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San Diego Hotels
Far from the Maddening Crowds:
Boutique Hotels in San Diego

By Mary McGrath
(All photos by Mary McGrath)

t's easy to go to the same old hotels over and over again. It's predictable, it's familiar, but is it memorable?

What if you got outside your comfort zone? What if you took a chance and tried something new? That's what I did when I went to San Diego this past weekend. I explored some of the smaller boutique properties and I came away with many memorable adventures.

My first stop was the recently renovated Lafayette Hotel, Swim Club & Bungalows. This retro chic property was erected in the 1940s, frequented by A-list celebrities when Big-Band music was king. Walking into the hotel I was taken back to another era, when things were simple, and the Internet was not a primary form of entertainment.

parasols at the ceiling of the Lafayette Hotel, Swim Club and Bungalows, San Diego

Old time parasols grace the ceiling. So cool… Movie memorabilia punctuates the walls of the hotel, and what a swimming pool! Where is Esther Williams? In seeing some of the vintage photos hanging in the hotel I was taken back in time, when my parents used to do exhibition dancing for Arthur Murray. I love that era. In fact, when there was a jazz quartet playing the standards during happy hour, I was in heaven.

jazz band performing at the Lafayette Hotel, 
          Swim Club and Bungalows

This hotel thrives on entertainment. During our stay we laughed ourselves silly at the Finest City Improv group with their wild antics. There's even a piano bar in their Red Fox Steakhouse. Catch a local theater presentation if you're in the mood. Who wants to go to bed when there is so much to do?

But it's the vibe of this hotel that I really like. It's different. It's a throwback with some modern flair. And although it's off the beaten path from downtown San Diego, the area of North Park is on the rise and becoming one of the new hotspots of the city.

And the food? Make sure you're hungry when you have breakfast because the portions are large enough to stuff a triathlete. The morning cuisine is reminiscent of my visits to New Orleans, with lots of spice and sass infused into the menu, thanks to Chef Ryan Gilbert. The lamb chop lollipops are a must on the dinner menu along with the pumpkin ravioli.

What other discoveries could be made in San Diego? We headed out to Coronado Island where we explored the El Cordova. This property has a completely different vibe from the Lafayette and is infused with a Spanish flair. Inside there is a warm earthy vibe to this place. A real plus is that you're just a few blocks from the beach.

Their on-site restaurant, Miguel's Coronado boasts an expansive patio, with the menu full of flavor and fun. The shrimp enchiladas that I enjoyed were succulent, and very filling.

shrimp enchiladas at Miguel's Coronado, El Cordova Hotel, Coronado Island

Walking the property is like visiting a small Spanish town. There're lots of shops to occupy your time. Check out their suites that are large and homey. After lunch I was tempted to lie down on one of their plush sofas to take a nap.

a suite at the the El Cordova Hotel

It was a perfect day for stroll to the ferry, and along the way I could see why Coronado Island is such a popular destination. The local boulevard is dotted with a number of restaurants and unique shops tempting you to part with your wallet.

After a 10-minute ferry ride, we headed to our third stop, the cool Keating Hotel with its progressive flair with modern amenities. This hotel is a designer's paradise. Located in the heart of the Gaslamp district, this place puts you right in the heat of all the action. Bars and restaurants are plentiful and the street scene is hopping.

The Keating dates back to 1890, with its design reflecting the iconic power of the Maserati and Ferrari brands. In exploring one of the suites, the full force of designer Pininfarina was evident in the finely appointed details of the room. In particular, their Macallan Suite is over the top, pairing the old and the new in a chic, yet functional way.

a suite at the Keating Hotel, Gaslamp District, San Diego

What's a vacation without a massage? Head north to the Hilton Gardens where you can grab a massage or any number of beauty treatments. The Serenity Spa gave me one of the better massages that I've had and I am a stickler for massages. Celeste provided the perfect combination of gentle massage, low-level conversation and reflexology.

I fell renewed and refreshed to enjoy my dinner at the Hilton, and what a dinner it was! Often the food at hotels is mediocre at best and always overpriced, but their bacon wrapped scallops were the envy of my dining companions. Both the cheesecake and the chocolate cake were a dieter's demise. Dense and delicious, both did some damage on what I hoped to be an evening of restraint.

cheesecake at the Hilton Garden

giraffe at the San Diego Zoo

There are so many things to do in San Diego. I opted for a tour of the San Diego Zoo since I hadn't visited in several years. I got there when it first opened because I know animals are livelier in the early morning. I also wanted to avoid the crowds. I loved the bus tour, and the skyway connecting you to opposite ends of the park made in this huge expansive property easier to navigate. For the kids, there are so many interactive demonstrations that are both entertaining and educational.

If you haven't been to San Diego in a while, now is it time to go. There are so many things to do. The summer crowds have dissipated which often translates into lower prices and more scenery to enjoy.

For more information:

The Lafayette Hotel San Diego
The Keating Hotel
El Cordova Hotel
Hilton Hotels in San Diego
Serenity Spa and Salon
San Diego Zoo

Related Articles:
Passport to San Diego; Bahia Resort Hotel Summer Fun, San Diego; Fall Fun at Hilton San Diego Resort and Spa; Search of the Ghost at the Del Coronado; Grand Colonial Hotel, La Jolla; London – By Way of San Diego

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I enjoy your newsletters -and particularly Patti Nickell's article about the 'Pudding Club' in the Cotswold's. An old friend of mine is taking a holiday there this year and plans to try their Jam Roly Poly and Spotted Dick - amongst many!

--- John & Maggie - UK


The way I read this article, you stayed at the "Breeze and Waves". Do you have any pictures of the cottages, and would you recommend to some first time visitors to Caramoan?

--- Richard Simons, Stockton, CA

Hi Richard,

Breeze and Waves was still under construction when I stayed there in Feb. 2010. It should be finished by now. You can see pictures of the resort on this page. We got to stay in one of the small cottages in the picture. I'll recommend it to budget travelers but you might want to look at other options. We chose it because of its location right by the beach. You can try other resorts in the Caramoan town proper (you have to get a ride to get to the beach and the jump-off point to go island-hopping but it's a relatively short distance). There are also two higher end resorts located on a cove and very near the islands: Gota Village Resort (unfortunately there is something wrong with their website right now) and its twin resort Hunongan Cove. Caramoan is a relatively new tourism development so resorts are just now being built.

You can go to this site for a good list of choices for accommodations in Caramoan.

I should add that it might be good to go to Caramoan (and almost anywhere in the Philippines) during the dry season from December to May. June to November are the typhoon months and sometimes typhoons will still come during early December.


* * * * *

Hi, I'm planning to go to Caramoan this coming May. Would you know the number of Breeze and Waves Cottages? Thanks!

--- Ann, Manila, Philippines

Hi Ann,

Breeze and Waves' phone number is 0908-2911072. Look for Freddie. Hope you have a grand time at Caramoan!



For Nature's Playground: The South Island of New Zealand

Hi Wendy,

In winter, Heritage Heights Apts. now offers free shuttle service to and from Queenstown 24/7 to guests without cars. We own a 7-passenger 4-wd Toyota Highlander used specifically to taxi guests up and down the hill during winter months. We also run advance purchase winter promotions which include a 4-wd rental.

If any of your readers head over this direction, I will enjoy extending Heritage Heights hospitality!!


--- Ailey, Owner, Queenstown, NZ

* * * * *

New Zealand text and pix top drawer! Almost as good as making the trip. ( but one still wants to. . . ) Full of useful detail. Only trouble with the website: It's tough figuring out which feedback goes with which article, and the more there are, the tougher it gets!

--- Ken W., Camarillo CA

Thanks Ken..."álmost" is right, you really have to experience the South Island firsthand. Granted this piece is long, but still all I can think about is how much I left out! I agree abut the relevancy factor re the feedback--it can be confusing...sometimes I have a "Wait a minute...what?" moment myself.

Thanks for writing,


* * * * *

Okay Wendy, from now on whenever you book your travel, please reserve space for me. I will carry your luggage, bring you cold drinks, massage your shoulders, and change the film in your camera (oops, I guess you don't have to do that anymore). Wonderful ideas and recommendations. Can you get to New Zealand from Boston in less than a week?

--- Carl A., South Easton, MA

Ha ha ha Carl, you're quite the comedian! But you'd be surprised how short that flight feels. I suspect Qantas isn't the only airline who's figured out that 3 movies, 2 full meals, lots of snacks and a complimentary travel pack (eye mask, warm socks and neck pillow) equals a quiet, well-behaved cabin. It really isn't bad. Just fly direct--pick the shortest flight w/ no lengthy layovers and you'll be fine. Re: signing on as my Super Sherpa...why not? I think you know I seldom travel in anything less than Party mode. There's just that pesky background check...

Thanks for writing,


For Excellence Riviera Cancun:

Wendy, I truly enjoyed your info especially since we leave in a week to celebrate my 50th Birthday. Was it necessary to make reservations at the restaurants? Was there a dress code for the restaurants? What would you recommend not missing while there? Was the spa experience worth it? Did you travel away from the resort while there? Thanks,

--- Kim P. Fuquay, Varina, NC

Hi Kim.

Sorry for the delay in had heavy competition with the holidays. Reservations at Excellence restaurants are not necessary and you will not find a wait. The dress code is basically no bathing suits and flip-flops...with a decided a mix of atmospheres. Mostly the open-air beachside spots are super casual, the rest slightly more formal. Truly, as long as you are clothed, I don't think you'd be turned away anywhere, though most people seemed to enjoy dressing up at night...I suspect more for their own pleasure than any sense of decorum.

The spa experience was worth it, though my favorite part wasn't the actual massage. The precursor was a 45 min. or so rotation from sauna to a series of (kind of wild) water jets which was very different and very cool, not just for women. In its' entirety, and with the serenity of the beach/champagne/strawberries, it was memorable.

We did not travel away from the hotel this trip, but the hotel is very helpful in arranging day excursions to fit your desires and you do not have to book these until you arrive.

Have a great time!

--- Wendy


I enjoyed Nino's contribution, since we all read about the frightening terrorist attack. Having travelled somewhat through India years ago, I am continually impressed with this country and the gentle spiritual aspects of this nation. Some day I look forward to going back. Nino has encouraged me. Thank you!

--- Yoka Y., Westlake Village, CA


Dear Mr.s/counselors Brown and Koro,

Thank you for a very informed and succinct article on motorcycle accidents and the law. It inspired me to think about getting a motorcycle, but not have an accident. But, if I do I am now well informed with the basics of what to do providing I do not perish in the accident. Any tips about that too?

--- Unnamed

Dear Rush and Chuck,

I wish I had read your article before our camping trip the Friday prior to President's Day.

My wife and I were in a car accident on our way to a camp ground. We were "rear-ended" and the impact caused our car to crash into the car in front of us. The contents of the truck that we were riding scattered onto several lanes. It's a miracle our two dogs decided to stay inside the car. My wife and I were shaken up badly but despite the mess, I was still able to walk out of the car. I got the license plate of the driver in front of me but, to my surprise, after reviewing the little damage on his car, he then sped off. I didn't know you could do that! The driver who hit me from behind gave me his information and then he too left the scene without saying good 'bye. When the police arrived all I had to go by was the little information I had jotted down which I hope was truthful. What if it was bogus? What if I had written the plate number incorrectly? How would that affect my insurance? What if we were unconscious, who would have written down all that information?

I do have one suggestion if you are injured in an accident. The police asked if my wife wanted an ambulance to bring her to the hospital but we declined the offer. I remembered when I rode an ambulance years ago that it was not a comfortable ride. I was strapped to the stretcher and there were all sorts of medical equipment dangling noisily above me. As long as you are able, it is a more relaxful ride inside a car. Besides, isn't there a fee for ambulance service?

--- Dave S. of Pasadena, CA

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