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With its moderate climate and soft sand beaches with oh-so surfable waves, San Diego is a popular vacation destination for a reason. However, gone are the days when boardwalks and family-friendly attractions like the San Diego Zoo and SeaWorld were the main attractions. Many cultural institutions have received recent upgrades and artsy enclaves are flourishing, making America’s Finest City a great destination for arts and culture.
The city’s hotel landscape has also matured thanks to the renovations of beloved historic hotels and many stylish new additions, from downtown design properties to beachy retreats. Our best hotel picks are scattered through the county (San Diego County stretches from the U.S. Mexico border to San Clemente) from a genteel resort in a lush Rancho Santa Fe canyon to a buzzing downtown hotspot with multiple drinking and dining venues. Below, the best hotels in San Diego for SoCal-style indulging, which means plenty of health and wellness offerings to go along with the fabulous cocktails and cuisine.
The Best Hotels in San Diego
For The Wellness And Fitness Fanatic: Rancho Valencia
Who Will Love It: Wellness lovers and athletic types who also love to indulge
All-Star Amenities: Recently renovated spa; 14 Plexipave championship tennis courts; two heated swimming pools; secluded hacienda-style suites
What Not To Miss: A class in the water-surrounded Serenity Yoga Pavilion; dinner and drinks in The Pony Room; fresh-squeezed orange juice delivered to your doorstep each morning
There’s a change in the air the moment you pass through Rancho Valencia’s gated entrance. The air is laced with the earthy, sweet scent of eucalyptus trees (the 45-acre property was once a Eucalyptus tree farm) and the low-slung hacienda-style architecture recalls old California.
The resort’s luxurious yet understated accommodations (12 villas and 49 casitas with sunken living rooms, fireplaces and vaulted ceilings and 600-thread-count linens) are scattered throughout the property landscaped with citrus trees and olive groves, and there is plenty to keep you happy and healthy. Book a treatment at the serene spa, like an anti-aging facial or a marine mineral wrap—or arrange a challenging lesson with a tennis pro. Rancho Valencia’s tennis facilities are world-class; it regularly hosts events and tournaments like the Rafa Nadal Academy. The equestrian-themed Pony Room, which serves comforting dishes like lobster tacos and duck confit is just as popular with locals as hotel guests.
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Best In The Gaslamp: The Pendry San Diego
Who Will Love It: Travelers who believe luxury is more of an experience than a thing
All-Star Amenities: Rooftop pool; art gallery; a light-filled gym; a dog menu in Nason’s Beer Hall
What Not To Miss: The champagne vending machine in Provisional; king salmon sashimi at Lionfish; relaxing on the large white daybed by the pool
San Diego’s touristy Gaslamp Quarter hadn’t done much to draw locals and more sophisticated travelers downtown with its kitschy boutiques and oversized bars and clubs, so the Pendry San Diego was a welcome addition when it opened in 2017. The proper downtown hotel has multiple bars and restaurants including a beer hall and the sustainable seafood restaurant Lionfish, as well as an art gallery and a rooftop pool. The contemporary hotel’s design is also something to admire with its brick and plaster façade and cinematic common spaces like a black and white lobby with a chesterfield sofa and a modern fireplace. It’s the type of big city space where you will be just as happy to sip coffee at the espresso bar in the morning as tucking into Aperitivo Hour in the early evening. While there is certainly a dash of New York’s Upper East Side, California surf culture has also been incorporated in the 317 guest rooms where whimsical wallpaper features surfers, rabbits and palm trees and black and white surf photography decorates the walls. And if nightlife is still the main reason you want to stay in the Gaslamp, the Pendry has you covered with the posh Oxford Social Club which sways more speakeasy than loud nightclub.
Best In North County: Alila Marea
Who Will Love It: Surfers and scenesters who appreciate laid-back luxury
All-Star Amenities: An ocean view pool and infinity edge whirlpool; a coastal California-inspired spa; a hotel guest-only cocktail bar called The Pocket; Electra Go! Bikes; beach concierge
What Not To Miss: The daily wellness activity like a beach run or lagoon hike; surf lessons; a day relaxing at Ponto Beach
While San Diego is known for its coastline, not many of the city’s best hotels enjoy direct beach access. The new Alila Marea is one of the delightful exceptions. The hotel sits on a cliff in the laid-back surf town of Encinitas and has direct access to Ponto Beach. The hotel perfectly bridges the gap between coastal cool (a permanent collection of artwork by famed surf photographer Aaron Chang and surf-inspired lounge) and chic design hotel. An environmentally conscious property, natural materials like stone and driftwood have been used wherever possible and linens are crafted from sustainable beechwood fibers. The resort’s 130 rooms and suites invite guests to soak in the coastal scene through easy outdoor access—most have balconies or patios with fire pits and views of the Batiquitos Lagoon and the Pacific Ocean. The hotel’s VAGA restaurant is helmed by one of San Diego’s best chefs, Claudette Zepeda, whose Mexican and Asian-influenced menu perfectly complements the warm breezes and rosy sunsets that can be seen from the dining room and patio each evening.
For Gourmands: Fairmont Grand Del Mar
Who Will Love It: Those who appreciate over-the-top luxury
All-Star Amenities: Four swimming pools; golf course; equestrian center
What Not To Miss: The tasting menu at Addison; a hike to a waterfall; the spa’s free-floating bed
The 249-room Fairmont Grand Del Mar’s architecture (graceful arches, red tiles roof) is inspired by the Mediterranean and the resort captures a visit to Europe in more ways than one. The resort’s Addison restaurant is named for architect Addison Mizner who was influenced by the decorative arts of Spain, Portugal and Venice. In San Diego’s only Michelin-two-star kitchen, Chef William Bradley crafts refined cuisine using seasonal ingredients and French techniques such as sake cured kampachi and coffee-roasted canard with koshihikari rice and candied peanuts. The dramatic dining room sports Venetian plaster walls and four limestone fireplaces. But there is much more to experience than fine dining: a Tom Fazio-designed golf course, horseback riding on the property’s 400 acres and a top-notch spa where indulgent treatments like a Dead Sea salt body scrub will leave you feeling rejuvenated. The inland location (the resort is five miles from the Pacific Ocean in the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve) means there is plenty of SoCal sunshine to soak up at the four palm tree-fringed pools.
Best Renovation: Hotel del Coronado
Who Will Love It: Families and couples who appreciate history and plenty of activities
All-Star Amenities: Large guest rooms in styles ranging from coastal modern to classic; spa and salon; seven bars and restaurants
What Not To Miss: Bonfires on the beach; a cocktail on the hotel’s restored front porch; beach yoga; the raw bar at Serea
Built in the late 1800s, the Hotel del Coronado, which was featured in the Marilyn Monroe flick, ‘Some Like it Hot,’ is one of San Diego’s most iconic buildings. A nearly completed $400 million renovation and expansion that included refreshing guest rooms and public spaces means it is no longer a relic of the past. A big component of the project has been creating five distinct “neighborhoods” including the original 1888 hotel known as The Victorian, the more modern Cabanas neighborhood—where guest rooms feature nautical décor and sunburst mirrors—and the soon-to-open Shore House. The most luxurious accommodation option at the Del will have 75 luxurious seaside one-, two- and three-bedroom residences. Other upgrades include the refurbished lobby in the Victorian with intricate woodwork and a wall of green tasseled room keys, the Babcock & Story Bar where guests and visitors can sip a dirty martini at the original 50-foot-long mahogany bar and more family-friendly programming. The immersive Ocean Explorers program for kids ages 5-12, movies on the beach during the summer months, fire pits for roasting marshmallows and an oceanfront ice skating rink during the holidays are just a few reasons why everyone will have a good time at the Del.
Best Historic Preservation: The Guild Hotel
Who Will Love It: Design connoisseurs
All-Star Amenities: Urban garden and courtyard; historic ballroom for events; fitness center
What Not To Miss: A prohibition-era cocktail at the Guild Bar; rooftop garden penthouse suite if you can swing it
Open in 2019, The Guild Hotel won an Orchid Award for preserving the historic architecture of the 1920s Army-Navy YMCA in downtown San Diego. The façade’s intricate terracotta and iron detailing is something to behold. The beauty of the hotel is the way it balances the historic architecture with more modern but sumptuous interiors. Up-and-coming Swedish designer Sormeh Rienne gave the lobby a hand-torched herringbone floor, fluted burgundy reception desk and luminous bar with quartzite counters for a timeless yet modern aesthetic. In fact, it’s easy to forget you’re in San Diego in the confines of the Guild; the courtyard restaurant features black and white umbrellas and olive trees, while the guest rooms channel a Parisian pied-à-terre with floor-to-ceiling arched windows and velvet drapes. We also love the chic yet practical custom beds with built-in drawers.
Most Glamorous: La Valencia
Who Will Love It: People who love celebrity and dignitary spotting and who appreciate the Old World
All-Star Amenities: Cocktail butler; original art and mosaics; ocean view outdoor pool
What Not To Miss: A Gilded Icon cocktail at the Klein Blue outdoor bar; shopping and gallery hopping in La Jolla Village
La Jolla’s “pink palace” was a getaway for actors during Hollywood’s Golden Age, and the nearly 100-year-old hotel remains one of San Diego’s most glamorous getaways. The Spanish Revival-style building with an 11-story tiled tower and hand painted ceilings are very regal indeed. The hotel is on Prospect St. in upscale La Jolla, where affluent residents regularly cruise by in fancy sports cars. The Mediterranean Room restaurant has a new menu celebrating ingredients from land and sea such as clams and Guanciale with grilled bread and lamb sugo with pistachio and pappardelle. Patio Sol’s has an outdoor bar, communal seating and weekly live music. The Whaling Bar, which was a favorite watering whole of famed La Jolla residents like Theodor Geisel (author of Dr. Seuss) and novelist Raymond Chandler but shuttered about a decade ago is slated to make a return before the end of the year.
Most Transformational: Cal-a-Vie Health Spa
Who Will Love It: Wellness seekers who don’t want to feel deprived
All-Star Amenities: Pickleball courts; 18-hole golf course; an antique store exclusively available to guests
What Not To Miss: Mind-body awareness programs; the CBD-infused Cafe Noir Slimming Wrap
Just north of San Diego in Vista, Cal-a-Vie is a cutting edge wellness retreat, but the property’s Francophile owners would rather guests feel they’ve been transported to the South of France.
They even imported a 400-year-old chapel, parsonage and l’orangerie from Dijon, France and planted the destination spa’s 500 acres with fields of fragrant lavender, citrus groves and vineyards. Many Cal-a-Vie treatments go way beyond massages and facials. Guests can get wellness injections and try out Feldenkrais, a movement discipline that can help with pain relief. Cal-a-Vie offers three-, four- and seven-night spa vacation packages, including gourmet cuisine, fitness classes, beauty and spa treatments and accommodations in 32 private villas furnished with comfortable beds and French antiques.
Best Location and Views: InterContinental San Diego
Who Will Love It: Traditional travelers who want a one stop shop hotel in a great location
All-Star Amenities: Expert concierge services; guest rooms with daybed, walk-in showers and cushy robes and slippers
What Not To Miss: Baja blue crab at Garibaldi; plenty of pool time; a concert at the nearby Rady Shell at Jacobs Park
With the addition of more public parks, better restaurants and shopping, the San Diego Waterfront has gone from kitschy to cool in the last decade. A stay at the InterContinental San Diego puts you in the middle of the action, plus it’s walking distance to the Gaslamp, Little Italy and the recently renovated Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. The 3rd floor lobby makes it clear what the hotel’s other biggest perk is: natural light. The lobby and the signature restaurant overlook the nearby USS Midway and San Diego Bay. Guest rooms in the rectangular glass tower have floor-to-ceiling windows, modern furniture and bay views. The swimming pool and bar on the 4th floor open-air deck also has unobstructed views of the waterfront and feels like a continuation of the bay. Whether you’re dining on surf and turf at the ground floor Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse or sipping an Aperol spritz at the rooftop bar and restaurant, Garibaldi, you will feel immersed in the San Diego scene.
Most Under-The-Radar: Estancia La Jolla
Who Will Love It: Couples and travelers who like privacy, quiet and pampering
All-Star Amenities: Expansive spa with nine treatment rooms; two restaurants; pool and poolside bar
What Not To Miss: Art installations; eucalyptus steam room; meditation garden
At the end of a terracotta brick-lined private drive, Estancia La Jolla feels like a secret garden. The hacienda-style resort sits on ten lush acres across from the UCSD campus. The grounds feature babbling fountains and manicured lawns where weekly aroma flow yoga classes help you tap into the Southern California lifestyle. Everything about Estancia La Jolla is luxurious yet understated, including the slouchy striped chairs next to the saltwater pool to the Moët & Chandon bike cart. Don’t miss out on sipping champagne next to a fire pit at golden hour. Stone paths lead to 210 casually elegant garden guest rooms and suites decorated with warm colors and cozy furniture like wingback chairs. The 7,000-square-foot spa is one of San Diego’s most relaxing. Book the couples bungalow for side-by-side massages and time in an outdoor soaking tub for a romantic weekend.