AOL PICK from our Editors
The best San Diego hotels are spread all over town. History reigns in Coronado and La Jolla, while most of the hip, sexy boutique inns are in Downtown. Beach resorts run the gamut from multi-acre spreads to unique mom-and-pop hotels with a true SoCal vibe. Even casual places can run $400+ per night, depending upon the location and amenities, while rooms under $100 per night are scarce even at the budget chains. The least-expensive hotels in all genres are clustered in Mission Valley amid an unsightly freeway maze similar to those around all major cities. La Jolla and Coronado are excellent bases if you're into scenic gentility and pricey boutiques. Downtown has everything from Hooters to classy jazz clubs and has by far the best San Diego hotels if you're into partying or experiencing the city's urbane vibe. The San Diego Convention Center is here as well, so the most popular clubs and restaurants are packed with a mix of young sophisticates and conventioneers letting loose after hours. If you're looking for sand and surf, you'll be happiest at Mission Bay, while families have plenty of lawns and calm water for all sorts of playtime fun. Cabs are costly and distances great between San Diego's attractions; it's important to choose a location that fits your style and needs.
Neighborhood: Coronado Price Range: Expensive
The oldest (completed in 1888) Pacific Coast resort from Alaska to Acapulco, the renowned, celebrated and venerated Hotel del Coronado is the place to live out your aristocratic fantasies. Architects James and Merritt Reid designed this Queen Anne castle, working with a generous amount of flexibility and hundreds of thousands of feet of redwood, fir, cedar, hemlock, pine and oak shipped in to build the largest all-wood structure in the country. The hotel initially had 399 guestrooms and 75 bathrooms (the largest number of indoor toilets anywhere in the country at that time). Today, each of the 381 rooms in the original building has a private bath, and the configurations formed by these additions make for some strangely-shaped rooms. Still, we're enchanted by the pricey suites with rocking chairs on their porches overlooking the resort's lawns and beach. You do feel like you're on display, however, as tourists wandering the grounds point their cameras your way. There are also 293 rooms in the more modern tower with ocean and bay views, and a new cluster of dreamy cottages and villas right by the sand. You needn't stay here to tour the regal lobby, a handsome room of polished dark Illinois oak and Honduran mahogany that feels like the inside of an English millionaire’s country estate. Peek into the majestic Crown Room (L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz, designed the room’s original crown chandeliers), wander around the lawns and watch the surf from a bench on the beachfront path. The Hotel Del Coronado is one of the best San Diego hotels for a royal stay complete with relaxation, luxury and breathtaking views. The hotel has several restaurants and bars (we like tasting fine wines, rare cheeses and gourmet chocolate at ENO) and a luxurious spa.
Neighborhood: La Jolla Price Range: Expensive
Beauty, elegance, and charm reign inside the pink stucco walls of "La V," the queen of La Jolla's downtown village. Stunning views of La Jolla Cove and the ocean act as backdrops for weddings and society gatherings in the richly appointed La Sala by the lobby; many of the 100-plus original guest rooms and 15 villas (each boasting a whirlpool tub, king-size bed and personalized butler service) take in the sea views, as well. This top San Diego hotel’s exclusive Sky Room, with just a dozen or so tables and a small bar, is one of the most elegant restaurants in San Diego. Local nabobs hold forth over steaks and martinis at the sidewalk level Whaling Bar, while casually coiffed ladies lunch in the Mediterranean Room's rosy glow. Muster your most sophisticated 'tude and take a stroll around the public spaces for a glimpse of San Diego's more gracious side. La Valencia is one of the best places to stay in San Diego for the perfect blend of location and recreation.
Neighborhood: Mission Bay Price Range: Expensive
It doesn't take much to feel special when you're ensconced in this seemingly secret hideaway with its casual bungalows set along winding roads on a 44-acre island in Mission Bay. Paradise Point is one of the top San Diego hotels, and the only Southern California luxury tropical island resort. Hollywood producer Jack Skirball, who owned the resort hotel in the 1960s, created a tropical South Seas set with lily ponds, waterfalls and abundant trees and fragrant flowers. A 2010 refurbishment modernized and revitalized the interior design with sleek teak furnishings and Javanese textiles while taking full advantage of the unbeatable natural canvas. The 18-hole putting course, Asian-inspired spa, award-winning restaurants, private marina, freshwater lake and sandy beaches provide plenty of diversions for all ages, and locals are extremely fond of the bands at the Barefoot Bar. Romance is assured beside fireplaces in the bayside suites.
Neighborhood: East Village Price Range: Moderate
Got a pampered pooch in your entourage? Hotel Indigo, San Diego's first LEED certified hotel, is so green it's even got a rooftop lawn that serves many purposes (doggie bags included) during canine cocktail parties. The ninth-floor Phi Terrace (with reflection pool, fire pits, lounge seating and grass) and some suites have spot-on views of the Padres' baseball games at Petco Park; other rooms take in the East Village's ever-changing skyline. The room decor is comfy and airy, with hard surface floors (the better for pets), plush beds, sensible desks and coffeemakers, but no minibars. The limited room service and Phi Bar and Bistro menus cover the salad and burger basics; stock up on wine and munchies at Downtown shops. We love the lobby's water wall, airy seating arrangements, free access to computers in comfy workstations and resident pooches who welcome abundant affection.
Neighborhood: Pacific Beach Price Range: Moderate
You can't sleep any closer to the sea than in these Cape Cod-style cottages on the Crystal Pier boardwalk, where the surf literally rocks you to sleep as it pounds the pier’s pilings. Pink geraniums grow in window boxes under blue shutters in the 23 cozy cottages with kitchenettes, bedrooms with queen beds covered in patchwork quilts, living rooms with TVs, futon couches, and wicker chairs and patios looking almost straight down at the waves. Some folks have a hard time sleeping when the sea is rough, but we adore the rock 'n' roll feeling and the sound of crashing waves. Restaurants and bars abound on the adjacent boardwalk and streets. There's a two-night minimum stay and reservations are hard to get in summer at this top San Diego hotel.
Neighborhood: La Jolla Price Range: Moderate
It’s a miracle this 1950s-style motel hasn’t been replaced by a $500-a-night penthouse palace. It’s literally across the street from the cove and has 154 rooms and suites furnished in a mishmash of colors and styles in several squat cement buildings. La Jolla Cove is one of the best places to stay if you’re into sleeping to the sound of pounding surf and don’t mind the less-than-palatial atmosphere. There’s a wide range of prices and amenities, from wood-shingled condos to small studios. The oceanfront rooms on the top floors are the most expensive and desirable. All suites have kitchen facilities. The long, narrow pool, sundeck and putting green sit on a strip of cement between the condos and hotel. A good-size, clean-looking launderette is available for guests. There’s no restaurant, but a continental breakfast is served on the rooftop terrace and in the fifth-floor entertainment center every morning. Book early for summer stays.
Neighborhood: Downtown Price Range: Moderate
The Sofia Hotel is, in a word, charming. The historical brick building houses 211 modern rooms offering fine linens and comfortable armchairs, ergonomic workstations, high-speed Internet and Sharper Image Universal Docking stations. Electronic in-room laptop safes will keep your belongings secure, and the in-room refreshment center with mini-fridge and microwave will allow you to say yes to taking leftovers home from any culinary excursions. Those leftovers could even come from the Currant Brasserie, next to the hotel’s lobby. With its black-and-white checkered tiles, sparkling chandeliers and antique seating, you will feel like you’ve stepped directly into a Parisian cafe, the perfect setting for Chef Walter Manikowski’s approach to farm-to-table southern California cuisine prepared with classic French technique. You could even take a doggie bag home to your pooch—the Sofia not only invites you to bring your pet, they have a partnership with local company Dogs and the City to provide doggie day camp, grooming and in-room pet sitting. Should you feel the need to get your fitness on, The Sofia offers a 24-hour yoga studio with an on-call yoga instructor and a 24-hour health center with an on-call personal trainer.
Neighborhood: Little Italy Price Range: Budget
Hailed as one of the best budget hotels in San Diego, La Pensione is located on the edge of Downtown in Little Italy. The 75 guest rooms all have one queen bed (max two guests per room), private baths and refrigerators. The underground parking lot is a big plus, as is the coin-operated laundry. The hotel is within walking distance of the trolley, Amtrak train station, Little Italy and the Embarcadero. Enjoy this top San Diego hotel's Cafe Italia which offers imported Italian coffee, cappuccino and espresso, while Vincenzo Ristorante serves up Italian pastas, seafood and paella.
Neighborhood: Point Loma Price Range: Budget
Affiliated with Hostelling International, this well-tended, colorfully decorated hostel has 52 beds in private rooms, as well as the traditional separate-sex dorms with bunk beds; all have shared baths. The vibe is friendly here, and guests tend to feel like they've discovered a perfect hangout in a pleasant residential neighborhood. Guests have use of a full kitchen, large courtyard and TV room, and low-cost Internet access is available. A grocery store, beautiful public library (our favorite branch library) and laundromat are located nearby, and Ocean Beach is a 30-minute walk or 10-minute bus ride west. The amiable manager plans nightly events like bonfires and movie night.
Neighborhood: Downtown Price Range: Budget
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With its inexpensive rates, comfortable accommodations and Downtown location, the 500 West Hotel is a rare find. You can share a room or have your own, and the bathrooms are “private shared,” assigned to a reservation but not attached to the room. Five types of lodging include single occupancy rooms and dorms where you can reserve a single bunk or you can reserve the entire room for your own group. The hotel also offers a common room, stocked gourmet kitchen, WiFi and coin-operated laundry facilities. 500 West is a hotel with options and definitely one of the best places to stay in San Diego if you're traveling with friends for say, Spring Break, since you can reserve an entire dorm at affordable rates at a great location. There's a YMCA-managed fitness center where, for $5 a day, you can access traditional gym equipment, indoor track and basketball facilities, yoga classes, and a whirlpool spa.