Private Clubs Add to Santa Barbara’s Residential Appeal

By Gabe Saglie   |   July 18, 2023

The pandemic is now solidly in the rear-view mirror. But one of its unexpected silver linings – a surging allure to living along Santa Barbara’s South Coast – roars on. An enclave like Montecito is not all that far from the urban sprawl of Los Angeles, but as so many new residents and visitors now know, it is a world away.

Living in this treasured corner of the world, though, is about more than whether you can afford it, or the way it guarantees that your investment will grow. It’s about the way that it offers so much more than you thought you needed, the way it never ceases to delight, and the way it manages to enhance everyday life, every day.

The private clubs that call communities like Montecito and Santa Barbara home have a lot to do with that appeal. At their core, they are havens for socialization, that all-important tenet of human interaction that, as another truth revealed by the pandemic, a community both needs and craves. They also expand their members’ horizons, through a bevy of innovative programs and curated experiences that range from the culinary and athletic to the imaginative and intellectual.

“For the majority of our clients, private clubs are definitely an amenity that they’re looking for,” says Natalie Grubb, a realtor with Village Properties’ Grubb Campbell Group, and a resident of Santa Barbara for pretty much her entire life. “We’ll ask them, ‘What do you like? Tennis? Golf? Sailing?’ And we can tell them, ‘Yes, that exists here.’”

Clubs tend not to make dues and fees public. For serious prospects, though, it’s fair to say that membership is more an investment than an expense.

Coral Casino Beach & Cabana Club

The famous private club right on Butterfly Beach is part of Ty Warner Hotels & Resorts. Built in 1937, it was purchased by Ty Warner in 2000, in conjunction with his buy of the historic Biltmore hotel across the street. Both properties, shuttered in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, remain closed, although Mr. Warner has suggested that the Coral Casino will reopen this year, following the completion of various renovations – the first in some 15 years. They include a new rooftop lounge; retractable doors and windows in the private dining room; and expansion of the Fins juice bar.

It was just announced that Tydes, the Club’s oceanfront eatery, will become available to the public.

The Montecito Club

One of the premier golf clubs in the area is part of Ty Warner Hotels & Resorts, which means members get exclusive access and discounts at luxe sister resorts like the San Ysidro Ranch, the Four Seasons New York, and Las Ventanas al Paraiso in Los Cabos. The 100-year-old Spanish-style property reopened in 2019, following a $119 million renovation.

The par-71 Jack Nicklaus Signature Course was designed around the property’s natural undulating elevation and boasts sweeping views of the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. There’s a bowling alley and arcade in the all-ages clubhouse known as The Hideout, as well as a 20-seat Dolby Atmos movie theater with a 16-foot CinemaScope screen and concession area. The state-of-the-art fitness facility features Peloton machines and private training.

The 25,000-square-foot pool complex has two lap pools, a kids’ pool, a whirlpool, and bar service. Members can host special events, like weddings, in the ballroom, with its 12 Baccarat crystal chandeliers, or on the sprawling 20,000-square-foot Great Lawn.

Fine dining is available in the clubhouse, which also features a library and wine rooms, and is helmed by chef Robin Nishizaki, who joined the Club in 2022. “I change the menus at least four times a year with the seasons,” he says. “Sourcing local ingredients is an important factor when changing a menu or creating a special menu for wine dinners, beer dinners, or other special events. Creating a balance between vegan dishes, seafood, and traditional fare is an important focus also.”

The Valley Club of Montecito

Opened in 1929, the Valley Club features a deluxe 18-hole, par-72 golf course. Designed like an hourglass and measuring just over 6,600 yards, the course, along with bunkers, have undergone extensive renovation after the 2018 mudslides. Other amenities include tennis courts and prime onsite dining. The clubhouse features a living room and inner courtyard. Elegance and privacy rank high here, as well as a strict dress code for anyone ages 12 and up.

Miramar Club

Privacy and exclusivity reign supreme here, the members-only extension of the luxurious and elegant Rosewood Miramar Resort. Launched in May 2019, the Club also enjoys a right-on-the-sand location and exclusive seasonal and regional menus crafted by executive chef Massimo Falsini. The dining room touts an extensive private wine cellar, and members have access to top-line athletic facilities, as well as personalized concierge services.

Birnam Wood

There are more than 140 private homes inside this exclusive, gated property along East Valley Road, the oldest ones dating back to the early 1970s. Membership to the Birnam Wood Golf Club gives access to the par-70 course, which was designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr., opened in 1968, and features Bermuda grass. The clubhouse hosts rotating members-only social events, like summer barbecues and movie nights, as well as daily gourmet dining options. Guest cottages are available for members’ guests, which come with full Club access. There are tennis and pickleball courts here, too, as well as bocce ball and a state-of-the-art fitness center.

Knowlwood Tennis Club

Located in the heart of Montecito, this club for tennis lovers dates back to 1970, set on what was the late 19th-century estate of the Knowles family. The programs are family oriented, with a bevy of private and group lessons for kids as young as four, and they’re open to non-members, too, though at higher pricing. The club features 10 courts, including two clay courts, as well as a swimming pool, and is owned and operated by its members. Membership numbers are capped, with spots only becoming available when a family opts out. 

The Santa Barbara Club

The oldest social club in Santa Barbara is probably the oldest private hangout of its kind between L.A. and San Francisco. Founded in 1892, the Santa Barbara Club features a clubhouse that holds both state and local historic landmark status and that has hosted distinguished community members and guests for decades.

“Our members are not trust-funders, but academics,” says club manager Linda Spann, who adds that the waiting list for membership, which is by invitation only, has grown so big that the club’s initiation fee recently went up.

There are three tiers of membership here, based on age: Regular (45+), Intermediate (31-44), and Junior (21-30). The foodie offerings have long been a calling card of the Santa Barbara Club; Chef Humberto Perez has helmed the kitchen for more than 20 years and makes everything from pastas to pastries in-house.

“We can serve more than a hundred meals on a Friday night,” adds Spann, which are served either in the elegant Dining Room or the sprawling outdoor lawn.

Members have access to various interest groups, including a Breakfast Club, an Investors Club, and a Wine Group. The Club’s Preservation Foundation allows members to make tax deductible donations to preserve the Clubhouse and other landmark buildings in town. The Club’s Art Foundation aims to support contemporary artists by featuring their work through displays and exhibits. There are dozens of reciprocal clubs across the U.S., as well as globally, in countries like England, Mexico, and Thailand.

The University Club of Santa Barbara

This has been a premier social club in the heart of Santa Barbara since 1919. Networking reigns supreme here, via an ongoing schedule of themed parties, mixers, and lectures, including large affairs during major community events like Fiesta. The club hosts various social clubs, too, like the Book Club and regular wine tastings.

The property offers members free prime downtown parking, and the manicured gardens feature secluded patios and a firepit. There’s a pool table in the game room, and the club regularly puts works by local artists on exhibit. The club’s executive chef and culinary team have received high marks from discerning foodies for decades. Members also get access to more than 200 reciprocal clubs around the U.S. and the world.

The University Club requires prospective members to have attended, or be currently enrolled in, an accredited college or university; non-grads of higher education must show that they have distinguished themselves in their community. Sponsorship by at least two current members is also required. There are four membership categories: Junior (ages 21 to 39), Resident (living within 25 miles of the Club), Non-Resident (living beyond 25 miles), and Social, which features a lower initiation fee.

The Club & Guest House at UC Santa Barbara

This unique club in the heart of the UCSB campus was established in 1968 and is known as the “living room” of the UCSB campus. The Guest House, which was renovated in 2014 and features ocean views, emulates a 34-room boutique hotel. Stays are reserved for visiting scholars, families of students, and those on university business, as well as members. The dining room, while closed for lunch during the summer months, focuses on locally and sustainably sourced food, and it’s open to the public.

The Club is applying for a new beer and wine license, which will allow it to bring back its quarterly members-only winemaker dinners; in the past, they’ve featured premium Santa Barbara producers like Foxen, Longoria and Sweetzer. The facility is governed by a Board of Directors.

The Santa Barbara Polo and Racquet Club

Polo pros from all over the world, including the royal variety, trot to this destination club, one of the oldest of its kind in the U.S. It features the country’s longest polo season, too, with games hosted seasonally from May through mid-October. Games are free to the general public on Fridays, while Sunday games require tickets. Polo memberships come with exclusive dibs on mid-level and upper boxes, for prime viewing.

The club also operates its own polo school, the Santa Barbara Polo Training Center.

The social membership option comes with complimentary attendance at weekend polo matches, as well as invitations to special events throughout the year. Tennis memberships, which come with access to the club’s eight courts, six of which are lit, and swim-and-fitness memberships feature use of the heated pool, jacuzzi, and fitness center, which features yoga and fitness classes.

Dining has received new focus, with the 2021 launch of the Fieldside Grill, which is open to the public every Wednesday for lunch and every Thursday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. “We felt that because of our members and the condos on the grounds and the community around us, establishing a full-scale restaurant would be a welcome addition,” says general manager David Sigman. “And the food is as awesome as the views.”

La Cumbre Country Club

Set on the outer edges of Hope Ranch, La Cumbre Country Club dates back to 1916. It would go on to close for 10 years after World War II, due to waning membership, but it has remained an exclusive haven ever since its reopening in 1957. The 150 shady acres feature a celebrated 18-hole golf course designed by George Thomas, with various uphill and downhill targets, as well as six championship tennis courts, an aquatics area, and a new fitness center. The social offerings range from card games and tournaments to seasonal parties. Lunch and dinner are offered, including at several outdoor settings; Sunday champagne buffets have long been popular. The club features golf, tennis, and social memberships.

Santa Barbara Yacht Club

It’s all about preserving maritime tradition at this club, which, founded in 1872, is the second oldest yacht club on the West Coast. Set right on the Santa Barbara Harbor, this is a popular spot on Wet Wednesdays, when dozens of boats take part in several races. Kite boarding draws crowds on Fridays. Food and beverage services are available, including the popular Monday Luncheon Forum, which draws members and their invited guests. Club members are also stewards of the Breakwater Flag Project, which showcases the flags of many of Santa Barbara’s nonprofit groups, and run the Santa Barbara Youth Sailing Foundation to teach seamanship to budding sailors. Membership is by invitation, and prospective members need to be active boaters.

Santa Barbara Tennis Club

Open since 1971, this sports club features 12 tennis courts and various training sessions for adults and juniors. There’s an aquatics program, too, with a 25-yard regulation pool that’s kept at 82 degrees year-round, and a 10-person jacuzzi. The fitness center features yoga and Pilates studios, and the café caters various events throughout the year. The cardio room features Star Trac equipment, and there’s a new Pilates and yoga studio. This club offers family, single, and junior memberships, though there is a longstanding waitlist.  


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