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Set at the very edge of Santa Barbara’s most-bustling downtown area, the Courtyard by Marriott Santa Barbara Downtown caters to discerning travelers seeking both convenience and style.
Courtyard by Marriott might not typically pique the interest of the haute traveler, but this particular outpost of the moderate Marriott brand delivers a refreshingly chic, motor lodge-inspired style that warrants a closer look.
Here’s what you need to know about the Courtyard by Marriott Santa Barbara Downtown, including what it’s like to stay there, how you might snag a free stay and whether it’s worth it.
What the Courtyard by Marriott Santa Barbara Downtown is like
If the property gives off retro vibes, that’s because it is. The Courtyard by Marriott Santa Barbara Downtown took the bones of a classic 1959 motor inn and gave it an extensive renovation, including sleek, modernized bathrooms and a new restaurant that’s tasty enough to draw in locals. It reopened in December 2022 with a refresh that still retains its midcentury architecture.
While most of Santa Barbara stands out for its Spanish Colonial Revival architecture, this hotel deviates from that aesthetic with its midcentury modern architecture. Exterior walls are mostly white with geometric patterns, with pops of color sprinkled throughout.
The hotel’s spacious lobby has couches and desks for relaxing and working, and just past the check-in desk is a grab-and-go market.
The lobby’s high ceilings and tall windows beckon you to the hotel’s visual highlight: a sprawling courtyard with an expansive pool at its center.
Landlubbers have their pick of outdoor lounge seating to soak in Santa Barbara’s sunny, warm weather. And in the event it gets chilly, there’s a hot tub and fire pit.
Rooms are relatively small and minimalist, with the lowest-priced, standard guest rooms at 250 square feet (maximum occupancy of two adults). There are also larger rooms available, such as 375-square-foot king rooms with sofa beds (accommodates up to four adults) and suites.
Space is used efficiently, as evidenced by features such as the stacked kitchenette that includes a microwave, coffee maker and mini fridge. Rooms also include flat-screen TVs and USB outlets.
Recent renovations are especially evident in the bathrooms, which are sleek and modern, offering a lighted makeup mirror.
As with all Courtyard by Marriott properties (and other Marriott brands like SpringHill Suites, Residence Inn and Fairfield by Marriott), there are no tiny, single-use toiletry bottles of shampoo, conditioner or bath gel. Instead, rooms feature large, pump-top bottles that are more environmentally friendly.
The Courtyard Santa Barbara’s star amenity is the heated swimming pool and adjacent hot tub. There’s also a fitness center with cardio and weight machines, plus free weights. Free Wi-Fi is available, though that’s practically a given anywhere these days.
If you're seeking maximal resort-style amenities, this isn’t your spot. Santa Barbara travelers loyal to Marriott should instead consider The Ritz-Carlton Santa Barbara, which features three pools, six restaurants, a 42,000-square-foot spa and tennis courts.
Happily, minimal amenities mean no resort fees.
Dining at Courtyard by Marriott Santa Barbara Downtown
It’s rare to get excited by a hotel restaurant, but Saint Remy bucks the trend. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner (plus a daily happy hour), Saint Remy exudes the hotel’s same retro-inspired design. Cuisine is touted as a “Mediterranean coastal twist,” with lunch and dinner options including chicken shawarma flatbread, a fig burger, short rib hummus and lamb meatballs.
Breakfast ranges from expected classics like eggs and French toast to meals that exude more Mediterranean flair, such as a shakshuka eggs Benedict.
Across the board, ingredients are high-quality. The breakfast sandwich (pictured above) is served on a fluffy brioche, and other dishes incorporate elevated elements, too. For example, oatmeal is served with agave, and edible flowers garnish the avocado toast.
The menu’s star is the churro pancakes, which are infused with cinnamon and sugar, then covered in dulche de leche, dark chocolate sauce and churro crumble.
Saint Remy's breakfast is not free, but you might be able to get your meal partially covered. That is, if you have a certain level of Marriott elite status.
With Marriott Platinum elite status or higher, you’re entitled to a $10 food and beverage credit per night of stay for you and one guest (even if they don’t have status themselves). That’s $20 per party if you’re traveling with a buddy. Credits don’t roll over, though, so you can’t skip one day and expect double the next.
How to get to the Courtyard by Marriott Santa Barbara Downtown
The hotel is roughly a 15-minute drive from the charming Santa Barbara Municipal Airport, and a five-minute drive (or 30-minute walk) from the Santa Barbara Amtrak station.
The hotel sits at the far end of State Street’s most buzzing shops and restaurants. That’s both a blessing and a curse because it’s quieter than other downtown Santa Barbara hotels, but there's a longer walk to most attractions.
It’s nearly two miles to the end of Stearns Wharf, about 1.5 miles to the hip arts district called the Funk Zone and a half mile to the courthouse (a popular wedding venue). While it’s a pleasant walk to all those places, it might be excessive for travelers seeking to relax, not work out.
Still, there are plenty of key Santa Barbara attractions nearby. It’s a five-minute walk to the historic Arlington Theatre and a 10-minute walk to the Santa Barbara Public Market food hall.
Daily hotel parking costs $30, and electric car charging stations are available in the hotel’s garage.
Booking with points (and how you might stay for free)
Nightly cash rates start at about $260 after taxes and fees, assuming a nonrefundable, prepaid reservation booked as a Marriott Bonvoy member (the Marriott Bonvoy program is free to join). However, expect to pay more than $800 if you want a pool view and private balcony on a summer holiday weekend.
Because it’s a Marriott property, you can redeem Marriott Bonvoy points. Points rates vary but typically run between 40,000 and 66,000 points per night. NerdWallet values Marriott points at 0.8 cent each, which makes redemptions less valuable when cash rates are low. But on nights with high cash rates, this property can prove a solid redemption.
You can earn Marriott points through frequent stays at Marriott hotels, but that’s not the only way. Holding Marriott’s branded credit cards can often get you there much faster. Marriott credit cards include:
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card ($95 annual fee): Earn 3 Free Night Awards (each night valued up to 50,000 points) after spending $3,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening with the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card. Terms apply.
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card ($650 annual fee): Earn 95,000 Marriott Bonvoy bonus points after you use your new Card to make $6,000 in purchases within the first 6 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply.
Those cards also earn bonus points when used to pay in other spending categories:
Marriott Bonvoy Bold® Credit Card
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
Many also offer Marriott free night certificates, which are sometimes given out for your account anniversary and sometimes for hitting spending minimums. Some certificates have limitations on the types of rooms you can book (many only allow you to book rooms up to 35,000 points). But Marriott also sometimes offers the option to cover the difference for higher-priced rooms with up to 15,000 points, which might prove useful at this property.
Chase points typically transfer at a 1:1 ratio, making 1,000 Chase points worth 1,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. Because NerdWallet values a Marriott Bonvoy point at 0.8 cent each but Chase often at more than 2 cents (depending on how you redeem them), this tends to be a less-than-ideal points value. Go this route only occasionally, like needing to top off an existing Bonvoy balance. With American Express, 2 Membership Rewards points convert to 3 Marriott points, which is slightly better than Chase’s conversion, but still not the best value.
Find out more ways to earn Marriott Bonvoy points.
Is the Courtyard by Marriott Santa Barbara Downtown worth it?
The Courtyard by Marriott Santa Barbara Downtown is ideal for folks who don’t necessarily need frills but appreciate memorable accommodations. It blends boutique vibes with the convenience of being a part of a larger hotel chain, allowing guests to earn and redeem points or flex elite status.
The location is close to the heart of Santa Barbara’s restaurants, shops and entertainment while situated just far enough away to keep things quiet. That’s not to say the hotel is library-silent. Depending on the night, the pool can get pretty lively.
Rooms are small and simple, so they might not be ideal for people seeking space to spread out. But if you don’t mind sitting in public spaces, the hotel’s large, airy lobby and outdoor lounge space are delightful.
The hotel is not pet-friendly; only service animals are welcome. While that may turn off travelers with pets, it might entice folks who don’t want to be bothered by animals.
If you have Bonvoy points to burn and are in Santa Barbara, then Courtyard by Marriott Santa Barbara Downtown can be an excellent use of points on nights when cash rates are high. This property is ideal for the person who doesn't need a Ritz-Carlton class of hotel to feel satisfied but appreciates thoughtful theming.
And even though the breakfast isn’t free, Saint Remy is a hidden gem. Whether you’re staying at the Courtyard by Marriott Santa Barbara Downtown or lodging elsewhere, don’t travel to the California beach town without noshing on the churro pancakes.
(Top photo by Sally French)
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card