Let’s be honest: Those of us paying thousands of dollars in rent or mortgage each month don’t have a lot of impetus to shell out the few hundred a night it would take to get a taste of the royal life at one of Santa Barbara’s iconic resorts. But there is a way to experience that life of luxury without breaking the bank: Just drop a Benjamin or two eating and drinking there instead.
Sunday Brunch @ The Biltmore: For decades, this weekly culinary extravaganza has set the bar for one-price-fits-all overindulgence, and the quality never abates. Shellfish (oysters, crab claws, etc.), multiple types of American and Japanese caviar (flying fish to sevruga sturgeon), duck breast salad, leg of lamb, sushi, cheese blintzes, and made-to-order omelettes and potato salad (with lobster!) are just the tip of the appealing iceberg. The desserts are ridonkulous, and the mimosas are bottomless. $75; fourseasons.com/santabarbara
Lunch @ El Encanto: If you need a workout — or are too cheap to valet — walk from downtown to El Encanto, and might as well take California Street, which is our steepest. Or pull out a couple of bucks to tip the parking attendant, and drive up Alameda Padre Serra instead, where the best views in town can be enjoyed at lunch, or really any time of day. (New chef Johan Denizot has revamped brunch and will be launching a new summer dinner any day now.) Choose The Habit’s grüner veltliner and opt for the Ahi Tuna Riviera Salad ($24), which uses tuna confit, a nice change of pace from the ubiquitous seared version. Finish with the historic resort’s classic Enchanted Floating Island, a medley of vanilla custard, meringue, and caramel. belmond.com/elencanto
Dinner @ San Ysidro Ranch: Though Santa Barbara’s most exclusive property, San Ysidro Ranch is extremely welcoming and really quite casual. That’s especially true at Plow & Angel, the low-ceilinged bar/restaurant warmed by a fire and lit without much at all (they even give you mini flashlights to read the menu). Order plates from the appetizer menu to keep the flavors coming — the lamb sliders melt ($19), the tiger prawns crunch perfectly ($21), and the truffle fries do not disappoint ($9) — scour the book-length wine list for a zesty $60 riesling from Germany, and indulge in the hotel-grown Meyer lemon tart ($14) or flaming, espresso-ice-cream-stuffed Baked Alaska ($19). Really wanna splurge? Rent the historic 1824 abode with fireplace for your small party — its ceiling looks sketchy and has visible holes but is totally safe and waterproof, the result of a meticulous preservation project. If the Kennedys and Churchills approved, shouldn’t you? sanysidroranch.com