While the village of Montecito gained notoriety when Oprah and Ellen moved to the area years ago, curiosity about this wealthy enclave skyrocketed since Prince Harry and Meghan Markle made it their home a few years ago. The royal couple is said to have chosen Montecito because of its small-town feel yet close proximity to Los Angeles, which is about 90 miles south. It doesn’t hurt that most of the mansions dotting the hillside of the Santa Ynez Mountains include stunning views of the Pacific.
But Montecito is so much more than that. For anyone planning a (royal) road trip up the Pacific Coast Highway, here are some spots to check out if you want to live like a royal in Montecito and neighboring Santa Barbara, some of which have been patronized by the (former) royals themselves.
Where to stay
El Encanto, A Belmond Property, Santa Barbara
Spanish Colonial architecture at El Encanto — Photo courtesy of El Encanto, A Belmon Property
Set in what was long ago dubbed the American Riviera due to its spectacular hillside coastal views (similar to those along the French Riviera), El Encanto is a few miles north of Montecito, past the historic Mission Santa Barbara. Spanish Colonial Revival and Craftsman rooms, suites and bungalows are set among seven acres that overlook the Pacific Ocean and Santa Barbara Pier.
The property has been reinventing itself for over 100 years, most recently as a wellness destination. The Spa at El Encanto features seven treatment rooms that include the option to receive a massage or facial while lying on an infrared mat designed to align with the body’s seven chakras. Guests are also invited to participate in a complimentary weekly sound bath meditation with local expert, Cristy Candler.
- Belmond El Encanto
San Ysidro Ranch
The Honeysuckle Cottage at San Ysidro Ranch — Photo courtesy of San Ysidro Ranch
Feeling royal will be easy for anyone checking into this magical resort located a few miles from Harry and Meghan’s home base. Thirty-eight cottage suites along the banks of San Ysidro Creek and the resort's 550 acres are surrounded by the lush flora and fauna in the foothills of the Santa Ynez Mountains. The property has checked in an impressive roster of guests over its 129-year history, including Winston Churchill, Groucho Marx and Jackie and John F. Kennedy who honeymooned in the now aptly named Kennedy Cottage.
The resort’s restaurant, the Stonehouse, and the more relaxed Plow & Angel Pub are also said to be favorites among notable names such as Julia Child, who called Montecito home. The Stonehouse has also been named a Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning restaurant as its barrel-vaulted wine cellar houses 12,000 bottles, including a 120-bottle complete vertical of Pomerol’s Château Pétrus with vintages dating back to 1945.
The Stonehouse terrace at San Ysidro Ranch — Photo courtesy of San Ysidro Ranch
For unrivaled private dining, guests can book dinner in the Old Adobe – a historic landmark dating to 1825 – or in the soon-to-be-completed dining room being built adjacent to the wine cellar. Also notable: San Ysidro Ranch is believed to be the only resort in the country that provides an electric car charging station for every cottage.
- San Ysidro Ranch
Palihouse Santa Barbara
Palihouse Santa Barbara — Photo courtesy of Palisociety
For those who are interested in checking out the area but are seeking a more central location, look no further than Palihouse Santa Barbara. This charming two-story boutique property is located in the Presidio neighborhood, a few blocks from Santa Barbara’s pedestrian and shopping areas.
Dripping with soft, earthy-tone furnishings, many of the rooms are like tiny apartments complete with a fireplace, SMEG fridge and Insta-worthy bathrooms with deep soaking tubs. Amenities include Linus bicycles available for use by guests at no charge, free underground parking and a number of treats for pets as part of their “Pawlisociety.”
Where to eat
The Lark — Photo courtesy of Collin Dewell
A little bird may have mentioned that Harry & Meghan once dined in a private dining room at this trendy restaurant that was once a fish-packing plant. In the heart of Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone arts district, Executive Chef Jason Paluska is plating up innovative dishes that are served family style in a space that feels both industrial and clever.
The restaurant is named for an overnight Pullman train that serviced Santa Barbara from the early to mid-1900s, and the cocktail menu plays off this with drinks such as the Twisted Trails (guava, lime, Dolin dry vermouth, Ypioca cachaça and sparkling wine). The menu has plenty of options for both vegetarians and carnivores alike, including crispy Brussels sprouts with dates, sesame, garum and lime, as well as pork ribs with caramelized peach and black pepper glaze with citrus pickled fennel and pollen.
Don’t be fooled by the strip mall appearance of the Montecito Country Mart because, despite the fact that the first thing people see is the retro Vons supermarket, there are a lot of treasures to be discovered in this shopping center where Meghan Markle has been spotted on occasion. One of those treasures is Bettina, an artisan pizzeria (with a Bib Gourmand designation from the Michelin guide) that specializes in naturally leavened, rustic wood-fired pizzas using ingredients sourced directly from local farmers.
Pizzas include a stellar prosciutto di Parma speckled with olives, rosemary, garlic and chili oil, and the Root’s corn pizza with pork 'nduja, mozzarella, goat cheddar and walla walla onions. Not into pizza? Try the cacio e pepe arancini or the locally caught crudo. Menu items also include options for vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diners.
Finch & Fork
Colorful crudo at Finch & Fork — Photo courtesy of Steve Legato
On the main floor of the Kimpton Canary Hotel is the recently revamped Finch & Fork where the casual ambiance may give a false sense of simple, casual cuisine. Instead, Executive Chef Craig Riker has taken traditional dishes and given them a whimsical and polished spin, such as the F&F deviled eggs which arrive looking like they’ve been sunning themselves. A coral pink-tinted egg white (that’s from the beet marinade) is topped with a creamy filling and pickled shallots, Cajun maple pork belly and a sprinkle of chives creating a pleasantly balanced party in the mouth.
The seared diver scallops sit on a bed of deep green Acquerello risotto with serrano ham, artichokes and grana padano cheese. This definitely isn’t your grandma’s hotel lobby restaurant – unless your grandma is a sophisticated foodie.
Things to do
Hiking and cycling
Mad Dogs & Englishmen bike shop — Photo courtesy of Wendy O'Dea
Given the temperate climate and stunning beauty of the region, it’s no surprise that Santa Barbara has endless options of outdoor activities. In addition to miles and miles of hiking trails – both in the mountains and along the coast – there is also a paved (and relatively flat) bike path that stretches from Montecito north along Butterfly Beach and the Santa Barbara coast.
On Montecito’s Coast Village Road, the bike shop Mad Dogs & Englishmen rents out a variety of bicycles, including e-bikes which can help power anyone up through the hills and past the mansions of millionaires. There are also some pristine and challenging hiking trails in the foothills, including the Inspiration Point and Gibraltar trails.
Though Santa Barbara is a relatively small city, it has an impressive array of cultural activities, including a lineup of museums that appeals to people of all ages – perhaps another reason why Harry and Meghan chose the area for their growing family.
These include the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and its seasonal Butterflies Alive exhibit (a favorite of Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom, who also live in the area), the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, the MOXI Science Museum and the Sea Center on Stearns Wharf, which celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2022.
Historic Casa del Herrero
The backyard of Casa del Herrera — Photo courtesy of Wendy O'Dea
Built in 1925 for businessman and inventor George Fox Steedman, this Spanish Colonial home with Moorish influences is now a historical landmark and is one of the best remaining examples of architecture for which Santa Barbara is known.
Designed by George Washington Smith, the house remains now as it was when the family lived in it, furnished with one-of-a-kind antiquities curated by architectural historian Arthur Byne (who also furnished Hearst Castle, by the way). The Casa is closed to the public except during docent-led tours which can be booked in advanced on Wednesdays or Saturdays.
Local polo matches
If you know anything about Prince Harry, then you’re probably aware that he’s an avid polo player. Since moving to Montecito, Harry has been spotted playing with local polo clubs at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club, one of the most prestigious equestrian venues in the U.S. The Club also offers events such as Ladies Hat Day. Most matches take place on the weekend and tickets are required. They can be prearranged and purchased on the club's website.
Shop Coast Village Road
Shopping for local produce on Coast Village Road — Photo courtesy of Blake Bronstad
Every upscale neighborhood has its share of boutiques, bars and bakeries, and in Montecito, they're found on Coast Village Road, which runs adjacent to Pacific Coast Highway. There are a couple of notable cafés/bakeries (Bree’osh and Jeannine’s, to name a few) and trendy clothing shops such as Johnny Was.
The Sussexes have been spotted frequenting a number of these local businesses, including the Pierre Lafond Montecito Market and Lucky’s Steakhouse, where they dined with composer David Foster and singer Katherine McPhee soon after moving to the neighborhood.