Ritz-Carlton Bacara: Out-of-this-World Experience in Our Own Backyard

By Leslie Westbrook   |   August 29, 2023
Set on 78 acres, The Ritz-Carlton Bacara is a local trove of comfort and luxury (courtesy photo)

Why would anyone want to spend $55 million for a three-day trip to the moon on SpaceX (estimated cost in the future) when they could merely drive 15 minutes from Montecito to The Ritz-Carlton Bacara Resort and book an “out of this world” spa experience? I indulged in “Body Melt,” an 80-minute treatment that has been on the spa menu since the resort opened in the year 2000 – and a bit more – on a busy July Sunday at the 358-room resort, set on 78 acres, that could easily accommodate the entire population of Summerland.

I also sampled the newly launched and lovely (seated) brunch at Bacara’s upscale restaurant Angel Oak. I shared my room that evening and a casual beachside dinner with my friend Collin and his son Henry (7) who happened to be passing through on their way back home from a grandparent visit. We had a perfect little mini vacation while the sun was shining, at long last, in Santa Barbara (well, Goleta).

The staycation started off with a Virgin Bloody Mary and gentle tunes (photo by Leslie Andrea Westbrook)

The day got off to a stellar start during a relaxing brunch, when I spotted Doobie Brother/Steely Dan singer-keyboardist-songwriter Michael McDonald and his wife, singer Amy Holland, digging into the Santa Barbara smoked salmon. I savored the duck confit hash with perfectly runny poached eggs; fresh pastries that were scrumptious; and the artisan Bloody Marys were damn good (I had a Virgin Mary, being it was Sunday). Goleta-based guitarist – folk musician Joshua Jenkins, of Pocket Fox, strummed away on his electric guitar adding a nice musical backdrop to the Pacific Ocean coastline views on the outdoor patio. Jenkins remained “cool, calm, and collected” despite the famous crooner in his “audience.”

Fully sated, I took a lovely walk to view the beach (packed and beware of tar!) before hitting the gorgeous 48,000-square-foot three-level spa. The best pool on the property (there are three) is here, in my opinion: adults only, saltwater, and no pounding boom-boom music. A quick dip and to the spa lounge where one of the therapists quietly paged “Jennifer Aniston” not once, but twice. We didn’t spot the actress, but it did offer a wee secondary famous person spotting thrill.

The Body Melt began with a salt/oil body exfoliation. This was just the beginning before lift-off! This 30-minute full body scrub was followed by a warm Swedish Shower in the treatment room that soothed my aching lower lumbar. The pièce de résistance was the deep, strong-handed massage by Santa Barbara native Deborah, who has not only worked at the spa for over two decades but is an acupuncturist with a wellness practice in the Goodland. I chose “Fortifying” oil over “Positivity” for my treatment since I was already brimming with positivity. Just when I thought I’d been spoiled beyond belief, I was wrapped in a blanket (that I swore was a spacesuit), given a scalp massage, and I lifted off to space! Wheeeee… A nice soft landing (and an ending I never wanted to come) ensued and I floated to the spa lounge where a glass of bubbly was served while I waited for my vibrating body to re-enter the universe.

I’d booked a quick trip/break to NYC about a month ago, but after spending two days at Santa Barbara Airport, where I encountered fiverescheduled-cancelled-delayed flights, I said “phooey” to summer travel that involved airplanes. I was staying as far away as I could from summer airport travel. To clear my head, the idea of a short drive, brief rest/mini-vacation appealed, especially after experiencing some of the terrific and tasty new menu offerings at The Ritz-Carlton Bacara’s several dining venues that range from fancy (the aforementioned Angel Oak, which has a sublime lobster truffle pasta dish) to the casual – the new Haskell’s food truck at the public beach (which will be there until September 3). 

My friend Collin and his son Henry arrived at 6 pm, just in time to indulge in a tasty and complimentary sunset tequila cocktail infused with butterfly pea flower, aptly named Après Sea. We were hungry and went in search of dinner! We walked down to the Bistro (it was closed), but I really wanted to go to Haskell’s food truck, which we were told would be open until sunset. The walk from the resort down the dirt path and over a wooden bridge from the manicured grounds that suddenly gives way to native scrub and fragrant sage was magical (“This is like a best-kept secret!” Collin exclaimed). We were lucky and happy to be the food truck’s last order of the day. Collin’s savory smash burger was quickly consumed, Henry made a good dent on the huge Wagyu hot dog, and I managed two out of the three yummy shrimp tacos. Shared waffle fries and cocktails from a can made for a filling and satisfying dinner by the sea. Bottles of wine ($43-$63) are available from Stolpman, Margerum, and Brewer-Clifton; the truck was sold out of the popular Aperol spritz ($9). I will be back.

Visit Haskell’s food truck while you still can (photo by Leslie Andrea Westbrook)

We snuggled in for a quiet night in our handsome, comfortable, Spanish-style room with dark woods and a patio overlooking a lovely green garden. “Rustic elegant” is how my friend Collin dubbed the decor, as Henry soaked in the tub with shutters that opened to the room while watching cartoons on his dad’s laptop. I had vivid weird dreams that night – even “Ellen” made an appearance! Turns out the resort has events cast with our residents: Jean-Michel Cousteau in November (11th) and Montecito-turned-Summerland author/poet Diana Raab is holding a writing workshop early next year. 

Perhaps my vivid dreams were due to the lovely butterfly pea flower infusion used in the cocktail the night before. Revered as a holy flower in India and Southeast Asia, the flower boasts antioxidant properties. The butterfly pea flower has spiritual meaning in many cultures and is typically considered a symbol of transformation, renewal, and hope.

In the early morning before checking out, I sauntered down for a swim in the spa pool – which I had all to myself except for birdsong, a wee bunny rabbit that greeted me at the gate, and a small sparrow who drank at the water’s edge. I finished my stay with a soak in the water/chromo therapy spa where the soothing waters changed from aquamarine to silver to yes, pea flower blue… followed by a steam and sauna before heading home having had a transformational stay and renewal – all in the matter of just 24 hours.

One week before my overnight staycation, a very nice (form) welcome letter arrived via email from the “Ladies and Gentlemen” of The Ritz-Carlton Bacara. Those familiar with the Ritz-Carlton brand, know their motto well: “Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” With a storied Boston history, I’ve watched this brand expand over the decades from a somewhat stuffy style of hospitality that was a bit at odds with our laid-back California lifestyle. As the East Coast formula became a bit more relaxed, the brand remained extremely service oriented. Ladies and gentlemen serving guests these days are lovely, beautiful, handsome, and come from all over the world: gorgeous Nini from Georgia (the country, not the state) who checked cars entering from her umbrella kiosk at the end of the gorgeous entrance/drive. I passed muster and entered the lovely porte-cochère where great valet staff took care of business in the chaos. Sweet, soft-spoken international trainee Shafiq from Uganda warmly greeted me at the spa; Carpinteria neighbor Stan aptly took care of me at check out. 

Note to Hotels: America’s national park hotels often have their employees wear name tags that also identify where they are from. I find this a great conversation starter. It might be nice if other hotels adopted this for travelers, no?

What to Know, Before You Go

The Angel Oak brunch is on Sundays only, but worth the trip (courtesy photo)

Ritz-Carlton Club Members have access to a private building with complimentary breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, and dessert offerings every day. Regarding refreshments, Club Members also have access to a wide variety of beverages ranging from smoothies to coffee and fresh juices. Members also may partake in complimentary beer and wine as well as build their own cocktail at a self-serve bar. Additionally, the club offers private concierge service, laundry service, and much more.

Brunch at Angel Oak is Sundays only from 10 am – 1 pm; dinner is served seven nights a week from 5 pm – 9 pm.

Book a spa service and use the facilities for the day including the lovely saltwater pool.

Haskell’s food truck will be onsite until September 3 and is open from 2 pm until sunset but be forewarned: they run out of items like the kale salad and popular Aperol spritz towards the end of busy days!  

The Ritz-Carlton Bacara
8301 Hollister Ave., Goleta
(805) 968-0100


You might also be interested in...