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Encina Inn & Suites Review - The Best of Santa Barbara, CA

Best Western Plus Encina Inn & Suites

Santa Barbara's Suite Spot

by Courtney Caldwell

It’s not often that we find a cozy hotel that offers apartment style living at an affordable price. It’s also not often that another hotel review excites or moves me. But after finding the Best Western Encina Inn & Suites, my writer’s adrenaline began to flow with excitement again. Yes indeed, there are more hotel suites than you can imagine if you can afford the high cost of living but for everyday travelers there are limited options especially in beach communities along the coast of California where the sights and sounds of the pacific ocean are near enough to excite the senses or the smell of sea air is feet from olfactory influence.

Even a one-star basic no-nothing roach motel on California’s 840-mile coastline can be exorbitant ranging from $99 in the dead of winter to peak season in July to an unfathomable $500 a night for the same broken down bed, noisy neighbors, and all the ants you can eat. However, if you look hard and do the research, there are some pretty cool and comfy hotel suites for the whole family to enjoy at a price that’s affordable and still leaves money left over to run amuck for myriad activities. Much to our surprise, we found one such treasure in Santa Barbara, CA, known as the Riviera of the west coast.

UC Santa Barbara Campus cuddles up to the Pacific Ocean
UCSB Campus overlooks Pacific Ocean

Nestled away along the west coast of the central region of California sits a sweet spot beach town dotted with Spanish style homes, a sea of red rooftops, and scores of little shops where locals gather for coffee or cocktails, or on wine tasting terraces galore, to celebrate the multiple summer festivals that fill the palm tree lined city streets of this quaint community. Santa Barbara is also known as the only west coast city that faces south as its shoreline jets out like a cape point into the Pacific Ocean creating a southern front. The shoreline is so prominent that it can be seen from space. There, the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB), one of the most prestigious and infamous UC colleges in the state, is home each year to some 25,000 students from around the world. So scenic and climate friendly that some classes are held outdoors where students get to enjoy the crashing ocean waves on the towering bluffs. Even graduation is held outside right along the cliff’s edge. Beat that Ohio State!

One would think with a beach community this small there would be limited hotel space but on the contrary, Santa Barbara is a hot spot for hotels due to the influx of students, family, friends, and tourists who gaggle in sunny Santa Barbara each summer for a wide variety of west coast action. And, let’s not forget that Santa Barbara is known as the Riviera of the West Coast, so even those in northern and southern CA, and nearby Nevada, make Santa Barbara their weekend getaway all year long. Just a hop, skip and a jump by car or commuter plane. In fact, just recently I took a puddle jumper from LA to Santa Barbara and it took longer to taxi and lift off than it did time in the air, only twenty minutes, but it sure beat the two hour road trip in LA’s infamous bumper to bumper traffic.

Once there, we headed over to the Best Western Plus Encina Inn & Suites in the heart of Santa Barbara. Tucked away on a quiet residential street lined with turn-of-the-century homes, the hotel offers all the amenities of a small luxury hotel with the charm of a bed and breakfast inn.

Checking in was a breeze in a lobby that appeared more like one from a Clark Gable movie from the last century but with all the modern conveniences of the twenty first century. ‘Nicely done,’ I thought. It was homey and welcoming, like entering a Cracker Barrel country store loaded with Santa Barbara street maps and an assortment of other eye-catching goodies including free chocolate chip cookies. Now I knew we were in for a treat!

Live Oak Cafe Next Door to Encina Inn & Suites in Santa Barbara, CA
Live Oak Cafe Bar

With a warm welcome, the hotel check-in greeters were eager to share the 411 on all the local hot spots including the adjacent restaurant. A quick tour of the Live Oak Cafe on the way to our room was inspiring enough to ensure our return for happy hour and a brunch. The unique copper top horseshoe bar alone was so inviting that we almost delayed going to our room to settle in. We just sat there for a few minutes and took in its distinctive decor, which also provided an opportunity to speak with its business owner, a delightful woman who was clearly proud of her establishment. 'We'll be back,' we assured her.

The entire experience reminded me very much like that of a mid-western, old school, back in the day family-owned business and a familiarity where everyone knows your name and seems genuinely interested in you as a person. The vibe was refreshing, felt downright down home. It was very inviting, a stark contrast to the cold ‘hurry up and check ‘em in to get through the line’ attitude in so many other hotels around the country.

Upon further research, we discovered that the Encina Inn & Suites was indeed a family-owned business started in England in the 1940s. The owners ultimately crossed the pond heading west across the entire United States, landing in Santa Barbara, California. To this day, the property remains a family-owned business, which comes across quite clearly upon entry.

Encina Inn & Suites Heated Swimming Pool in the Middle of the Courtyard
Encina Inn & Suites Heated Pool

The Encina Inn & Suites is wrapped around a large heated swimming pool with deck chairs and tables lining the rims. As enticing as it was, our visit was too short to even dip our toes but it sure was nice knowing it was there for our next visit. In sunny California, taking a swim in a pool is optional almost all year long due to its tropical climate. Winters can get a bit chilly and rainy in central California but chilly is relative to the rest of the country. Here, chilly means a 50 degree night that requires a sweater and sox with your sandals. Chilly in the Midwest means ten degrees below zero that forces families to hibernate for the winter, a really good enticement for snowbirds to get out of Dodge and head west where the climate is snow boot and mitten free all winter long. Well ok, you may have to bring a jacket for the cool coastal nights.

The entrance to our room was very close to the covered parking area which made it nice and easy to unload luggage, and not have to lug it down extended carpeted hallways where luggage wheels lag and drag. And yes, the covered parking is included.

Encina Inn & Suites Kitchen & Living Room in Suite - Plenty of space and room for the entire family
Large spacious kitchen & living area

Upon entry, we were dazzled by the size of the place. The door swung open into a large full-size living room with an adjacent full kitchen. This was not just a hotel room; it was an apartment, a full 2-bedroom apartment. Do you recall that feeling of excitement when you first move into a new place and the kids see it for the first time and they’re running all over the place taking in every room, screaming with excitement at every sight? That’s exactly what it felt like walking into the Encina Inn & Suites apartment. We felt like little kids all over again. To say we were blown away would be an understatement. All we could say was wow, wow, look at this, look at that. One would have thought it was our first rodeo!

Living Room View of the Encina Inn & Suites Apartment
Living Room View of Encina Suite

Starting with the living room, there was a large L-shaped sectional cushy couch, large glass-top coffee table, (some suites have oak coffee tables) and an eco-friendly electric fireplace. Above the stone-laden fireplace; a large flat screen TV. The kitchen had a full size brand new stove and refrigerator where two people could easily share the space to cook a family meal, or have a romantic dinner for two wining, dining and grooving to a little Marvin Gay. I particularly liked the opening in the wall between the kitchen and living room where everyone in either room could see each other and keep the party going. A dining table with four chairs connected the two rooms and from which you could keep an eye on the kids' wrestling matches. There was plenty of drawer space in the fully-equipped kitchen which also included appliances such as a microwave, coffee maker, pots, pans and plates. They even provide the little things like dish towels and decor. Just pack your suitcase, pick up the food; the rest is move-in ready.

Heading down a long hallway, we discovered two bedrooms, one smaller with a queen size bed and a mirrored sliding door closet and large bureau. The other, twice as big, had two queen size beds and also a long sliding mirrored door closet, and chest of drawers. This place is great for the long haul. A family could easily and comfortably live here for months on end. Individual thermostats allowed for temperature control of each room to everyone's liking.

Another nice feature of the Encina Inn & Suites location is that it’s only a block or two from Santa Barbara’s Cottage Hospital. When traveling with kids, parents never know when a broken finger, a deep cut or a rough and tumble spat between siblings might need medical attention. This town is nestled between the Pacific Ocean and massive mountains as far as the eye can see. As beautiful as it all is, the contrasting landscape and diverse topography provide a kid’s playground of rough rocks, cascading cliffs, and foothills with frisky foliage, not to mention indigenous critters above and below ground, all of which invite injury without much effort. So, having a medical facility nearby in an unfamiliar town is very comforting to most parents.

Back at the ranch, the Encina does offer free Wifi but there were times when it was a bit spotty. Cause unknown. To blame the hotel’s Wifi would be wrong. Wifi spottiness could be from a whole host of reasons from location to tower issues in the area to personal device issues, or the fact that we were there on one of the busiest weekends of the year in Santa Barbara, the combination of Father’s Day Weekend and UCSB graduation, when literally hundreds of thousands of people swarm the area like honey bees to a hive. Keep in mind that Santa Barbara is not only a beach side community, its entire backside is surrounded by California mountains so high and voluminous that they dwarf the tiny town in comparison. Mountain ranges on the west coast are known to interfere with cell towers and satellite antennas.

One thing of note, our suite did not have a desk so if your visit is for business or a work vacation, you must request a room with a desk otherwise if assigned a suite, you may get one without a desk. The kitchen table can easily serve double duty as a desk if need be. Rooms book up well in advance at this location so it may be a challenge to switch rooms on a moment’s notice so advance requests are more likely to work to your advantage and be appreciated by hotel management.

Room prices vary by month depending on the season so if you’re planning a visit to Santa Barbara, we suggest visiting their website to check out pricing. They do offer discounts on extended stays between September and May so be sure to ask about discounted rates. You may also want to check out website's like Priceline, Hotels.com, Trip Advisor, or the like, to compare prices. Speaking of Trip Advisor, they recently awarded Encina Inns & Suites with their 2019 Certificate of Excellence so that alone speaks volumes about the quality of this hotel. While most travel website's offer hotel rooms for around the same price some do offer lower costs and/or discounts if you catch their deals at the right time. And quite often, the hotel website itself has the best deals of all.

Live Oak Cafe Breakfast, Lunch Brunch & Dinner Plus Room Service at the Encina Inn & Suites
Live Oak Cafe Next Door

The Best Western Plus Encina Inn & Suites offer a variety of accommodations including 122 individually appointed guest rooms and suites with kitchens. The adjacent Live Oak Café highlights one of the many extraordinary places that Santa Barbara has to offer in a laid-back and comfortable atmosphere. The Café is open from breakfast, lunch and dinner with room service available. Santa Barbara is also near the SB Airport and Amtrak so getting to and from your hotel is an easy air, Uber or Lyft ride, or rental.

I’ve roomed and reviewed hundreds of hotels all over the world during Road & Travel Magazine’s 30 year history. After so many reviews, it’s hard to get excited about a new location. However, so impressed with this hotel and the kindness with which the folks at the Encina Inn & Suites treated us, plus experiencing the easy going lifestyle of Santa Barbara, I am definitely in love and will be back as often as possible.

If Santa Barbara, CA is on your travel bucket list for business or pleasure or both, or perhaps you're house hunting or job hunting on the west coast, the Best Western Plus Encina Inn & Suites is the perfect place to start your journey. Give them a call at 800.526.2282. Or, click here for their website.

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