I'm a San Diego-based travel writer and I think these 13 hotels offer everything you've been dreaming about in a vacation
San Diegohas so many great hotels at a range of prices, from boutique to resort, homey to historic.
- These hotels are as treasured by locals as visitors for their dining, golfing, and spas.
When friends come to visit me in San Diego, I always recommend that they stay near the water. Though I love going downtown to see a show or try new restaurants, what makes San Diego so special and different from almost any other city is its beach culture and near-perfect weather. If you don't get to experience that, I think you're missing out on the real San Diego. Of course, downtown is a great place to explore as well, and an ideal base for first-time visitors.
There are so many exceptional hotels in San Diego that are well-positioned to explore outdoor pursuits at a range of price points, from budget to luxury, boutique to resort, homey to historic. These hotels are as treasured by locals as visitors, because even though we live here, we spend a lot of time at hotels, dining, golfing, and enjoying spa days.
Based on my own stays and those of my local friends and colleagues, I've compiled a list of the 13 hotels that will show you why we live here and may even inspire you to make a move yourself.
The Westgate Hotel
Modeled after the Palace of Versailles, the elegant Westgate Hotel is filled with Old World European charm. In the opulent lobby, find Baccarat crystal chandeliers, Persian carpets, and French and Flemish tapestries, and each guest room features floor-to-ceiling windows and a step-out balcony so you can take in the city views.
From the hotel's downtown address, it's a quick walk to Petco Park, Little Italy, and the popular Gaslamp Quarter, where you can people watch and check out San Diego's burgeoning food scene. Be sure to treat yourself to afternoon tea at The Westgate. Though San Diego is casual and dress codes are rare, it's one of the few things for which I'll happily change out of my flip-flops to feel a little more proper.
The US Grant, a Luxury Collection Hotel
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this conveniently located Gaslamp hotel was built by Ulysses S. Grant's son in 1910 to honor his father. The US Grant is now part of the Marriott Luxury Collection, making it an especially good choice for Bonvoy members looking to earn or redeem points.
The landmark hotel has a storied past, having hosted 14 US presidents, a Prohibition-era speakeasy, and San Diego's first Comic-Con. Its renowned restaurant, The Grant Grill, was the place for power lunches in the 1950s and '60s when it was guaranteed to be "men-only" until 3 p.m. In 1969, however, a group of local female attorneys staged a successful sit-in, ending the sexist policy, and my friends and I now meet here for lunch every so often to pay tribute to them and share a bowl of the signature mock turtle soup they fought so hard for us to be able to enjoy.
Hotel del Coronado
For more than 130 years, "the Del," as it's locally known, has set the standard for beach resorts. Located on Coronado Island and easily accessible from downtown by car, ferry, or water taxi, the Hotel del Coronado has an immediately recognizable signature red roof, offering a glimpse of the beautiful Victorian architecture that earned it National Historic Landmark status and acted as the primary inspiration for Disney's Grand Floridian Resort & Spa in Florida.
The Del, which is even more fairytale-like during the holidays, is Coronado's only true oceanfront hotel. Though Loews Coronado Bay Resort and Coronado Island Marriott Resort & Spa are great hotels in their own right, the iconic Del is the only one on the island that sits right on the beach. For a splurge, opt for a cottage in Beach Village to stay beachfront. Even if you don't stay here, it's worth spending a day on Coronado and experiencing Sunday brunch in the resort's Crown Room. Pro tip: Wear stretchy pants. I speak from experience.
San Diego Mission Bay Resort
Newly renovated in breezy beach hues, the casually sophisticated San Diego Mission Bay Resort is located on beautiful Mission Bay, close to downtown and Pacific Beach (PB to locals), a favorite area for college students and surfers. My son and daughter-in-law recently stayed here and were especially enamored with their room's patio, where they could work outdoors on their laptops and avoid FOMO while guests took advantage of the pool.
I've always found the hotel's Plaza Del Sol to be a welcoming place to sit with a glass of wine and share a pizza or small plates while watching the sunset, and brunch at Covewood is a must for the mascarpone French toast.
The Lodge at Torrey Pines
This AAA Five Diamond resort is perched on a cliff in La Jolla, dubbed San Diego's "Jewel of the Sea" and considered to be one of the most beautiful and expensive coastal communities in the US. The Lodge at Torrey Pines overlooks the world-famous Torrey Pines Golf Course, home to the annual Farmers Insurance Open and the 2021 US Open. Because the place makes it so easy to roll out of bed for an early tee time, golfers will consider it close to heaven.
The Lodge also overlooks the Pacific Ocean and Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, so you don't have to be a golfer to stay here. The unique craftsman-style architecture gives the property a cozy feel, and Palisade rooms offer amazing views of the coast. The Grill's Drugstore Burger is, hands down, my choice for the best burger in San Diego.
Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa
Tucked away in what feels like a secret garden in La Jolla, Estancia La Jolla Resort & Spa is a hacienda-style resort that feels like a luxurious oasis every time I visit. The rooms are spacious and relaxing with Turkish cotton bedding and calming views of lush greenery, water fountains, and stone paths that lead to some of my favorite places: Estancia's restaurants and spa.
I like to head to the award-winning Mustangs & Burros on Taco Tuesdays and Greenfinch for an elevated breakfast experience (order the avocado toast). But my real happy place is the spa, where the 80-minute Revitalizing Journey — a rebalancing body massage including hand and foot acupressure — gets me right back on track.
Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa
This secluded retreat in Rancho Santa Fe, one of the most expensive ZIP codes in the country, is a destination in itself. In fact, I hesitate to mention it because once you settle in at the Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa and experience the impeccable service, you will feel so pampered and content that you'll never want to leave and probably won't want to see anything else in San Diego.
With its Mediterranean atmosphere — those are real olive groves — and top-notch service, spending time at this five-star Relais & Chateaux property is a special experience. It's not easy, but I strongly encourage you to tear yourself out of your luxury casita for, at the very least, a spa treatment and a meal — any meal — in The Pony Room.
L'Auberge Del Mar
Casual luxury at its best, this coastal estate known as the L'Auberge Del Mar gives you a private walking path to the beach and access to the lovely village of Del Mar. Beach gear and cruisers are yours for the asking, and a seasonal valet will set up your chairs on the sand. Choose the Coastal King Fireplace room to fall asleep to the sound of the waves outside your terrace door.
Dine on the freshest seafood at Adelaide, where the superb
Fairmont Grand Del Mar
I sometimes pinch myself that I live so close to this five-star wonder. Situated in the suburbs of North County, the Fairmont Grand Del Mar is only a 10- to 15-minute drive from the beach, and, once you're back on property, it feels as if you're in a sanctuary, lovingly looked after in your own enclave.
Whenever my daughter-in-law visits, she sneaks off for a massage here — something I try to do regularly, too, since its Center for Wellbeing is one of just 64 Forbes five-star spas in the world. The Grand Del Mar also neighbors San Diego's first Michelin-starred restaurant, Addison, and features its own private 18-hole Tom Fazio-designed golf course. Honestly, to call it "grand" is an understatement.
Inn at Moonlight Beach
I'll concede it took me years to discover this lovely bed and breakfast because it fits so seamlessly into its beachy location in Encinitas. But once I did, I wanted to move in. The world's first Well-certified hotel, it's all about taking care — of people and of the planet. When my husband and I had a staycation at the Inn at Moonlight Beach, we felt as if we were guests in our best friend's home. Our room was beautifully appointed with handmade, herbal-tea bath pouches to use in our soaking tub and, in the morning, a complimentary breakfast basket was delivered to our door filled with locally sourced artisanal treats.
The Inn is a short walk from Moonlight Beach, one of the most family-friendly beaches in Southern California, as well as downtown Encinitas, where you'll find great places to eat, shop, and explore your spiritual side. If you want to experience the area as a local, the Inn is the ideal place to stay.
Park Hyatt Aviara Resort, Golf Club & Spa
Located in Carlsbad, this hotel is the farthest north of all the ones I've recommended, but it's only about a 35-minute drive downtown and is one I visit often. My extended family celebrated many Thanksgiving dinners at the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort, Golf Club & Spa, I've taken my mom and daughter for afternoon tea in the sun-splashed lobby, and my husband and my son have spent many hours playing golf while I've retreated to the spa. It's such a destination in itself and features spacious rooms with oversize marble baths and private balconies.
This five-star resort is a great choice for families because it's so close to Legoland, the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and, of course, beaches. Plus, Hyatt members can use and earn points.
Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara
Located right next to Park Hyatt Aviara, these luxury villa rentals are ideal for longer stays, bigger families, or just feeling as if you're in a home away from home. The Four Seasons Residence Club Aviara has one- and two-bedroom villas available, but even standard guest rooms are of a generous size and have kitchenettes so you can keep a stocked fridge and sip a cocktail on your private balcony with panoramic views.
The surf concierge can set you up to hit the waves, and you can book a tee time or golf lesson at Aviara Golf Club, Gears Performance Lab, or Aviara Golf Academy. Other on-site options include a meal in the casually elegant Seasons Restaurant or lounging at one of the hotels' sleek pools.
Kimpton Hotel Palomar
I'm a big fan of the Kimpton Hotel Palomar because I know I can count on its high-quality guest experience and dedication to the local scene. This downtown San Diego boutique outpost is no exception, featuring signature amenities like in-room yoga mats, a hosted evening social hour, and pet-friendly accommodations along with bikes you can borrow to explore the city. Curadero, the hotel's restaurant, provides an authentic taste of Mexican street food, as well, and attracts a young, local crowd.
Their Level Four Pool Deck and Lounge lets you indulge in small bites, craft cocktails, and spectacular views from the comfort of your lounger. They'll even provide towels and sunscreen. Though the hotel is currently undergoing a $20 million renovation, the Kimpton is a great option if you're planning a trip after August 2022.
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