The Local's Guide to San Diego Hotels from Del Mar to Legoland!
San Diego's "North County", as locals call it, runs from Del Mar to Oceanside. The old historic Highway 101 runs through these beach towns, many of which retain that small coastal town feel - surfers dragging their boards to the beach on bikes, mom and pop restaurants, hot rods and woodies, you almost expect to see Gidget and Moondoggy at any moment.
Legoland, the curse of every parent with a kid under 10, is located in Carlsbad, which is also the home of the Flower Fields, a glorious show of color every Spring. North of Carlsbad is Oceanside, the home of the Marine Base. Oceanside is still a bit rough around the edges, though a walk on the long pier at sunset might be worth the trip alone.
South of Carlsbad are some of the quintessential Southern California beach towns....Encinitas with its wonderful little downtown and local beaches, Cardiff and Solana Beach, both examples of how good life at the beach can be, and Del Mar, once the hideaway for the Hollywood elite and still attracting the rich and famous.
Staying in North County is best for those looking for a beach-centric vacation. Just be aware that the trip to downtown and the main San Diego attractions will be a battle in rush hour, a 45 minute drive in stop and go traffic, but not a bad trade off for a beach location.
It's unlike any other hotel in San Diego county. The Park Hyatt Aviara, formerly The Four Seasons Resort, caters to the well to do, the rich and famous, the Legoland bound traveler who can appreciate afternoon tea and caviar appetizers as much as plastic interlocking blocks. Pull up to the valet and you can't help but stare at the sleek and sexy cars parked near the door, the status symbols of the other guests - Porsches, of course, but Ferrari's, Lamborghini's, it's like an exotic car show. Oh why did you have to rent that Chevy Malibu?
Step inside and you will see why the Park Hyatt Resort Aviara has won so many awards, including the 2009 AAA Five Diamond Award. The tasteful marble lobby opens up to a large foyer with a stunning view of the Pacific. First class restaurants right on the premise - don't miss the seafood buffet at the California Bistro on Friday nights, featuring all you can eat Maine lobster, Alaskan king crab, smoked prime rib, the works, all done up in five star style. Guest rooms are what you would expect in a resort of this caliber with sliding french doors, spa-like baths, this is so much better than home. Everything is picture perfect, from the 42" plasma TVs to the inspiring views of the lagoon and beyond.
The resort itself sits high on a bluff and while it boasts ocean views the beach is a couple of miles away. The Aviara golf course on the other hand is right there and is one of San Diego's best, a pristine ocean view course with fairways and greens so perfect you'll forget you couldn't get on at Torrey Pines. Afternoon tea, morning yoga class, a fitness center so nice you'll actually want to get on the machines, and sunsets at the bar that will take your breath away. So what if you have to go to Legoland during the day if you get to come back here at night?
PRO'S: First class, top notch, fantastic golf course, what more could you want?
CON'S: Location in high end residential neighborhood means no shops or restaurants right outside hotel.
WALLY SAYS: If you love Four Season resorts you won't be disappointed at the Park Hyatt - the only "real" 5 star in San Diego county!
LOCAL WALLY HOT RESORT ALTERNATIVE PICK: The La Costa Resort and Spa is also nearby and another top resort nearly the same caliber as The Four Seasons. A recent remodel has it looking fresh and upscale and who can complain about playing a round at the one and only La Costa Golf Course? Those looking for an upscale resort that's family friendly need look no further.
Let's face it - even the most dedicated parent must cringe when the kids all scream at once that they want to go to Legoland. I mean, come on, you want to come to San Diego for some relaxation time, a bit of pampering. You've seen the roach hotels around Disneyland that cater to helpless parents stuck having to spend the night and you're thinking a hotel with a private entrance to Legoland can't be any good. But put your fears away as the Sheraton Carlsbad Resort and Spa delivers the goods to both stressed out parents and their Veruca ("daddy, I want it NOW!") Salt kids.
So here's what you get - a hotel built brand new from the ground up in 2007, not a refurbished re-do on an old hotel. A full blown spa with all the trimmings. Men, splurge and send your wife in for a massage and you'll be the hero for the rest of the trip. Ocean views from some rooms, sweeping golf course views in others. Wait - golf? Oh yeah, The Crossings is a beautiful new course right next door that will challenge and delight even the most serious golfer. And the pool, ahhh, the gorgeous pool beckons you to sit back and relax in its cool clear water, or take a short drive to the beach, literally a couple of minutes away. This is starting to sound like a place even adults will love - that's what I'm talking about! Add to it tastefully decorated rooms and a Twenty/20 Grill and Wine Bar, a really decent restaurant, and you have a hotel that takes pampering adults to the next level. In fact, you just might forget you picked this hotel for the kids after you experience everything this Sheraton has to offer.
So go ahead, take the kids to Legoland but don't miss giving yourself a treat as well, whether it's a round of golf at The Crossings, a massage at the spa, or some shopping at the nearby Carlsbad Premium Outlets. Don't feel guilty that you're having as good of a vacation as the kids.
PRO'S: Nearly brand spanking new, not a hotel re-do but a brand new resort hotel with all the trimmings!
CON'S: You won't be walking to anywhere as the hotel sits off to itself.
WALLY SAYS: You stay here and you'll be begging the kids to go to Legoland again next year!
LOCAL WALLY DINING WITH KIDS IN CARLSBAD TIP: There are tons of good cheap eats right in the area, from In N Out Burger to Sammy's Woodfired Pizza (gourmet pizzas and salads) to family friendly Pat and Oscars. Take a short drive into the Carlsbad Village for Mexican food at either Las Olas or (Fidel's) Norte, or go ultra casual but still get an ocean view at the Harbor Fish Cafe, home to the gigantic fish taco and crazy good fish and chips. Or go south a bit to Encinitas where there are lots of great local dining spots like Tratorria i Trulli or winebar bistro Third Corner as well as taco shops, burger joints, and even a great Hawaiian place called Keilani's. Check out the Encinitas Classic Car Nights schedule, too, if you want to see old hot rods and woodies cruisin' the strip.
What? A Hilton Garden Inn gets a nod from Local Wally? I know what you're thinking. A Garden Inn is usually the low end Hilton, less "Paris" and more "Nicky" on the glamour-meter. But what happens when you take the lowly Hilton Garden Inn and put it across the street from the Pacific Ocean? Well, cameras start popping out like the paparazzi with views this good - even without Paris slinking out of a car with no underwear on!
It's location on Highway 101 across the street from the ocean commands breathtaking panoramic views from 80% of its rooms. Aimed at both the business and family traveler, it does a good job pleasing both. There's free wifi and meeting rooms for the boring business trip and outdoor movies with free popcorn for the family guy with kids. Both business and family travelers will love a peaceful walk on the beach to start the day, or sipping a cool beverage as the sun sets. In fact, a great place to watch the sunset is from one of the many sun chairs by the pool where the wait staff will bring you a cocktail, the kids an Otterpop - everyone's happy! Want to check out the beach? Sure you do and they have all the stuff you'll need for a great day, including beach chairs, umbrellas, and towels, for a nominal fee. They'll even pack you a lunch if you want.
Rooms are large and spacious and decorated tastefully with a microwave and the $11 breakfast buffet features made to order omelettes and eggs, bacon, waffles, the works. Mom, there's even a coin operated washer and dryer on site so you can get all that pesky sand out of your kids pockets and get everyone all cleaned up before dinner at one of the nearby restaurants in Carlsbad Village or Encinitas, just a few minutes up or down the coast. If a beach vacation is what you are looking for at a place that's close to Legoland, the Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad should be one of your top picks.
PRO'S: Casual and comfortable, a real beach vacation location.
CON'S: See those train tracks nearby? Yes, they still use them.
WALLY SAYS: A family favorite right across the street from the beach, you might never leave the area!
LOCAL WALLY'S SHORT TAKES ON OTHER CARLSBAD HOTEL OPTIONS: For a couple more places close to the beach and family friendly, both the Tamarack Beach Resort and Carlsbad Inn Beach Resort offer rooms in their timeshare - both are steps from the ocean and located in the heart of the Carlsbad Village, right where the action is.
(DEL MAR AREA) Once the backdrop for Hollywood types like Bing Crosby, Jimmy Durante, Desi Arnez and Lucille Ball, L'Auberge Del Mar Resort Spa has aged beautifully and gracefully. Of course, like a Hollywood star who can afford facelifts and trainers, it didn't hurt that the resort just went through a $25M renovation. The old resort wasn't bad, but the new resort is sleeker, younger, more vibrant in every way. Luuuu-ceeey, I'm home!
Situated in the heart of downtown Del Mar a few blocks from the beach, this boutique hotel offers 120 guest rooms, some with partial ocean views, and all of them beautifully decorated in an East Coast Hampton's sort of way. If it feels like you just walked into someone's luxury coastal home that's because the designer is best known for his work with private estates. Some rooms with fireplaces and private balconies, all have gorgeous spa-like baths, and the beach is a short walk down a landscaped footpath. The new look of the hotel is much more current and less Old World, and that's a good thing. It still retains that wealthy air about it but adds an accessibility and sense of style that wasn't there before.
L'Aberge Del Mar Resort is the perfect place for a wedding - guests won't be able to decide whether to watch the ceremony or the ocean - and it's the perfect honeymoon or romantic getaway spot as well. Whether you already appreciate the finer things in life or just want to indulge in the lifestyle of the rich and famous for a week, L'Aberge Del Mar Resort Spa will leave you so satisfied you won't ever want to leave.
PRO'S: New remodel looks better than a Hollywood facelift
CON'S: Del Mar can get a bit busy in the Summer, especially around horseracing time in July/August
WALLY SAYS: How romantic of you to book L'Auberge Del Mar!
(DEL MAR AREA) So check this out - an old motel right on the beach in Del Mar, looking much like it did when it was first opened in 1946. Don't believe anyone who tries to convince you that this is some quaint boutique hotel - what it is, what it has always been is a MOTEL on the beach, plain and simple. With the old Del Mar train station nearby you'd think you entered into some sort of time warp if not for the Mercedes and Lexus' lining up to get into the valet parking at the Poseidon restaurant next door. They tried to make the motel look better on the net by using some creative camera angles but rest assured that the only thing impressive about this place is the location - and that location is enough to make up for all of the motels' shortcomings.
I'm going to say this again - it's a motel - get that in your head and you won't be one of those whiners on Yelp complaining that this place wasn't fancy enough. You have to come here with the right 'tude, the idea that you're staying right on the beach. Grab a beach chair and your beach gear at the little rental shack in the driveway and you're set for the day. Sit back and relax while the restaurants around you fill up with tourists all trying to get a look at the ocean, the ocean you can jump into at any time because that's your room right there. Or just grab a beer and sit back and watch the sunset. You don't need no fancy hotel to enjoy this sort of setting. And when it's time for dinner, heck, fire up the motel's grill and toss on some tuna steaks you bought down the street and forgetabout spending all that dough at a fancy restaurant because you've got the best ocean view in town.
The rooms were renovated in 2002 but it might as well have been 1982. They're not bad, but no one's going to confuse this place with L'Auberge or The Four Seasons. Of course, the location is actually better than either of those 5 star resorts so you make the call. Only two rooms actually have ocean views (I know, you'd think they would have thought of that when they built this place) but it doesn't matter when the sand is steps away from your room.
PRO'S: You won't find a better view and location in North County.
CON'S: Holy crap, the train sounds like it's going to smash into my room!
WALLY SAYS: This is the real Southern California beach vibe - Surf, sand, and a laid back attitude.
(SOLANA BEACH) As you leave Del Mar going north on historic Highway 101 you'll pass through Solana Beach. Not nearly as well known as other North County beach towns, Solana Beach can hold its own with the wonderfully eclectic Cedros Design District shopping area made up of old quonset huts, the famous "best fish tacos in San Diego" found in The Brigantine restaurants bar and some of the best Mexican food around at Fidels Little Mexico, and wonderful little local's only beaches. This area is rapidly become its own destination and the Courtyard San Diego Solana Beach Del Mar (wow, long name!) offers a great value for those looking for a beach vacation away from the crowds.
Located just a block and a half away from the sand, getting to the beach is quick and easy. These are locals beaches so don't expect mobs of people fighting to get a place in the sun. Instead, kick back and enjoy the scenery and the serenity. Back at the hotel the rooms have been recently updated and you'll find the same sort of cleanliness and freshness that is part of the Courtyard chain. A relaxing pool beckons you when a block and a half is just too far to walk and there's even a good breakfast place right on the premise to start your day right with made to order omelettes and the usual breakfast suspects. Walk to dinner next door or hop in the car for a couple of minutes and you'll be surrounded by great dining options.
If you're trying to balance your trip to San Diego with the obvious big attractions and the lessor known local activities, Solana Beach is a great place to stay. And if you're staying in Solana Beach, the Courtyard San Diego Solana Beach Del Mar offers clean rooms and a good value - and a terrific location.
PRO'S: Walk to the beach... and seriously, get the fish tacos at The Brig down the street!
CON'S: Right on Highway 101, train tracks across the street.
WALLY SAYS: Great family spot, Mom will love the shopping nearby, too.
(ENCINITAS) Encinitas is a real beach town that hasn't caved in to the commercialism and tourism of a lot of Southern California. You'll find an old movie theater there, mom and pop restaurants, even an old fashioned concession stand on the beach selling corn dogs and popsicles. High on a bluff overlooking Moonlight Beach is the Best Western Encinitas Inn and Suites, offering dazzling ocean views in a moderate hotel package.
The hotel features 94 oversized rooms, 29 of them with kitchenettes, with balconies that open to the fresh ocean breeze. Those tired of being nickel'd and dime'd at other hotels will love the free wifi, free breakfast, free newspaper, and free parking. The beach, and a fantastic one at that, is a short 3 block walk away, and the Coaster train station is right down the street if you want to party downtown without worrying about going home with a DUI. Going to Comic-Con? Put on your Star Trek outfit and jump on the Coaster - you'll not only save a bundle but you'll get to stay at a place that's not overrun with people who think they are Wookies. Afterwards you come back to a cool hotel near the beach, it's the best of both worlds.
Adjacent to the hotel is Tomiko, a surprisingly good Japanese restaurant with a budget friendly happy hour. Take a very short walk down the street and you'll be in Downtown Encinitas where you'll find plenty of good restaurants in every price range, from rolled tacos to Hawaiian to plenty of Italian. Hot rods and woodies often cruise this strip of historic Highway 101 and you can't help but fall in love with the small town beach feel.
PRO'S: Fantastic views, walk to downtown Encinitas and the beach
CON'S: Train noise might bother those who go to bed early
WALLY SAYS: Encinitas is the ultimate beach town, you'll feel like a local by the time you leave!
BACK TO THE BEST HOTELS CHEAT SHEET
Q4 2014: Summer is here but Fall is right around the corner, one of the best times to visit. Our summer-y weather lasts into October and there's nothing better than walking on the beach during the holidays.
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