Santa Barbara is a world class tourist destination, and the hotels that can be found around the county are often the best of the best. It’s easy to find excellence in Santa Barbara’s hotels, but not many have whole families working behind the scenes.
The Eagle Inn, a lovely hotel right by West Beach and the Harbor at 232 Natoma Ave, has been run by the Bullock family, Alan and Janet Bullock and their two children, Paul Bullock and Louise De Voto, since 1981. Together, the four of them use decades of hotel experience to create an intimate and peaceful little inn by the waterfront.
The Bullock parents are from the northwest coast of England, where they owned two hotels before moving to the States. Mr. Bullock’s family had instilled in him a love of hospitality, and he knew that it was a good way to make a living, so when he decided to go into business for himself, the two set out to find their first hotel.
Their first was a small 10-bedroom inn, and Mr. and Mrs. Bullock, then 24 and 22, were the only employees. It was hard work. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, seven days a week, 18 hours a day, for 36 people, with a staff of two.
“That was from Easter to about the end of October, and then we’d have the winter off. We did that for four years, then we decided ‘Yeah, this is a good business’ and we decided we’d go out and find a bigger place, which we did,” Mr. Bullock told the News-Press.
They built up their second location into a thriving 50-bedroom seaside resort. Then, while on vacation in California, the Bullock’s got the urge to move again.
On their way to San Francisco, the family stopped in Santa Barbara. Nine-year-old Mrs. De Voto and 11-year-old Paul loved it.
“They spotted the skaters and spotted the yachts and the surfers, and that was it,” said Mrs. Bullock.
They returned to England, but the family kept visiting Santa Barbara and eventually decided to make it their home. Wanting to continue his knowledge of the business, Mr. Bullock set about looking for hotel locations in the city. There were no hotel or motel buildings available, so the Bullocks purchased the beautiful but rundown Spanish-Colonial apartment building that is now the the Eagle Inn.
It took the family almost three years to bring the building up to scratch and convert it into a hotel.
“It’s completely different internally from what it was when we bought it,” said Mr. Bullock.
“We’re still working on it,” joked Mrs. De Voto.
There is always something to do or add, said Mr. Bullock. Over the years, the family has never stopped making adjustments, updating the decor, and modernizing amenities.
“It’s an intensive job and people have high expectations, and you just have to meet them,” said Paul.
Catering to a mix of tourists and guests here on business, the 31 rooms at Eagle Inn are clean and spacious with a variety of great amenities like a personal refrigerator, free movie channel TV, coffee maker, and high-speed Internet connection. The rooms are mainly geared towards couples, but rooms range from basic to full suites and large families are more than welcome. Several rooms come with a fireplace or a balcony. With its location right downtown, there’s almost an endless amount of things to do while staying at the Eagle Inn, and all a few minutes walk away.
One of the largest and latest modifications at the Eagle Inn has been to the Casitas, the Inn’s eight freestanding houses just behind the main building that offer guests extra space and seclusion. In the early 2000s, whirlpool tubs have been added to the suites, giving couples an extra bit of romance for their getaways. Details like this are why the Eagle Inn proudly claims to be the most romantic hotel in the area.
“There’s definitely a demand for the more romantic rooms. Like, specifically, people really do their research on those, where they want to stay, and plan a really nice weekend or a couple of days away,” said Mrs. De Voto.
These days, the Bullock parents have retired, although they’re still around to advise and assist.
“When you have a business like this you always have it,” said Mrs. Bullock
Their children have taken the reigns. Paul is the hotel’s General Manager, and Mrs. De Voto is in-charge of their full breakfast, a pride and joy for the Inn, as well as helping out wherever she’s needed and filling in when Paul is away.
The two grew up in hotels and worked for their parents through high school, but back then neither of them wanted to be in the business. Ironic, as not only does Paul now run Eagle Inn, he even teaches hospitality courses at SBCC.
After trying different careers like running a Surf School in Ventura and owning a Tea Bag Packaging business, a chance to work at the Eagle Inn opened up in 2005 and Paul decided to take it.
“It was an opportune moment for me to step in and say, ‘Okay, I’ve done what I thought I wanted to do and now I’m ready for some security and to really have a career,” said Paul.
“It’s in his bones,” said Mrs. Bullock.
Mrs. De Voto tried a few paths as well, but worked at the hotel off and on and eventually came on full time, making the Eagle Inn a family affair once again.
“It’s great for us. This is like reaping the benefit,” chuckled Mrs. Bullock.
“Some times with personalities we might have a little conflict, but at the end of the day, who are you going to trust more than your sister? That all washes away and the real important thing is, ‘How’s the hotel running’,” said Paul.
Paul and Mrs. De Voto have children of their own, and out of six, only one has yet to take a job at the front desk, laundry room, or kitchen. These days, Paul’s youngest is working away in the kitchen, saving up for a trip to England with his grandparents.
“We are very fortunate that we still have family because I don’t know that we would still be doing this if we didn’t have Paul and Louise,” said Mrs. Bullock.
The Eagle Inn is always busy, but it follows the tourist season in Santa Barbara. Things tend to quiet down in December, January and February, making it an ideal time for locals to check it out.
“That’s the slow time for us, the cheapest rates, and just the best time to come if you want to get away,” said Paul.
Those interested in a stay at the Eagle Inn can book their room at www.theeagleinn.com.