San Diego has a wealth of exceptional hotels, the vast majority of them located in the downtown area, but you'll find inviting places to stay, many with a sizable LGBT following, throughout the city and surrounding area, including the beach neighborhoods and on up to luxurious, coastal La Jolla. There are also a handful of smaller properties located in or near Hillcrest, which is at the heart of San Diego's LGBT community (and the home of most of the city's many gay bars). From downtown, it's only a 10- to 20-minute cab or car ride to Hillcrest, however.
Here's an alphabetical list of some of the best gay-friendly hotels and B&Bs in San Diego.
One of the nation's most grandest and most recognizable historic hotels, "The Del" (as the Hotel del Coronado is affectionately known) (1500 Ocean Ave., 800-468-3533) sits along the beach on Coronado Island, which is actually a peninsula across the bay - and a soaring bridge - from downtown San Diego. One of the nation's largest wooden buildings, the hotel was opened in 1888 and has hosted countless dignitaries over the years, from early movie stars like Rudolph Valentino and Ramon Navarro to several U.S. presidents.
For several reasons, the del Coronado has developed a loyal following among gay travelers, its fascinating history contributing to this. Stars like Navarro, who was gay, and Valentino, who has sometimes been rumored to have been, are no doubt part of the allure. So is the fact that the brilliant Billy Wilder farce, Some Like It Hot, which featured Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis playing "drag" in an effort to elude Chicago gangsters, was filmed at the hotel. Additionally, Wizard of Oz author Frank Baum wrote much of that book, which inspired the iconic musical, while staying at the hotel - it's said that he even based elements of the Emerald City on the hotel's lavish and lush aesthetic. Beyond all that, the hotel's prominent red turret, its claim to having been the first hotel ever to be lighted electrically, its wedding-cake design, and red-shingle roof make it irresistibly fabulous.
Like many grand old hotels, the property has seen great times as well as challenging periods. Having received a massive makeover in recent years, the National Historic Landmark hotel looks more dashing than ever, inside and out, its nearly 700 rooms plus another 78 more recently built luxury cottages and villas, the latter known as the Beach Village at the Del, containing high-end furnishings. Traditionalists usually favor the historic part of the building, done in a Victorian scheme. Other might prefer the larger, breezier, and lighter rooms that were added later and have a modern, resort look.
There's much to see and do at the hotel, whether or not you're a guest, from treatments at Spa at the Del to shopping the property's tony boutiques to dining at the several fine notable restaurants. The legendary event for foodies is Sunday brunch at the Crown Room, a lavish (if pricey) spread with seven stations serving up a pretty amazing variety of foods.
San Diego's lodging landscape continues to change for the better, with several cool hotels having opened in recent years. One of the most intriguing - and gay-friendly - is Hotel Palomar San Diego (1047 5th Ave., 619-515-3000 or 888-288-6601), a glimmering, angular glass beauty that opened early in 2009 as the Se San Diego but is now operated as part of the gay-popular Kimpton Hotel group. The property has dazzled visitors from day one with not only its sleek and comfy rooms but also a fantastic spa, a chic restaurant called Saltbox, and an exclusive rooftop pool lounge, SummerSalt that's become a favorite evening haunt of local scene-makers.
I've stayed at this property both when it was the Se and again more recently after it became the Palomar, and what struck me most was the service, which was stellar. This isn't always the case with trendy, high-end hotels, where competence and friendliness are sometimes overlooked. The management here is working hard to create an inviting vibe, and hire a staff that's detailed-oriented, cheerful, and smart.
The contemporary hotel has a striking, post-industrial facade that provides a fun counterpoint to the Gaslamp Quarter's generally historic buildings (it's more unlike the architecture just a few blocks away in San Diego's fast-growing East Village). Inside, however (you enter by pushing through an amusingly enormous but surprisingly light wooden door), you'll find a seductively dark and tranquil lobby designed with one-of-a-kind furnishings and collectibles from all over the world (emphasis Asia).
The hotel contains 211 beautifully furnished guest rooms, including 50 units in the swank contemporary-surf-inspired Skyline Collection portion of the property (on the 16th through 20th floors). The lobby leads to a bi-level bar and restaurant, Saltbox, noted for farm-to-table cuisine and a menu of expertly prepared old-school cocktails, as well as creative mix of nibbles and light fare available to nosh on while you schmooze by the sexy pool and SummerSalt Lounge.
The hotel's most remarkable feature may very well be Nature's Spa by Jurlique, a warmly decorated facility where personalized service and space are emphasized. Guests are welcomed in an airy relaxation room with a welcome cocktail (my kinda spa), and there's no common locker or changing space here. Instead, treatment rooms have their own showers, where guests are welcome to linger and soak for a bit following their massage, body wrap, facial, or any of the other deftly performed services. It's an especially appealing spa if you like your privacy, or you're a little new at spa-going.
Formerly known as the Park Manor Suites, the Inn at the Park (525 Spruce St., 619-296-0057), has been popular with gay and lesbian guests for years. The striking early 1920s building rises seven stories above lower Hillcrest, close to Bankers Hill, and affords expansive views of Balboa Park, just steps away - in fact, the many park museums and cultural attractions are within a 20-minute walk. The hotel contains 82 spacious rooms and suites with fully equipped kitchens; there's also a guest laundry on-site. The extra space and kitchens make this a great option for longer stays, and proximity to Hillcrest's lively gay bars and restaurants is another big draw. Current management has steadily modernized the vintage rooms, but they still have plenty of character, and rates here are well below what you'll pay for a similarly sized room and amenities in downtown San Diego. There used to be a bar on the top level with a strong following in the LGBT community, but this is no longer in operation. Fortunately, there are plenty of gay bars nearby.