When longtime friend Jerome Strack, general manager of Santa Barbara’s Mar Monte Hotel, texted me with an invitation to check out the newly reimagined resort, I wasted no time and promptly responded, “Yes! When?” Several emails later, my daughter, Isabella, and I were in the car making our way north for a girls’ getaway. In three short hours (including a Starbucks stop), we pulled into the driveway of the new Mar Monte, a reincarnation of the historic 1930s Vista Mar Monte.
Following a multi-million-dollar transformation, the 200-room hotel primely situated on Cabrillo Boulevard offers modern amenities and design care of Los Angeles-based Beleco, which oversaw the interior refresh. Part of The Unbound Collection by Hyatt, the hotel’s common areas feature exposed beam ceilings and arches, terra cotta flooring, and a ceramic tile art installation behind the reception desk that bring Spanish-influenced elements into the space, complemented by sparkling chandeliers. Mirroring the rise of the tide, Mar Monte effortlessly flows from indoors to the outdoors that beckon, and since I had promised Isabella ample pool time, we snuck in a quick dip before meeting Strack for dinner.
Costa Kitchen & Bar is set in an eclectic space accented with plush marigold chairs and lemon-print wallpaper. The restaurant affords ocean views and cuisine that melds influences from coastal Italy and the Eastern Mediterranean, with emphasis on purveyors from the Central to Southern California region. A seafood-driven menu helmed by Executive Chef Gunnar Planter features sharable plates and innovative dishes. (If his name sounds familiar, it’s because Planter, like Strack, was formerly at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, as well as Del Mar’s Viewpoint Brewing Company.) I thoroughly enjoyed my Whole Roasted Branzino, served with a bright green olive salsa verde and brown butter kale. The classically rooted craft cocktail bar juxtaposes lighter, refreshing drinks with more spirited libations, and winemakers from the Central Coast play a starring role in the wine menu housed in an 800-bottle glass wine display.
The next morning, we departed our room overlooking East Beach to fuel up at Café Lido, Mar Monte’s all-day poolside café and bar adorned with the hotel’s signature arches, hand-painted murals, and abundant hanging plants. I opted for the California Omelette (feta, spinach, avocado, mushrooms, tomatoes) and a cold brew coffee, while Isabella polished off her plate of smoked bacon.
Bellies full, we set out on foot for our next adventure. Mar Monte is conveniently located a stone’s throw from the Santa Barbara Zoo. Home to more than 500 animals, the “zoo-with-a-view” is set on 30 acres near the waterfront. The lush environment features meandering walking paths that snake around Channel Island foxes, bald eagles, California desert tortoises, penguins, white-handed gibbons (known for their distinctive “whooping” sounds), and Asian small-clawed otters, which sent Isabella’s “They’re-so-cuuuute” shriek meter skyrocketing. Newly opened in January 2022 is Australian Walkabout, a 15,000-square-foot habitat that transports guests “Down Under” to walk among the wallabies, kangaroos, emus, and native birds. Additional highlights include two C.P. Huntington trains that circle the perimeter of the zoo, ample grassy areas for kids to frolic, and a popular hill covered with artificial grass for sledding and “surfing.” sbzoo.org
Taking full advantage of a bright, sunny day, we made our way back to Mar Monte’s glistening pool for some rest and relaxation. There, we met a lovely mother and her two daughters vacationing from the Bay Area who were also thoroughly enjoying their getaway to the American Riviera. We concluded the evening with s’mores around the lobby-adjacent firepits before tucking in for the night.
On our final day, a short drive to lower State Street landed us at Moxi, The Wolf Museum of Exploration + Innovation, where curious minds of all ages can explore, play, and discover. Spanning three stories, the expansive 17,000-square-foot museum features 70+ hands-on, interactive exhibits including a strummable, grand-scale guitar, a makerspace with 3D printers, and a plethora of interactive experiences that all relate to science, technology, engineering, art, and math. Moxi’s rooftop allows kids to create an earth elements-powered symphony with the Weather Orchestra, the Towbes Family Lookout Tower affords a different view of the city through the lenses of five observation scopes, and a walk across the glass Sky Deck provides a unique perspective of the courtyard below. moxi.org
No trip to Santa Barbara is complete without a visit to Stearns Wharf, the oldest wooden working wharf in California, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. A quick few-blocks walk from the museum and we were among the locals and tourists alike taking in the sea breezes and the shimmering ocean waves. After the obligatory cup of clam chowder at The Harbor Restaurant, we made our way back to the car for the scenic drive home. (If flying is more your thing, Alaska Airlines offers nonstop service between San Diego and Santa Barbara.) stearnswharf.org, harborsb.com
As part of Visit Santa Barbara’s new promotion, properties throughout the region are offering a third night free when two or more nights are booked. The booking must be made by June 30, 2022 and is valid on travel dates between now and September.
The opportunity to catch up with my dear friend Jerome Strack and experience all that Mar Monte has to offer was a true treat, matched only by a moment to catch my breath and reconnect with my daughter — and myself. marmontehotel.com, santabarbaraca.com