Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Hotel Solamar Is On In San Diego

There are only two kinds of places to really stay in San Diego. Somewhere with a beach or nearby the renowned Gaslamp Quarter, where some of the city's best events are held. The latter is one of my favorites to visit, with the boutique Hotel Solamar always near the top of the list, especially during the cooler seasons.

The historic 16-1/2-block section of Downtown San Diego is dotted with gems, and the hotel is one of them. Its location puts it close to everything, notably Seaport Village, two Embarcadero Marina parks, and, of course, the very best of the city's shopping, dining, entertainment, and events.

Since the neighborhood underwent urban renewal in the 1990s, the Gaslamp Quarter only seems to get better with every visit. There is almost always something new to discover, with the area boasting almost 150 restaurants, more than 100 retail shops, and about three dozen pubs and nightclubs. But much like the Victorian-themed architecture, you'll enjoy the old as much as the new.

Croce's is a must eat when in San Diego. 

As much as I like rediscovering cities and avoiding places I've been, Croce's is remarkable. And if you don't know, the story is as inspired as anything you can order there.

Shortly after Ingrid and Jim Croce moved to San Diego in 1973, they had stopped on the corner of Fifth and F  Downtown, looking for a place to eat and listen to live music. They were disappointed, joking about opening a local restaurant to revitalize an area that was better known for tattoos, the homeless, and ladies of the night. Less than a week later, Jim Croce's plane went down in Natchitoches, Louisiana.

It took some time for Ingrid to recover from the loss, but eventually she decided to open a restaurant and jazz bar to help keep Jim's memory and music alive. By chance, Croce's Restaurant & Jazz Bar opened on the same corner where the couple had joked about finding a place to eat.

The food leans toward organic gourmet. Pan-seared sea bass, seared scallops and lobster-scented risotto, free-range chicken, and pistachio dusted lamb provide a small sampling of tastes. The last time I ate there, we dined on a small balcony that overlooks the main floor. It's almost too private, but intimate.

Highlights from the Hotel Solamar In San Diego. 

There are only 235 rooms in the Hotel Solamar, making it a boutique hotel despite being owned by Kimpton. The hotel generally excels in service and, in recent years, has smartly made the move to being green, but green doesn't interfere with comfort.

While there is some wear, the rooms are designed somewhere in between contemporary and conservative, with aqua blues and chocolate browns. The overstuffed chairs and sofas carry clean lines, but the furnishings are dark mahogany. The beds are plush and the windows open.

Every morning, the hotel serves tea and organic coffee in the lobby living room (which feels like a living room). And in the evenings, the same area hosts a complimentary wine reception. Parking, on the other hand, is not. Expect to add $36 per night (although the hotel recently added a reduced rate of $18 for hybrids). It's not all that uncommon anymore. Consider it part of your room rate.

While some people say it can sometimes be noisy, the best room views likely overlook the year-round heated roof pool on the fourth floor. I don't know first hand. I've yet to stay on the fourth, fifth, or even sixth floor, facing the pool. I have been on the terrace however. The property's photo speaks for itself.

Another plus for the Kimpton hotel is the Jsix Restaurant and LOUNGEsix. Jsix is the restaurant that serves the hotel, but it is mostly known for its fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients (and what Executive Chef Christina Graves can get her team to do with them). Mostly it's an eclectic mix of pasta, seafood and meats. LOUNGEsix is much more casual, basically providing a gourmet bar menu (rosemary french fries, etc.) near the pool. Like the hotel, all of it is eco-friendly.

Hotel Solamar In San Diego Hits 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

I can't necessarily say that the Hotel Solamar is the best hotel I've ever experienced, because it doesn't always have the warmth and intimate feel that some independent boutiques capture. But that's not really a criticism. It is a comfortable place to stay, with friendly guest services and comfortable rooms (starting at $275; averaging $350).

I do, however, give them high marks for working hard to create a more eco-friendly environment inside and out. The hotel is also pet friendly, but some rooms are designated as pet free for people with allergies. When you add it all up, it's clear the Kimpton property is making big strides toward excellence.

Some of it could just be that there is an added bustle, given the hotel is close to Petco Park, the convention center, and the growing number of festivals hosted by San Diego. (The biggest are the Gaslamp Quarter Mardi Gras on Fat Tuesday and ShamROCK St. Patrick's Day celebration, both in March.) Then again, that is part of the experience; take it all in.

To visit San Diego, you can search for deals for airfares, discounted hotels, and car rentals on Fare Buzz. My last visit to San Diego was during a Thanksgiving vacation. The climate was surprisingly warm, feeling more like spring during the day. And Croce's on its own would hit 9.6. Easy.
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