Santa Barbara is about a five hour road trip from my home base in Las Vegas. It took us a tad bit longer as we stopped about halfway to Supercharge our vehicle. It’s relatively within driving distance of so many places in southern California, such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas and Palm Springs.
The resort is also a short distance from the Santa Barbara airport if it’s easier to fly in. And you’ll just have to see California’s central coastline from the air.
Before landing (pun intended!) on the Hilton formerly known as (but seems to continue to be known as) the Fess Parker’s Doubletree Resort Santa Barbara, I looked at a few other properties, especially ones that belonged to the American Express Fine Hotel & Resorts program.
HILTON SANTA BARBARA BEACHFRONT RESORT
Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Hotel
633 East Cabrillo Boulevard
Santa Barbara, CA 93103
This was my first hotel stay post pandemic so it was important to research and understand any hotel’s COVID-19 policies BEFORE booking. Hilton posted the policy on their website which is their Hilton cleanstay initiative, and then I also checked out recent TripAdvisor reviews.
Ultimately, I chose the Hilton because it’s the perfect location to be near the beach and to walk to food and other activities.
BOOKING HILTON SANTA BARBARA
Here are two ways to get free stuff at the Hilton.
The first way, I botched a little…I made a rookie mistake. My husband has the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, which is a premium hotel credit card with top-tier benefits. One of the main perks is top tier status, Hilton Diamond. At Diamond you’ll earn 20x points on spending at Hilton properties and free room upgrades, including suites. Then using the Aspire card earns another 14x points on spending at Hilton properties. At the Diamond level, you get free breakfast and up to $250 in Hilton statement credit.
I instead booked this stay under me, where I’m mid-tier status, Hilton Gold. At Gold, you earn 12x points on spending at Hilton properties and free room upgrades, not including suites. Then, I also used my Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card (which got me Gold status) and only earned 12x points on spending at Hilton.
I booked the stay under me instead of my husband because we used points for one free night and I wanted to exhaust my points first. HOWEVER, Hilton has points pooling that allows you to share points with other Honors members for free. Like I said…rookie mistake…
Second, if you have the American Express Platinum card, and book this stay through their Fine Hotel & Resorts program, the benefits usually come with daily breakfast, room upgrades, late checkouts (if you need a few additional hours at the beach!) and food and beverage credit – all without having to be a part of any hotel loyalty program.
ARRIVAL AT THE HILTON SANTA BARBARA
This beachfront hotel is located on a sprawling 24 acres of lush well kept property ideally located across the street from East beach. There’s 8 Spanish style buildings that house the 360 spacious guest rooms, a business center, and 17 meeting rooms for event space. It’s also walking distance to Stearn’s Warf, the Maritime Museum and the Funk Zone. The property fits in well with the Spanish/Mediterranean signature style of Santa Barbara.
Immediately upon arrival, you can see the social distancing protocols. All staff members wore masks and the floor had markers identifying 6 feet apart. I also liked that there were several hand sanitizing stations located throughout the property.
Upon check in at the front desk, I received a copy of their enhanced cleaning procedures and alternative hours/procedures for food and beverage and the outdoor pool hours. And be prepared, the daily resort charge is a hefty $30 per night (waived on points stays) and parking on property is a hefty $30 per night (NOT waived on points stays). The property will run a credit card for incidental charges regardless of form of payment.
One thing I did find odd was that doors were not propped open or motorized, which meant you had to grab the handle, and although there were plenty of hand sanitizing stations, none were located near an entrance or exit.
Room at the Hilton
Room 336. I stayed in the King Partial Ocean View Balcony room. This room also comes with a queen bed if you prefer.
It overlooked the outdoor pool and hot tubs which made it nice to see whether it was a good time to swim since the social distancing policy only permitted a maximum of forty persons. But in the end, I really didn’t need the pool, I was across the street from pristine beaches!
The room was located on the third floor, and I had the option to take the stairs or the elevator. The elevator had a sign posted that only three passengers were permitted at a time unless members from the same household.
The room had a sealing sticker on the door indicating it was sanitized. However, upon opening the door, the room itself was decent. It’s a basic room for an average room rate of $400 per night. It definitely did not have luxurious accommodations for the rate.
The best part of the room was the balcony with a view of both the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Santa Ynez mountains on the other.
Although nicely sized, I did not get the upgrade that I anticipated…like to a suite (no one but myself to blame), and to top it off, it was an adjoining room and yes, the room next door was occupied. But I believe the room was big enough to fit a whole family, especially if you book the two queen beds.
Food at the Hilton
As a Hilton Gold member, I was entitled to (almost) free breakfast for me and a guest staying with me (guess that’ll have to be my husband!) Room service, lounge access and some property restaurants were closed.
We had a $30 breakfast credit that can be used at any on site restaurant. On the first day of our stay, it could only be used at Java Del Mar (grab n’ go) as it was the only place open. On the second and third days, we went to The Roundhouse where we sat on the patio and enjoyed this view of the outdoor meeting space and public areas.
Due to California’s COVID restrictions, all dining must be done outdoors. Sadly, the food was nothing to write home about. But I guess it is just breakfast so at least the sunshine and view was nice. The property had fire pits where it would have been nice to for an evening meal.
The second evening, we ate dinner on the patio of The Set, a bistro style dining with a “selection of classic dishes.” Again, though we had gorgeous ocean views and a cool breeze, the food was more than disappointing. First, my husband ordered pepperoni pizza where the flavor resembled box pizza.
My meal was the most disappointing of all. I ordered the lobster ROLL. This lobster ROLL is ironically pictured not once, but twice, in advertising on the property. However, what was delivered to me was something that resembled a drippy and messy tuna SANDWICH on some sort of bread.
I’m not sure if it’s supply issues due to COVID, but the entire meal was a miserable fail for a fine dining restaurant. The only saving grace was that we had a great server and free drink vouchers for a glass of house wine. And the full-service bar was open late.
In fact, every meal we ate on property was mediocre. This is the only picture I took of the food from the entire stay. And what makes it even more painful is that I used the wrong Hilton card to pay for this stay, otherwise, these unsatisfying meals would have been free with the Aspire resort credit (no one but myself to blame, sigh).
Location of the Hilton Santa Barbara
As you can see, this resort has an amazing location across from the beach and some rooms even have direct views of the beach. It’s a brisk walk along Cabrillo Blvd to top attractions like Stearn’s Wharf, the marina and of course to some of the best foods at Lower State Street.
If you fancy a longer walk, you can take the scenic walk along State Street all the way to Downtown Santa Barbara. Or it’s less than a 10 minute drive to downtown, but you will have to find and pay for parking.
Right in front of the hotel is one of the most popular Instagram worthy attractions. This 21 foot high 12-and-a-half ton rainbow frame known as Chromatic Gate, was designed by renown artist, Herbert Bayer. Bayer is the most celebrated international artist ever to live in Santa Barbara.
The frame is perfect as the palm trees and ocean as your backdrop or face the other way and have the beautiful rolling hills of Santa Barbara as your backdrop.
Another great picturesque spot to capture the beach and surrounding area is the oversized blue accent chair at the front of the property. These two local arts’ installation were perfect for snapping great photos.
Check out my things to do in Santa Barbara post for more activities and picture worthy places to see in Santa Barbara.
OVERALL IMPRESSION OF HILTON SANTA BARBARA
Hilton had additional amenities other than the pool, but all were currently closed. It would have been nice to check out the fitness center, tennis courts, spa services at Spa Del Mar and Fess Parker’s evening wine tasting. But I guess I’ll have to come back for that.
One amenity that was available that I wish I had time to use was the free 2-hour bicycle rental. But my extra time was spent at the beach, after all, it’s why we came 🙂
The property was certainly beautiful, relaxing and massive which made social distancing pretty easy. All staff were (properly) wearing their masks and although these are unusual times, it didn’t prevent any of them from showing hospitality and engaging in pleasantries.
I really liked that they had a good number of Tesla chargers and was definitely doggie companion friendly. It’s conveniently located near the beach, food, and a nice bike ride away from downtown Santa Barbara.
Of course, my issue was with the bland food and an occupied room next to my decent room. Also, in the end, I don’t believe holding any Hilton status at the property is worth much. The resort fee includes daily bottles of water, drink vouchers, wireless internet and discounts on property – all of which are usually included with Hilton status.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON HILTON SANTA BARBARA
If you’re ready to book your stay at the AAA four diamond Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort, you can do so right here at Booking.com for great and competitive rates.
Have you been to Santa Barbara? And if so, where did you stay?
Unless otherwise indicated, the thoughts, opinions, and photos shared here are entirely my own.
Feel free to check out my other posts about what to do in and around Santa Barbara:
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