San Diego's historic Gaslamp Quarter, once home to gambling halls, saloons and bordellos, can still kick up its heels. Packed with cocktail lounges, restaurants and pulsating nightclubs, it's a virtual playpen for partying. Best of all, it's self-contained, and you can easily hopscotch from drinks to dinner to a nightclub. Plus, there's a revolving door of fresh venues replacing ones that have fallen out of fashion. There are plenty of other activities as well: Padres games at Petco Park, Seaport Village, the bay and waterfront parks, and the ferry to Coronado are just a short walk. (There are homeless as well as partiers; the Gaslamp is very much an urban core.) The tab: My husband and I spent $179 for one night at the Hotel Z and about $120 for dinner and drinks.
The Hotel Z (521 6th Ave.;  688-0889, www.hotelzsandiego.com) is a bright, new boutique hotel in the heart of the Gaslamp. Part of the Pineapple Hospitality Group, Hotel Z uses the tropical fruit in its omnipresent logo and in items such as its welcome hour pineapple cupcakes and rack of complimentary yellow "pineapple cruisers" you can borrow for a spin. Everyone from the front-desk clerk to the bellman was exceptionally friendly. Guestrooms are modern (with pops of yellow, natch), with free Wi-Fi, 40-inch flat-screen TV and bedroom slippers you can take home. The hotel has a unique take on bedding: "The Naked Experience," which features individual duvets that are snuggly and soft. You'll appreciate yours as you lie in bed and whimper about the $35 daily valet parking fee.
There are lots of choices in the Gaslamp, but when my husband mentioned Pushkin, a new restaurant (750 6th Ave.;  496-1908, pushkinrestaurantsd.com), I could have done a Russian dance. Russian cuisine in San Diego is a rare treat, and I quickly said da to a bowl of beet borscht and pumpernickel bread. We ordered enough food for a dozen hungry Russkies, including blinis with smoked salmon and cream cheese, a grilled Armenian salad, mashed potatoes and a pair of entrees: chicken Kiev and chicken shashlik. Too stuffed, we had to say nyet to dessert.
The Gaslamp takes its reputation seriously as a party town. Choosing which hot and trendy bars to sample was a tough job, but I was glad to do it. Two that stood out: The tastiest cocktail was at Blush Ice Bar + East-West Kitchen (555 Market St.;  501-9158, sandiego.blushicebar.com), whichspecializes in "blushies." You choose a spirit (vodka, rum, etc.) and add flavored, crushed ice and fruit purée: Voilà, a fortified slushie! My husband chose banana rum, lemon-lime ice and mixed berries; I had the house Vanilla Sky, which was like a piña colada. The jam-packed open-air lounge at Rustic Root (535 5th Ave.;  232-1747, rusticroot.com) features strong drinks (the Manhattan craft cocktail shot was small but mighty), lamp-post lighting and animal-shaped topiary, and overlooks the action on 5th Avenue.
The lesson learned
Everything old is new again. Horton Plaza Park (www.hortonplazapark.com), at the tip of the shopping mall that many credit with launching downtown's redevelopment in the 1980s, reopened in May after a massive makeover. The 1.9-acre park at 4th Avenue and Broadway kept its iconic fountain and built an additional interactive fountain, along with an amphitheater, three food kiosks with patios, and more. It's a nice oasis in a crowded urban setting.