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The Waterman, a Moxy Hotel in Santa Barbara [In-Depth Review]

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James Larounis
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James Larounis

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James (Jamie) started The Forward Cabin blog to educate readers about points, miles, and loyalty programs. He’s spoken at Princeton University and The New York Times Travel Show and has been quoted in...
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Keri Stooksbury

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Stella Shon

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Santa Barbara is a coastal haven about 2 hours north of Los Angeles. Home to several universities, the city offers both a college-town atmosphere paired with a high-end feel thanks to its picturesque views and expensive homes. Situated right in the center of town, you’ll find The Waterman, a Moxy hotel with Marriott. The hotel is a basic property that commands a hefty price point and may not be worth it, depending on your budget!

I’m a big fan of Santa Barbara. I visit the area several times a year, and I love how walkable the area is, along with the picture-perfect weather. The trip where I stayed at The Waterman was a relatively short one as I only stayed 2 nights in the area. My first night was at the Hilton Santa Barbara Resort and Spa, located directly on the water, and to round out my second night, I chose The Waterman thanks to it having award availability.

Location

If you’re familiar with Santa Barbara, there are 3 distinct areas of town where hotels are located — along the water (Cabrillo Road), Upper State Street, and Lower State Street/Funk Zone. If you stay along Upper State Street, you’re right in the heart of restaurants, shopping, and theater. If you stay on Lower State Street and near the Funk Zone, you’re near a good chunk of wineries, breweries, and the Amtrak station. If you’re along the water, you’ve got the best ocean views, but you will always have a longer walk to restaurants and shopping.

Waterman Street
The Waterman is situated along a busy street, one of the main thoroughfares in Santa Barbara.

The Waterman is located in the Lower State Street/Funk Zone area and is steps from the Santa Barbara Amtrak station, which is served multiple times a day by either the Pacific Surfliner or Coast Starlight trains.

Waterman Entrance to Street
A convenient path takes you out onto the street and across to the train station.

For the trip I was on, I was taking an Amtrak train the next day towards Oakland, California, and wanted to be near the Amtrak station. The Waterman is directly across the street, and if you’re catching a train, there isn’t a better hotel to be at.

Waterman Entrance
The main entrance to the hotel is unassuming, with a temporary banner above the door.

As far as exploring the rest of Santa Barbara, pretty much everything else is a reasonable walk away. To get to Upper State Street and most restaurants and shopping, you only need to walk under the 101 freeway (there’s a sidewalk). You’ll be in that section of town in less than 5 minutes, and it will probably take you around 20 minutes to reach the top of State Street where most restaurants and stores end.

If you’re looking for wineries, breweries, and other hip joints, the hotel is in the middle of the famed Funk Zone. Just stepping out of the front door will put you within arms reach of a ton of options. The area gets busy on weekends and at night as folks look to these establishments for something to do.

If you want access to the ocean, it’s about a 5-minute walk to the coast, and from there, you can walk left (south) or right (north) for miles in both directions. The famous Stearns Wharf is located right at the end of State Street and is a short stroll from the hotel.

Booking

For the night I needed at this hotel, the rate exceeded $500, which is typical for this property. All hotels in Santa Barbara are expensive; there’s no way to avoid it if you want to be walkable to most attractions. I stayed in August 2023, which is prime tourist season in Santa Barbara.

I had a 50,000-points-per-night Marriott free night certificate in my account, and I used this in combination with 15,000 Marriott Bonvoy top-up points to snag a Petite Queen room, the standard room at this hotel. The total cost was 65,000 Marriott Bonvoy points for the night.

Had I not used points, I would have used the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card where I could earn 6x Marriott Bonvoy points for every dollar spent on the hotel room rate.

Hot Tip:

Because this is a small hotel, you should book sooner rather than later to secure a room.

Checking In

Checking in at this property was very awkward. I happened to be standing behind another Marriott Bonvoy Titanium Elite in line to check in (not associated with me). That person was offered an upgrade to a larger room and was specifically told that his room had been prepared early for him.

When I approached the counter, I was told that I had not received an upgrade, that check-in was at 4 p.m., and that I could not check in until then. It was a completely different experience than the person ahead of me, and when I inquired why that person received different treatment, the young clerk simply shrugged his shoulders.

Waterman Front Desk
The front desk also serves as a place to sit and drink.

I asked if housekeeping was able to expedite my room, and was told that this hotel doesn’t do that (weird!), but they’d take my name and phone number down in case anything changed. I never received any call, but I came back to the hotel around 4:15 p.m. only to be told that my room had been ready for some time (again, incredibly weird).

The person checking me in this time was different than the first person, and I was offered a glass of rosé as a welcome amenity and pointed to my room down the hall on the first floor. Interestingly, this clerk told me I had been upgraded to a pool view, and it had a patio, something most rooms at this hotel don’t have. I’ll never know why this wasn’t explained to me prior, though I assume maybe the first clerk sensed my frustration, and maybe they changed my room to something a little better.

Waterman Wine
The complimentary wine eased my frustrations from check-in.

Elite Benefits

As a Marriott Bonvoy Titanium Elite member, I’d receive several benefits throughout my stay:

  • 75% point bonus on any charges (since I was on a free night award, this didn’t apply)
  • Enhanced room upgrade
  • Choice of welcome gift
  • Free in-room Wi-Fi
Waterman Patio Overview
I received an upgrade to a room with a patio.

Lobby

There aren’t many public spaces at this hotel, but there is a lobby of sorts. It’s really quirky as the front desk serves as a pseudo bar, something you don’t see at most hotels.

Waterman Lobby
The lobby is very basic.

There’s also a large kitchen and pantry area, with random chairs strewn throughout. You could purchase the items in the cooler from the front desk, but no prices seem to be displayed. I couldn’t really figure out the vibe at this hotel — it was a hodgepodge of random décor, it seemed. From a giraffe with a sombrero to artwork that resembled 2 LEGO figures, it almost seemed as if someone had gone to a garage sale and grabbed whatever was on offer.

Waterman Lobby Kitchen
I’m not sure who is supposed to use this large kitchen.

Amenities

Amenities at this hotel were quite limited, with the pool and a laundry room being the only 2 on-site services offered. There was no exercise facility on-site.

The most significant amenity at this hotel was the accessibility to the sidewalk, where you could take a short walk to both the beach and restaurants.

Waterman Path to Street
The hotel could easily access the sidewalk.

Bike Rentals

Guests could rent a bike for $25 a day.

Waterman Bikes
You can rent bikes, though there is a daily charge.

Pool

The outdoor pool was only big enough to relax in or take a quick dip, but not big enough to do any laps. There was no service in the pool area, so you need to bring your own drinks or food if you wish to relax. There were a few outdoor games like ping-pong scattered on the outside.

Waterman Pool
The pool was never crowded during my visit.

Parking

Parking on-site was $35 per day, and the parking lot surrounds the hotel, making it incredibly easy to access your car. While this is a steep parking fee, there are not many options for overnight parking in the city, so this cost will be well worth it if you have a vehicle overnight.

Waterman Cars
You could park your car right outside the entrance to the hotel.

Food and Beverage

The hotel advertised free coffee and tea in the lobby, though I never actually saw anything put out, so that may be on request only due to the smaller size of the property. There were no food and beverage outlets on-site, so if you’re looking for a bite to eat, you’ll find several cafes nearby.

Overall, the hotel is essentially a no-frills place to sleep and relax, so you shouldn’t expect much regarding services or amenities. With Santa Barbara being your backyard, that honestly is not a bad thing!

Bottom Line:

This hotel is best for those who want to see the city of Santa Barbara, but do not want to be caught up in the amenities or luxuries of the hotel itself.

Petite Queen Room

My room was on the first floor, facing the pool, and was just a short walk down from the front desk.

Overall, the room was tiny. If you’re looking to sprawl out, this is not the hotel you should choose.

Waterman Bed Overview
The room at this hotel was not enormous by any means.

As you enter the room, there’s a small desk to the right, with a chair that’s not great for working in. This was not the type of desk you’d want to sit at for hours on end to get any work done.

Waterman Desk
This was not a desk you’d want to work hours on end at.

The bed was situated in the middle of the room, with plenty of storage drawers and lockers on all sides. This was the 1 area where this room shined — there were many places to put things.

Waterman Bed Closet
While there were plenty of storage areas, make sure not to leave anything behind!

A bunk bed was capable of sliding down from the top, though it was locked into position and likely required the hotel maintenance staff to unlock it for it to slide down into place.

Waterman Above Bed Bunk
You’ll have to ask the front desk to unlock the bunk bed.

If you needed additional pillows or blankets, they were stored in the side cabinet.

Waterman Additional Pillows
Your bunkmate will not go cold at night with the extra blanket and pillow.

An exposed closet was at the foot of the bed, with no area to sit or relax.

Waterman Bedroom Tv
An exposed closet was available against the wall.

From the patio, it was only a few short steps from the pool. There was a chair on the deck where you could relax, though the time I was there there was quite a bit of sun, making the patio uncomfortable to sit at.

Waterman Room Patio
The patio was the highlight of the room! It was nicely sized and steps from the pool.

It’s worth noting that because of where the pool is situated, the road is only just beyond the fence line, so you likely will hear traffic noise throughout the day.

Bathroom

The bathroom was the weirdest part of the room. The shower took up the entire bathroom, and to avoid water getting everywhere, you had to slide out several glass panels to form a shower. This would basically take up the rest of the usable space in the bathroom.

Waterman Bathroom
There isn’t actually a separate shower in this bathroom — the entire bathroom is the shower.

Because of this, when you put the glass panels away, you’d be stepping on wet ground when trying to use the bathroom or do anything else in the bathroom, making it incredibly awkward. I really can’t figure out who would design this type of space.

Waterman Shower
The shower required assembly prior to use.

Soap was some off-brand “Be Different” brand, and there was a wall dispenser in the shower with body wash and shampoo, along with a lotion and hand soap at the sink.

Waterman Soap
Be Different lotion and soap was at the sink.
Hot Tip:

If you’re coming with multiple people or want space to relax, don’t book The Waterman. While the hotel has several room types with 2 queen beds, the rooms are still very small and there’s limited room to spread out.

Service

During my stay, I really didn’t encounter any service worth noting, other than my interaction at the front desk when checking in (which I thought was bizarre, to say the least). Because of the size of this hotel, and limited amenities, there didn’t seem to be tons of staff. I really only ever saw 1 staff person at the front desk, and a maintenance person by the pool area fixing something.

Final Thoughts

The Waterman certainly fits the bill if you’re looking for a basic place to stay in Santa Barbara. The hotel is part of the Moxy portfolio, so the services you’ll find on-site are very limited. There’s so much to do in the town and along the coast in Santa Barbara, so hopefully you won’t need to spend too much time in your hotel.

I would return, but only if the price was right and I was departing on an early Amtrak train the next day. I think the location is terrific for access to the Amtrak station (which is my main mode of transport to and from Santa Barbara), so I’d definitely stay at The Waterman again depending on my train’s arrival or departure time, but I wouldn’t use it as a longer stay option.

For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® card, click here.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where is the Waterman Hotel?

The Waterman Hotel is directly across the street from the Santa Barbara Amtrak station, within a 5-minute walk of the Pacific Ocean and a short stroll into the main shopping and dining district.

What hotel chain is The Waterman in Santa Barbara part of?

The Waterman is a Marriott hotel, part of the Marriott Bonvoy program. It’s technically a Moxy hotel, which means the services and amenities at the hotel are limited, though the price is still steep considering the location.

Does the Waterman Hotel in Santa Barbara have a pool?

Yes. The Waterman Hotel has an outdoor pool on the main floor. There are several rooms surrounding the hotel with outdoor decks.

Is the Waterman Hotel on the ocean?

The Waterman Hotel is not directly on the ocean and does not have an ocean view, but is within a 5-minute walk of the water.

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About James Larounis

James (Jamie) started The Forward Cabin blog to educate readers about points, miles, and loyalty programs. He’s spoken at Princeton University and The New York Times Travel Show and has been quoted in dozens of travel publications.

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