WANT TO SIP Tazo tea on a sunny terrace after a poolside foot massage? Discuss a business proposal in a private cabaña? Perhaps your idea of heaven on earth is nursing a brew while relishing a view of Petco Park from a rooftop bar.
Savvy business and leisure travelers want more than a bed to lay their heads on—they want an experience that enlivens the senses while meeting comfort and business needs.
Personalized service and a sense of place are the hallmarks of successful boutique hotels, a mushrooming trend in the hospitality industry. And they’re not just for weary travelers. Locals find them a chi-chi place to see and be seen.
Whether the ambience is urban chic or historic and elegant, downtown’s hippest hotels fill the bill with distinctive décor, luxurious amenities and staff trained to make wishes come true.
The U.S. Grant
At the first grand opening of the U.S. Grant in 1910, guests paid the pricy admission of $5 to dine on caviar, dance to Angelotti’s Hungarian Orchestra in the Grand Ballroom and marvel at the white marble staircase imported from Italy. After its recent $52 million renovation, the grandeur of the Grant has surpassed its former glory, with a Grand Lobby brightened by glittering crystal chandeliers, marble floors and plush wool carpets. More than a dozen U.S. presidents have stayed at the hotel, which has an exclusive ranking on the United States National Register of Historic Sites and the National Trust of Historic Hotels.
There are 270 rooms, with 47 suites, all boasting 9-foot ceilings, Italian linens, gilded mirrors and signature black bathrobes. One-of-a-kind works by French artist Yves Clement decorate the headboards of each guestroom. Some suites have marble Jacuzzi tubs and flat-screen televisions that disappear into wood cabinets with the flick of a remote switch.
There’s a pair of bilevel Presidential Suites with winding staircases, king-size beds and an elegant dining area with six chairs and a pantry. A long outdoor balcony connects the rooms and offers views of the ocean and, below, a trio of circular flower gardens.
The Technology Suite is known for its abalone shell–tiled bathroom, with an infinity tub that continually reheats overflow water so your bath never gets cold.
Guests expect to be treated like royalty, and the concierge desk is happy to oblige. One staffer recalls getting a tuxedo made for a guest at the spur of the moment; recently, he arranged for a babysitter to stay with a pet Yorkshire terrier while a couple went to dinner.
326 Broadway, 619-232-3121; usgrant.net
$299 to $3,500
The word is that Justin Timberlake stayed at the Solamar when he launched his world tour here. It makes sense. The urban chic hotel is located right across from Stingaree, one of the Gaslamp’s sexiest nightclubs.
A roaring fireplace and a hanging wrought-iron stand that supports a dozen flickering white candles give the Living Room lobby a warm glow. Artsy touches, such as the three large porcelain parrots near the elevators, provide visual interest. There are 235 rooms decorated with ice-cream shades of chocolate, mint and strawberry, and the signature robes are leopard and zebra prints. Windows, behind polka-dotted sheer curtains, open up to let fresh air in. Pets are greeted with snacks and a water bowl.
The Choreographer Suite is flanked by two bedrooms that can accommodate up to five people. The suite is equipped with a plasma TV, extra bathroom, a dining area and a deck directly across from Jbar, the rooftop lounge that offers cabaña seating, fire pits and a lap pool.
Jsix, the on-site restaurant, has a great reputation for California coastal cuisine.
Staff is eager to go the extra mile. A concierge once ran out and bought a suit at Nordstrom, complete with shirt and tie, for a guest who suddenly found he had nothing to wear.
435 Sixth Avenue, 619-531-8740; hotelsolamar.com $229 to $450;
Choreographer Suite $700 to $1,500 and up
Baseball fans and candy addicts will delight in the Gaslamp Marriott, within easy walking distance of Petco Park. Guests can dip into big glass bowls filled with Tootsie Roll Pops, Hershey’s kisses, Necco candies and sour sticks at the reception and concierge desk.
Just inside the expansive lobby, a large round table supports five vases of different sizes and heights, spilling over with orchids, protea and bird-of-paradise. An arched wood ceiling, marble floors and rows of glass tile set within the walls complement the floral arrangements in shades of orange, yellow, blue and lavender.
The Marriott is a major chain, but this location has distinct advantages. There are 306 rooms, and one of the largest, the Petco Suite, offers more than 700 square feet on the 21st floor, along with a direct view of the Padres’ home plate. Dizzy’s, a notable jazz club, is right around the corner.
The hotel is home to the Soleil@K restaurant and the Altitude Sky Bar & Garden Lounge, a popular nightspot on the 22nd floor. Heat lamps, a fire pit and a large water wall tinted by lights that dance to the music helped to score a listing in the Condé Nast Traveler Hot List last year.
The concierge has been known to enhance romance for guests by arranging rose petals in the shape of a heart on the bed.
660 K Street, 619-696-0234; sandiegogaslamphotel.com
$239 to $1,500
The Sofia Hotel
Once it was billed as “A Room and a Bath for Two and a Half.” That was back in 1927, when the Sophia was the Pickwick Hotel, known for having the most modern accommodations in the city. In 1936, Art Linkletter became the station manager of KGB radio, and his broadcast studio and offices took up the first two floors.
Eighty years later, as part of the downtown revitalization, the Pickwick Partners invested $16 million in renovations and reopened as The Sofia Hotel. The outside gothic architecture has been retained, but inside, everything is new. The hotel nearly sold out when it reopened in January—and with its reasonably priced guestrooms and ideal location, it’s no wonder.
In the lobby, there’s a blazing fireplace and groupings of couches and chairs in classic earth-tone fabrics. Leaf motifs decorate the shades of low-lit lamps, and capiz-shell window panels diffuse the light from outside.
The Sofia is a nonsmoking building with 212 rooms that feature 20-inch flat-screen televisions, white down comforters and modern bathrooms that retain a retro look, with vintage faucets and deep white porcelain bowl sinks.
The hotel provides in-room massages and high-speed Internet access, and there is a 10-mat yoga studio on site. An American Brasserie, the signature restaurant, is due to open this spring.
The friendly staff looks spiffy in custom uniforms and are committed to going above and beyond the call of duty. A member of the bell staff once ran out to buy chicken soup and served it to a guest who came down with the flu.
150 West Broadway, 800-826-0009; thesofiahotel.com
$160 to $450
Built in 2002, the W Hotel is a jaw-dropping combination of contemporary and classic design. Inside the lobby, double rows of 16 high-backed wicker chairs flank low tables topped with oversize chess and tic-tac-toe games. Roomy suede bench seats against street-level windows provide an ideal setting for social intercourse. Above the bar against the back wall, a giant screen reflects shimmering images of sunsets and sunrises that match the time of day. A milky glass wall embedded with seashells looms above a marble reception desk decorated with sprays of white orchids.
Many locals became familiar with the W Hotel because of Beach, a trendy rooftop bar known for its heated white-sand floor that makes visitors want to take off their shoes and wiggle their toes. Some stop in just for the treatments at the Away Spa, which offers massages, facials and the new Metro Man line of services. Morning workouts can be accomplished at Sweat, the fitness center; Rice, a casual, chic restaurant adjoining the hotel, serves global cuisine. The hotel devotes 5,000 square feet to business space.
There are 261 guestrooms, but when it comes to room 1910, the “W” refers to the 1,200-square-foot Extreme Wow Suite. The living area features bamboo floors, white leather couches and a plasma TV with Bose surround-sound. There’s a separate business suite equipped with a computer, printer and leather chaise lounge. Look up to see the monochromatic blue print of a naked swimmer on the ceiling.
In the bedroom, floor-to-ceiling windows provide the backdrop for the king-size bed, piled high with white linens and surrounded by an organza curtain that falls from a circular ceiling track. The Wow appeal skyrockets in the bathroom, with a Jacuzzi tub for two and a custom spout built into the ceiling that pours a single stream of splash-free water into the tub.
An example of the hotel’s “Whatever, whenever” service policy: A guest who was smitten with a young woman approached the concierge desk. The man asked the concierge to go out and buy the lady whatever she wanted. She wanted a silver TAG Heuer watch, so the concierge grabbed a cab, raced to a jewelry store, bought the watch and delivered it in 30 minutes.
421 West B Street, 619-398-3100; starwoodhotels.com
$279 to $3,000
The $85 million hotel The Ivy is scheduled to open its 159 guestrooms in mid-May. Powerstrip Studio, a team of former Hollywood set designers, has designed the rooms, with amenities that include private butler service. The Envy nightclub will have four levels, and the Eden rooftop bar will include a pool, sundeck and lounge.
845 Sixth Avenue, 619-814-1000; ivyhotel.com
$450 to $3,000 per night
THE HARD ROCK HOTEL
The motto here: “Status quo? Hell, no.” Guests will be treated like rock stars in 420 rooms that are actually individually owned condominiums, set to open in the fall. There are 17 rock star suites, some equipped with bars, pianos, even electric guitars. There will be a Sky Deck on the fourth floor, a Rock Spa, health club and an outdoor pool.
207 Fifth Avenue, 619-702-3000; hardrockhotelsd.com
$250 to $3,000