At Bayfront, the view rules
It’s not just the location of the Hilton San Diego Bayfront; it’s the location. And then there’s the location.
Did we mention location? It’s just a pop fly from Petco Park and the Gaslamp and East Village districts with their hot clubs, bars and eateries. It’s a short hike to Seaport Village and it’s also right next door to the Convention Center, although separated from it by a park and the hotel’s elevated entrance.
The 30-story hotel, which opened quietly in December on San Diego’s waterfront, has been flying under the radar, but as the summer heats up, travelers are sure to discover it and its whimsical touches, its dramatic views, its $2 million in artwork (inside and on the grounds) and the long, clean lines of the lobby and public areas that give it the feel of a cruise ship.
The hotel -- and especially the expansive lobby -- has a playful mix of art and design, with its hanging sculptures that are half art and half mood lighting. Large pieces made of stainless steel mesh that evoke waves dangle from the ceiling, and colored lights change the sculptures’ hues throughout the day.
I studied the dizzying array of rates on the websites before I made the reservation for a June weekend stay for my husband, Lou, and me. The best deal, TheBigbay.com package, included a buffet breakfast for two (a $49.90 value) and parking ($21 a day) for $219 (for California residents). I requested a bay view.
My upbeat mood dimmed a bit at check-in. “A bay view is $15 more, parking is $21,” the cheery front desk clerk told me. I took the $15 upgrade but pointed out that TheBigBay.com rate included parking and breakfast. Neither she nor her supervisor had heard of it. They finally found it online (after I directed them to their own website) and gave me two breakfast chits and a parking voucher.
Our room, which had two queen beds, was a mix of earth tones and neutrals with blue curtains and nautical accents, pretty standard stuff. It wasn’t huge -- 262 square feet -- and it was tight on closet and drawer space. Its high-tech touches included a 37-inch flat panel and wired and Wi-Fi Internet. The bathroom had a modern feel with stone countertops and sleek wood, and amenities were from Crabtree & Evelyn. What the bathroom lacked was what the website touted as an “extra-deep” bathtub; ours was more on the extra-small side.
But the standout view made up for any deficiencies. Our west-facing quarters showcased the bay and Coronado, Seaport Village and the USS Midway Museum floating in the distance, with the Gaslamp and Petco Park framed on the right. (East-facing rooms have city, Port of San Diego and Coronado Bridge views.)
We had lunch in a cabana by the pool grill, which overlooked the saltwater pool and spa; the lamb sliders with goat cheese and red onion marmalade and salmon bento box were good. The vanishing-edge pool was empty; families started drifting in later in the day.
Aquazul, the adjacent spa, is pleasant and understated. For $15, you can use the fitness center, changing rooms, excellent steam baths and private relaxation lounge. Spa services include massages ($65 to $180), body scrubs ($120 to $170), facials ($65 to $180) and manicures and pedicures ($50 to $60).
At the Bayfront, the view rules, and you have a choice of several inviting window-seating areas. But we ended up slaking our thirst instead at the Odysea, the airy lobby bar, where we sat outside on overstuffed chairs.
That night, the call of San Diego’s party zone was too hard to resist. The Padres were playing, and the people-watching was especially good against the amped-up vibe. We headed to the Fleetwood in the East Village, a local favorite that attracts young and old and manages to be casual yet hip. I sipped Chardonnay and Lou had draft beer while we scarfed up yummy, free cheese biscuits. We would have lingered -- drink prices were less expensive than at the Odysea -- but we had dinner plans at the Bayfront.
Vela (Latin for “sail”) is a good addition to San Diego’s dining scene. The spacious room, which seats 300 and has floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the bay, is sophisticated but not intimidating. Chef Patrick Dahms emphasizes “farm to fork” cooking using fresh local ingredients from a region “boasting over 6,000 small family farmers.”
Vela offers “Epicurean Explorations” each month, and we both chose the “Italian Odyssey,” a four-course prix-fixe menu ($36) with wine tastings ($14 more). Every course and pairing were delectable, from the Bacalao Fritter with frisee and lemon oregano vinaigrette to the Hawaiian Big Eye Tuna with summer vegetable ratatouille, olive emulsion and quail egg. I swapped the Peach Panne Cotta for a chocolate concoction called Chocolate Banana Rumba.
In the morning, we returned to Vela for breakfast but this time it was slightly less satisfying. The buffet featured the usual suspects (omelets, lox) as well as some unusual ones (local artisanal meats, yogurt parfaits). Nice, but not worth $25.
After breakfast, we walked past the hotel’s park and public art. One of our favorites was “Wind Palms,” by Ned Kahn, seven stainless steel sculptures that move with the breeze. Sharing the walkway with families and joggers, we strolled past the Coronado Ferry Landing to Seaport Village. It was a hot walk back, and sodas on the patio of the hotel’s Fox Sports Grill bar hit the spot before we went to the garage to retrieve our car.
It was deja vu all over again. I explained to the attendant that I had already paid for parking, and three heated phone calls to the front desk later, the issue was straightened out. Again.
Our Bayfront getaway started off with a minor squall and ended with another -- but TheBigbay.com voyage in between was smooth sailing, mostly. Travel hint: To ensure calm seas, take a printout showing exactly what you paid for -- and be prepared to mutiny, just in case.
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Hilton San Diego Bayfront
1 Park Blvd.
San Diego 92101
Rates: Standard doubles start at $189; discounts are offered to AAA members and seniors; there’s also a no-refund “advance purchase.” Packages include such extras as parking, meal credits and spa treatments. Self-serve parking is $21 a night; valet service is $32.