I have long loved California’s Santa Ynez Valley and while I’ve yearned for the area to have a sophisticated, upscale lodging option, a part of me wishes the soul of the region to never change. With The Inn at Mattei’s Tavern, that wish has been granted.
As I drove along Route 154 from Santa Barbara to the Inn (only about a 45-minute drive) for a preview, I felt as if I was passing through the Irish countryside. Weeks of heavy rain had brought a beautiful lushness to the valley. Rolling greens stretched out to the horizon, with happy cows in the pastures and golden poppies (the state flower) literally popping up everywhere along the roadways.
My magical two days at The Inn at Mattei’s Tavern cemented for me the importance of slower, more purposeful travel – an opportunity to truly feel a sense of place and history and acknowledge a destination’s nuances. The Inn breathes life into an area of California that fewer people know about and shares its story in an artful and approachable manner – while still offering all the modern-day amenities and facilities discerning travelers crave.
For travelers hoping to go beyond the main city centers in southern California and explore the Valley a bit deeper, perhaps staying longer and supporting local craftspeople, wineries and restaurants, The Inn at Mattei’s Tavern is a must. Whether one is local to the area and seeking a getaway close to home or an out-of-state visitor seeking a unique way to experience the Santa Barbara area, the Inn is, well, a win.
Here are my overall impressions from my recent visit to Auberge Resorts’ The Inn at Mattei’s Tavern. There is a real buzz and excitement as the hotel is on the cusp of its opening date. I cannot wait for you to experience it. Questions about my visit? Ask away.
Simple, Sophisticated Style with a Story
Set in Los Olivos in the Santa Ynez Valley wine region north of Santa Barbara and Montecito, The Inn at Mattei’s Tavern occupies a former 1800s stagecoach stop next to the former site of the original Mattei’s Tavern. In its heyday, the tavern was a social hub for those seeking food and lodging when traveling between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Today, it has been reimagined as an upscale 67-room resort where guests can stay in one of four original Craftsman-style cottages surrounded by Wild West trappings with a decidedly sophisticated spin.
In typical Auberge fashion, the design of The Inn is pleasingly done. Even the staff attire and uniforms are dialed in, right down to the footwear (most wear Blundstone boots, as they do at Hacienda AltaGracia). There’s a warm, low-key vibe throughout the property.
Outside, walk around beneath old-growth palms, along fire pit-lined walkways, and you’ll feel as if you’d landed in an old-school California ranch, punctuated by its signature water tower overhead. The saloon-style Tavern embraces its moody, western vibe with creative cocktails, like The Old Gus Berg, named for a former maître d’ and using Russell’s Reserve single-barrel bourbon, Demerara, house-made bitters and pinot noir.
Inside, the thoughtful touches continue, from four-poster beds beneath exposed wood-beam ceilings in light, airy bedrooms, to touches of brass here and there, to carefully curated vintage furnishings. Each accommodation has a private outdoor patio or porch, perfect for small bites and indulging in the area’s award-winning wines.
Fitness and Flow
I tried to fit in as much as I could during my limited time at The Inn. My two favorite experiences involved movement. You can’t often say the fitness center is beautiful at a mid-sized property, but it’s clear that this area of The Inn was not an afterthought. It’s designed for the active, curious, cultivated set with its multiple Peloton bikes and airy yoga and barre studio.
Upon arrival, I treated myself to a Vibe Flow yoga class led by local teacher Kimberly Zimmerman. Class was followed by an Elixir tasting session, with tasty juices from Kimberly’s own company. Normally guests can spike their juice with some bubbles, but I chose to keep it clean this time.
The following morning, I tried one of the Vin/Yin classes and it was truly one of the most soothing I’ve experienced in a very long time. My body needed it and I can only assume that most who come here leave feeling the same way. Led by Jasmine, this class was not as powerful as my first session and was a great way to ease into a weekend of activity around the Valley.
The Lavender Barn Spa is coming soon, where guests will be able to soak in the pool, surrounded by olive trees, or indulge in body and facial treatments featuring Oak Essentials, the skincare collection by designer Jenni Kayne.
From cycling through wine country, to touring a llama farm, to learning how to make a perfect paella, The Inn is dedicated to providing immersive, locally inspired experiences to guests (as is the case with all Auberge properties). You can learn to harvest, clean, open, prepare and plate Santa Barbara uni, go horseback riding with a local guide through Fess Park Ranch (with a wine tasting at the end, of course!), and even make your own one-of-a-kind knife with Jordan Kepler, one of Forged In Fire’s season-eight champions.
I particularly loved the Campfire Pies experience, where we had a chance to heat up one of Mattei’s signature hand pies. Pick a pie, grab an iron and, just a few minutes later, you’re sinking your sweet tooth into one of the best things you’ve ever tasted. Customize it as your tastebud prefer, with whipped creme fraiche, fresh local fruit, rich chocolate and other enticing bits. It’s a fun nod to the deep historic roots of The Inn.
Decadent, Approachable Dining
I’ll say it clearly: the food at The Inn at Mattei’s Tavern is very, very good. Keep in mind that it’s not super-vegetarian-friendly, so guests should be prepared.
Some standouts on the menu includes:
- Smoked trout rillette (served at The Bar)
- Crispy cauliflower started with roasted garlic tahini, spiced local honey and smoked almond dukkah (served at The Tavern)
- Mushroom toast, which at $24 is an indulgence, but it’s delicious. And, worth it. (served at the all-day Felix Feed & Coffee)
All three of these dining outlets are located in one building – the original structure built by Felix and his wife, Lucy. This is the beating heart of the property and it’s always buzzing. The Tavern is masterminded by Executive Chef Rhoda Magbitang, who previously worked alongside José Andrés, Suzanne Goin and Josiah Citrin and now works her culinary magic featuring local ingredients.
If you can even bother to remove yourself from The Inn’s relaxing acreage, less than 5 miles away you’ll find:
- the iconic Maverick Saloon
- luxury lifestyle and apparel shop, Santa Ynez General Store
- & my new favorite, Brass Tack
Who Will Love The Inn at Mattei’s Tavern?
I found The Inn to be ideal for a girls’ getaway or couple’s retreat. It would be a lovely pairing with a few additional nights in Santa Barbara. It could be attractive for families with older children (there is no traditional kids’ club).
And speaking of women coming together in wine country, The Inn can also arrange an exclusive tour that will introduce a group of guests to three female winemakers. Did you know that the Valley is home to a higher concentration of female winemakers than any other wine-making region in the world?! After sipping wines and tasting, followed by a private artisan lunch, girlfriend groups will quickly realize the appeal of Santa Barbara wine country.
Intrigued? I can’t wait to go back. In the meantime, I’d love to chat with you about The Inn at Mattei’s Tavern and how to craft a Santa Barbara vacation around it.