Ariana Grande. Jennifer Aniston. Ellen DeGeneres. The list of celebrities who have shelled out tens of millions for a spot in Montecito, California, is long and varied, old and young. But even if you’ve only heard of Montecito in the context of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s move, you’ve probably wondered what exactly is so enticing about a small town that less than 10,000 people call home.
Located about 80 miles from the westside of LA, Montecito is the tiny neighbor of Santa Barbara, a city which covers roughly four times as much land and has a population ten times the size. Colonized by Spain in the 18th century, Santa Barbara’s rich history and culturally significant structures attract plenty of visitors, but since few Spanish settlers built in Montecito, it’s historically received fewer tourists. It seems the town—for the most part—would like to keep it that way. Despite increased attention in recent years, there are far fewer lodging options in Montecito than in Santa Barbara. The hotels that do exist tend to run upwards of $1,000 a night.
Even if the outsized celebrity population is slightly perplexing, (Meg Ryan and Natalie Portman have also owned Montecito homes, just to name a couple more), it’s not exactly out of the blue. Attracting America’s most glamorous figures is actually a longstanding tradition of the town—in fact, Jacqueline and John F. Kennedy honeymooned there at the still-operating San Ysidero Ranch. Back in 1999, Los Angeles Magazine reported on something of a “turf war” between Montecito locals and the “LA types” who were flooding their humble town. Celebrities—like Rob Lowe, who is mentioned in the piece—had begun to settle there (rather than merely visit) in much higher numbers.
Numerous waves of celeb settlers have rolled in during the 23 years since that article, and with younger A-listers like Ariana Grande making Montecito home, it doesn’t look like the town is merely a fad. As Insider reported in a story on Montecito last year, locals are generally unfazed by the presence of famous people. This is likely a draw for celebrities seeking a calmer lifestyle, plus, the fact that the town is less than two hours from Hollywood by car doesn’t hurt. Montecito may not have quite as vivid of a history as Santa Barbara, but the two share a connection to architect George Washington Smith. Smith left an indelible mark on the area during the early 20th century, creating dozens of residential projects in Santa Barbara County, all in the Spanish Colonial style that still dominates in the region today. Plenty of Smith’s homes still exist—including a cottage Larry David paid $5.7 million for earlier this year.
Whether or not celebs opt for a genuine 100-year-old home, many of the new builds in the area recreate the refined yet relaxed atmosphere of the area’s historic residences. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Montecito pad, which was featured in AD earlier this year, looks stately enough to be from the early 1900s, yet it’s actually a brand new. AD100 firms Roman and Williams and Romanek Design Studio worked on the project, opting for antique mantels, hand-painted wallpapers, and pewter-finished bronze doors to ensure the house spoke to the soul of its setting.
All of the architectural beauty of the region is a mere added benefit to the natural splendor of the region. The California town enjoys a Mediterranean climate, which allows for year-round gardening. Scooter Braun’s Montecito home, which AD toured in 2018, might just be the perfect example—from its century-old trees to its perfectly manicured rose bushes.