the ends of private drives. The downtown shops and restaurants are small and often family-owned. The beaches are serene. It all has the feel of a small town—albeit a very rarified one, where Oprah, Rob Lowe and Ellen Degeneres are residents.
Life here isn’t always perfect. In early 2018, Montecito suffered from mudslides, which tragically destroyed homes and lives. In the past year, it has rebuilt itself—remaining as lovely as ever. And now, it’s become the newest destination for Rosewood Hotels & Resorts. Here are six reasons why you should plan a visit soon.
Surf, Sand and Sunsets
For much of the year, the Pacific is too chilly for most swimmers, but it’s still excellent for walking, backing, picnicking and surfing. Sandy shores make up the entirety of Montecito’s coastline, which stretches from Butterfly Beach—the town’s most popular public beach—past surfer’s delight Hammonds Beach to Miramar Beach. The latter, a south-facing swath tucked away from the crowds, has tide pools near its western edge and prime sunset views over palm tree–dotted Edgecliff Point.
No visit to Montecito is complete without a stroll down Coast Village Drive, the town’s eucalyptus-shaded shopping strip whose boutiques do Montecito style—polished basics in cashmere, linen, leather and denim—so well. Tiny Whiskey and Leather sells men’s and women’s clothing with a western edge, as well as a few antique home goods. Just a few doors down, Daniel Gibbings has been crafting high-karat gold jewelry inspired by antiquity for more than 20 years. Across the street, K. Frank offers a curated collection of understated but chic men’s and women’s clothing—like Madeline Thompson sweaters and Ampersand As Apostrophe bags. And contrary to its name, Montecito Country Mart is the last place you’d find crocheted potholders or scented candles in oversized jars. Instead, the rustic-chic shopping center is home to outposts of swimwear designer Malia Mills, Los Angeles tee-master James Perse, and high-end beauty retailer Space NK.
Better Homes and Gardens
Most estates in Montecito are, naturally, off limits to the public. One spectacular exception: Ganna Walska Lotusland, the former home of a Polish opera singer-turned-garden obsessive. Walska bought the 37-acre estate in 1941 and spent the next four decades turning it into a horticultural wonderland. There are 25 different gardens on the property; even visitors with a black thumb can appreciate the chess-shaped topiaries, lotus-blanketed ponds, 25-foot-wide horticultural clock, and prehistoric-feeling cycad garden—which Walska funded by selling off her jewelry after her sixth husband died. Reservations are required here, as well as at at Casa del Herrero, just a couple of miles away. The 11-acre estate was designed by George Washington Smith, who helped popularize Spanish Colonial Revival style in early 20th-century California.
Look elsewhere for high-concept, over-filigreed cooking. Montecito’s small, casual restaurant scene specializes in homey but sophisticated food, with an emphasis on California ingredients.
Mainstay bakery and cafe Jeannine’s dishes up elevated comfort food, like banana Kahlua French toast and a breakfast club sandwich, as well as scones, muffins, coffee cakes, and cookies. Locals also love San Ysidro Pharmacy, an old-fashioned drugstore that also happens to serve top-notch pancakes. At the indoor-outdoor Oliver’s, celebrity chef Matthew Kenney has cooked up a delectable plant-based menu, including avocado toast served on turmeric oat bread, and an Impossible Burger topped with coconut bacon, roasted poblano peppers, and a pretzel bun. Cava bring together Spanish and Mexican influences; we love the the rock shrimp tacos and blood orange margaritas. Rori’s Artisanal Creamery Cream started in Santa Barbara, and has an outpost at the Montecito Country Mart; flavors include brown sugar banana, malted milk ball, and “serious” dark chocolate.
Mountains are an essential part of what makes Montecito special. You can explore the Santa Ynez on a number of hiking trails, visiting creeks and canyons and taking in extraordinary views. The Cold Spring Trail starts in a residential part of Montecito, at one end of East Mountain Drive, and winds into the Los Padres National Forest. In rainy season, there’s a waterfall and a swimming hole; push past on switchback paths to 3,200-foot-high Montecito Peak for a panoramic perspective on the ocean, village, and mountains.
A New Rosewood
True to its surroundings, Montecito’s newest resort blends elegance with ease. Rosewood Miramar Beach is situated on a lavish 500-foot stretch of oceanfront, with 161 airy guestrooms, suites, and bungalows. Stroll barefoot on the great lawn or beach, dip into the property’s twin swimming pools, or explore the six bars and restaurants. It’s a perfect base from which to explore the area—assuming you can bring yourself to leave.