It is always a pleasure to discover a hotel that you like much more than you’d anticipated. Our expectations for the Canary in Santa Barbara were modest. We had heard a couple of complimentary reports and, as it is owned by ETC Hotels, whose small stable includes Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica, a level of competence seemed assured. But of course, Santa Barbara also offers one of the best Four Seasons resorts in the United States, on which owner Ty Warner has recently lavished more than $240 million. Then there is the incomparable San Ysidro Ranch in the leafy foothills of nearby Montecito. Finally, its admirers regard the Simpson House Inn, located in the city itself, as the finest bed-and-breakfast in the country. So what could the Canary possibly offer to lure us away from these established favorites?
We arrived on a golden, sun-dappled afternoon, and from the second we entered the hotel’s handsome reception area, appointed with terra-cotta tiles, handpainted beams and a striking combination of antique furniture and modern art, we felt relaxed and at home. The contemporary style of the property struck us as imaginative and dignified, not trendy. And the welcome from both the doorman and the receptionist was exceptionally charming and hospitable.
The Canary is located at the heart of downtown — just one block from State Street with its shops, restaurants and museums — and about two miles inland from the beach and its famous pier. All 97 accommodations have been recently refurbished, and our Junior Suite proved to be extremely comfortable, with a small separate living area, a four-poster bed and dark hardwood floors. Its interior design reflected the colorful combination of Spanish and Moroccan elements found in the Canary Islands. All the expected modern amenities had been provided, including an iPod dock and a 42-inch flat-screen TV, and although the bath was on the small side, it was attractively tiled, well-lit and provided both a walk-in shower and a soaking tub. This is undoubtedly a property where it is wise to opt for a more spacious suite, and the most desirable rooms are those on higher floors that face southeast to the Santa Ynez Mountains. If this had been all, we would have deemed the Canary an attractive, friendly, well-located hotel, but one of limited interest to Harper members.
Downstairs, however, we discovered Coast, an elegant yet animated restaurant that has clearly become one of the primary gathering places in the city. The menu features Mediterranean-inspired dishes, with an emphasis on fish, and we enjoyed delicious Santa Barbara mussels, served with chorizo and an Albariño broth, followed by diver scallops. The service was unusually attentive and polite.
After dinner, we took the elevator up to the roof to investigate the swimming pool, and to our surprise, discovered a delightful and expansive terrace with not only a pool, but also a fireplace for chilly evenings and a whirlpool tub surrounded by a tile deck.
Best of all, however, was the wonderful panoramic view over the Spanish Colonial Revival buildings of Santa Barbara to the dramatic profile of the mountains. (Other facilities at the Canary are limited, but guests can enjoy spa treatments in their rooms, and have access to the Spectrum gym next door.)
In the final analysis, the Canary is an excellent choice if you are in search of a full-service boutique hotel in the heart of the shopping and cultural district of Santa Barbara. Its location is more central than that of the Simpson House Inn, which is quieter and more residential. Those looking for a beachfront setting and the tranquility of a 20-acre estate should head straight to the Four Seasons, five miles to the south.