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Solamar helps banish the San Diego hotel blahs

Solamar helps banish the San Diego hotel blahs
In the lobby of San Diego’s Hotel Solamar, the lounge is a good place to gather with friends, play chess or read. (Craig Nakano / LAT)
From my room on the 10th floor of San Diego's Hotel Solamar, I couldn't quite see the Pacific. But I could still sense the tide beginning to change.

San Diego hotels long have been — much like the city itself — perfectly pleasant but unexciting. But downtown's continuing transformation into an authentic metropolitan core has brought new lodgings with an urbane sophistication and uncorporate personality. The latest addition is the 235-room Solamar, a first foray into Southern California by Kimpton, arguably the foremost boutique hotel chain in the U.S.

Bunking down: What my room lacked in luxury it compensated for with irreverence. Walls? Sheathed in cream-colored stitched faux-leather panels. Headboard? Wrapped in a swirl of natural fiber. Lounge chair, desk, DVD player — all were there, along with a dose of whimsy. One misstep: a sand-filled wall hanging that looked like a "Trading Spaces" art project gone wrong. The small bathroom achieved "beachy" more successfully, with a backlighted mirror set against ocean-hued glass tiles.

Hanging around: The ground-floor restaurant and bar, Jsix, buzzed with a young crowd at night. But my favorite spot was the rooftop pool and bar, a playful maze of chaises, cabanas, fire pits and cozy alcoves. Lunch fare, served poolside, was good. And reasonably priced: $9 for my chicken sandwich and fries.

Going out: The hotel sits on the fringe of the Gaslamp Quarter in a quasi-bohemian neighborhood that locals unfortunately call the East Village. Manhattan this is not, but the hotel is within walking distance of a fair number of attractions, including Petco Park, Horton Plaza, galleries, shops and the boisterous bars and restaurants of the Gaslamp Quarter.

Perks & peeves: The interiors of this newly built hotel were done by a W Hotel designer, so the Solamar comes off as a riff on that other urban-chic chain. But the décor successfully creates a sense of escape. Just three weeks after its opening in April, service was stellar. Special Web rates ($169 a night) can make Solamar a respectable value.

That value diminishes when you pull up to the valet-only parking that costs $24 a day. The bed was passable, but it hardly inspired sleeping in. At times, the ventilation system sounded like a hair dryer. And though artful, the tiny bathroom sink and elongated faucet made washing my face an exercise in not chipping a tooth. Less form, more function, please.

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Hotel Solamar is at 435 6th Ave., San Diego; (877) 230-0300 or (619) 531-8740; http://www.hotelsolamar.com . Doubles start at $249, going up to $550 for suites. "Hot Dates" available online are $169.

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