The Enduring Charm of Santa Barbara’s Oldest Hotel
Climbing the veranda and stepping into the lobby of the historic Upham Hotel is to trace the footsteps of the earliest travelers to Santa Barbara. Arriving by horseback, stagecoach, or steamship, they came seeking the seaside oasis’s natural beauty and salubrious climate. In 1871, pioneer settler Amasa Lincoln built a New England-style boarding house to welcome the growing number of visitors. Originally named the Lincoln House, it offered the finest accommodations in town.
Over the years, the hotel was sold to a succession of owners who continued to make improvements and build out the estate, including Cyrus Upham, who changed the name to the Upham Hotel in 1898. The hotel survived a devastating earthquake in 1925, and the Great Depression beginning in 1929. More recently, the Upham Hotel has undergone extensive renovations to modernize the buildings’ systems and restore the period architectural details. Now over 150 years old, the landmark hotel remains the oldest, continuously operating hotel in Southern California.
Embracing its legacy, the Upham Hotel continues to provide gracious hospitality and elegant accommodations steeped in history. True to the original, the main building of the hotel retains its Italianate Victorian style with a wide wraparound veranda. The lobby welcomes guests with soft sounds of jazz and a crackling fire in the fireplace. Just off the lobby, the hotel’s on-site restaurant, Louie’s Bistro, serves Californian comfort cuisine and offers outdoor dining on the veranda.
The hotel’s 50 guest rooms are divided between several buildings enclosing a beautiful courtyard garden. They range from cozy hideaways housed in the original buildings to spacious garden cottage rooms and suites. The rooms are all equipped with plush robes, pillowtop mattresses and duvets, in-room coffeemakers, refrigerators, and plantation shutters. Many of the rooms feature wood-burning or gas fireplaces. One of the more luxurious suites, the Sycamore Suite, features a freestanding spa tub looking out through French doors onto a private garden patio. The suite also offers a waterfall shower, a king bedroom, and a cozy living room with a gas fireplace and wet bar.
Top among the hotel’s quiet charms is the tranquil courtyard garden. From the lobby, a covered patio opens to a verdant lawn trimmed with boxwood, camellias, azaleas, roses, and daylilies. A corner gazebo and Adirondack chairs scattered around the perimeter provide spots to relax and enjoy the trickling fountains. At the far end, hidden behind tall hedges, an archway opens to a secret meditation garden.
Stays at the hotel include a complimentary wine and cheese reception and continental breakfast served daily.
The Upham Hotel is located just two blocks from State Street and downtown Santa Barbara’s historic epicenter for the arts. Newly renamed as the ARTS District in 2023, the district is anchored by historic theaters such as the Arlington, Granada, and New Vic as well as the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and numerous art galleries. In addition, an array of fashion boutiques and retail shops tucked into historic plazas such as La Arcada and Arlington put the ARTS District at the top of the list for holiday shopping.
The ARTS District boasts several upscale eateries popular with the theater crowd. Next door to The Arlington Theatre, the warm and engaging Opal Restaurant and Bar is a local’s favorite serving global-inspired California cuisine. Just a block away, Bouchon Santa Barbara helped to put Santa Barbara’s wine country cuisine on the map with its French-accented, seasonal California fare. For Asian fusion cuisine, check out the bright, innovative flavors of the Michelin-lauded Sama Sama Kitchen or the mouthwatering selection of bao buns and seasonal dumplings at Secret Bao.
For a more casual experience, wander the food hall at the Santa Barbara Public Market to satisfy any craving. Two standouts include the street tacos at Corazon Cocina and the Thai-inspired noodle dishes at Empty Bowl Gourmet Noodle Bar.