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You can definitely check-in to some fantastic historic hotels in San Diego, California, but you have to keep a few things in mind.

Despite the Kumeyaay people living in the San Diego area for maybe 12,000 years before Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo’s 1542 landing in San Diego Bay — marking the West Coast’s discovery — the history of the San Diego metropolitan area as we know it today didn’t really begin until around 1900. (To give you an idea, in 1838, San Diego lost its status as a “pueblo” because the population had dwindled to about 100 people. It wasn’t until 1930 that the population even neared 150,000.)

So, my city doesn’t really have a long and extensive history compared to many other cities in the United States or the world. For us, 200 years ago feels like the distant, barely inhabited past, and 100 years ago feels ancient.

With that in mind, historic San Diego County hotels are worth considering because they have locations in special buildings, hosted US Presidents, served as movie sets, or interesting stories.

  • You can save on tickets, tours, and hotels through my affiliations. If you make purchases through the links in this post, I may be compensated.

1. Hotel Del Coronado, Curio Collection by Hilton

Red and white striped lounge chairs on the beach in front of Hotel Del Coronado.

Address: 1500 Orange Avenue, Coronado, CA 92118

Hotel class: Luxury

Tip: You have access to Virtuoso amenities including breakfast for two, a $100 resort credit, and more.

*If using a mobile device, scroll to the bottom of the Virtuoso page and click “Full Site” to access rates and online booking. Use the number of adults traveling and I’ll add on your children when I double-check your reservation.

The most famous of historic hotels in San Diego is Hotel del Coronado, a National Historic Landmark. It’s located on Coronado Island in San Diego Bay, within sight of downtown San Diego. Opened in February 1888, it’s now over 130 years old. The Del is very proud of its history, and you may trace it in detail on their website.

Originally intended as a fishing and hunting resort for the very rich, in the beginning, most of its guests arrived by train — a 7-day journey from the east coast at the time. That it had electricity, telephones, and elevators meant that it featured modern technology and several private baths. Many famous people and US Presidents have stayed at the hotel. Some Like it Hot featuring Marilyn Monroe was also filmed here.

It is also one of the haunted hotels in San Diego (as are several other historic hotels on this list).

Today: visitors check-in because it’s our best beachfront San Diego resort. This Coronado beach has won awards for being the best in the nation. A $400 million renovation is currently underway. However, people are still checking in to enjoy the new Cabana guest rooms, a new outdoor swimming pool, refreshed restaurants, holiday events, waterfront atmosphere, and more. Please read my full Hotel del Coronado review before you book.


2. THE US GRANT, a Luxury Collection Hotel, San Diego

King room at THE US GRANT San Diego hotel

Address: 326 Broadway, San Diego, CA 92101

Hotel class: Luxury

Tip: You have access to Virtuoso amenities including breakfast for two, a $100 hotel credit, and more.

*If using a mobile device, scroll to the bottom of the Virtuoso page and click “Full Site” to access rates and online booking. Use the number of adults traveling and I’ll add on your children when I double-check your reservation.

Originally opened in 1910 on the same site as it stands today, the hotel was built by the son of US President Ulysses S. Grant and named after him. It was built on the site of the former Horton House hotel.  Facing demolition in 1979 as its former glory had long faded, it was extensively renovated and re-opened in 1985.

U.S. Presidents, Albert Einstein, Charles Lindbergh, the inaugural Comic-Con festival, a speakeasy during Prohibition, the annual reunion of the Great White Fleet Association, and a fancy nightclub called The Little Club.

The Presidential Penthouse Suite is where President Franklin Roosevelt gave his first radio “fireside chat.” And, here’s another fun fact: Three presidential suites have been outfitted to Secret Service requirements. It was also home to the very first Comic-Con convention in 1970.

Today: THE US GRANT is a great San Diego luxury hotel choice for Marriott Bonvoy members. You do feel like you’ve stepped into a special place with its stately chandeliers, dark woods, and multi-million dollar art collection. I love the custom murals above the beds, the clean contemporary guest room decor, and cocktails at The Grant Grill.


3. Grande Colonial Hotel

Ocean view king room has a view out to the Children's Pool.

Address: 910 Prospect Street, La Jolla, CA 92037

Hotel class: Moderate

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Grand Colonial Hotel opened in 1913 as La Jolla’s first hotel. The hotel had a drugstore inside, which became a gathering place for locals (the pharmacist there was the father of Gregory Peck). During World War II in the 1940s, the hotel housed some officers from a nearby military camp and some young actors then performing at the La Jolla Playhouse.

Some went on to become big Hollywood stars, including Charlton Heston and David Niven. The hotel is also reputed to be haunted — perhaps by some of its prior guests. Rumbling kitchenware, ringing phones, and other benign paranormal activity are just some of the strange happenings that add to the charm of the Grande Colonial Hotel.

Today: I really like this hotel. Guest rooms offer newly renovated modern-European decor. Some rooms have ocean views out to the Children’s Pool, where the La Jolla seals hang out, while others offer kitchens convenient for long stays. NINE-TEN, the farm-to-table hotel restaurant, is one of the best in all of San Diego and in the Michelin Guide. Speaking of awards, the hotel earns AAA Four Diamonds.


4. Lafayette Hotel, Swim Club, and Bungalows

The Lafayette Hotel swimming pool surrounded by lounge chairs on a sunny day.

Address: 2223 El Cajon Boulevard, San Diego, CA 92104

Hotel class: Budget

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Founded in 1946, this North Park has been a destination for both celebrities and locals for many decades. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and Bob Hope is reputed to have been the first guest.

The Weissmuller Olympic Pool was designed by Johnny Weissmuller, the champion Olympic swimmer who also played Tarzan in movies in the 1930s and 1940s. Top Gun’s “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” scene was filmed in the bar here.

Today: The Lafayette Hotel is still known for its pool parties (during normal times) and bungalows. They even have a family one with bunk beds. I like it as a hotel near San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park that won’t break the bank.


5. Horton Grand Hotel

Address: 311 Island Avenue, San Diego, CA 92101

Hotel class: Budget

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Located downtown at the corner of Fourth Street and Island Avenue, this San Diego historic hotel’s past is rather unusual. Horton Grand Hotel was actually built in its current location in 1986, from the carefully demolished and preserved remains of two other historic downtown hotels: the Grand Horton and the Brooklyn-Kahle Saddlery hotel.

Both were originally built about 1887, each blocks away from the Horton Grand site today after the city’s first transcontinental railroad connection was established in 1885. In the 1980s, they were demolished to make way for the Horton Plaza shopping center, which opened in 1985 (and recently closed). Horton Grand Hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today: People check-in because they love its Victorian charm. In the rooms, you’ll find handcrafted antique furnishings, but also modern conveniences like flat-screen televisions. When you step inside, it does feel like you’ve been transported into an elegant place in history.


6. The Sofia Hotel

The Sofia Hotel

Address: 150 W. Broadway, San Diego, CA 92101

Hotel class: Moderate

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The Sofia Hotel’s origins go back over 100 years when, in 1915, one of the largest stagecoach companies in the nation at the time moved its operations to downtown San Diego. People were on the move, and its cars were based in San Diego. It would make sense that in 1926, the company built the Pickwick Hotel for its transiting passengers.

It was notable for its Gothic revival style and for being the first hotel in San Diego with en suite bathrooms. Closed in 2006 and thoroughly renovated, The Pickwick reopened as the Sofia Hotel.

Today: You can expect white fine linens, mahogany furnishings accented by soothing purple upholstery in modern rooms that include a microwave, mini-refrigerator, coffeemaker, and complimentary bottled water. They have VIP suites, Currant Brasserie for dining (temporarily closed), and even in-room spa treatments. Not to mention that you are within walking distance of fun things to do in downtown San Diego. It’s less than a 15-minute walk to the Embarcadero and USS Midway Museum, for example.


7. La Valencia Hotel La Jolla

The outdoor pool at La Valencia Hotel overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Address: 1132 Prospect Street, La Jolla, CA 92037

Hotel class: Luxury

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Opened in December 1926 and officially named La Valencia in 1928, this La Jolla hotel opened at the beginning of Hollywood’s Golden Age. It was a time where La Jolla remained somewhat of an undiscovered gem (the name La Jolla is thought to mean “The Jewel” in Spanish) where the rich and famous could retreat from L.A. life.

Since then, La Valencia Hotel has hosted many Hollywood celebrities partially thanks to La Jolla Playhouse, which in its early years cast famous names like Gregory Peck, Ginger Rogers, and many others.

During World War II, the hotel became a temporary home for many young military officers, about to ship overseas and their wives. The Whaling Bar (re-named the Café La Rue in 2014) has been a favorite destination for guests and residents since the 1940s. In fact, there were many times that La Jolla native Gregory Peck hosted fellow cast members in the Whaling Bar.

Today: If you want to stay in the Village of La Jolla, this is the luxury option. “The Pink Lady,” as locals call it, is within walking distance to some of San Diego’s best restaurants and shopping. Not to mention it’s across the street from La Jolla Cove, our most popular attraction, where the La Jolla sea lions hang out.


8. The Keating Hotel (Temporarily Closed)

Keating Hotel

Address: 432 F Street, San Diego, CA 92101

Hotel class: Moderate

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The Keating Hotel is a 35-room Gaslamp Quarter boutique hotel. The five-story Romanesque Revival style building was originally built as an office building in 1890. It contained San Diego’s first elevator (wire cage), steam heat, and the city’s first public library. In 2007, it was re-opened as the Keating Hotel. Five years later Gordon Ramsay gave it a makeover on his show, Hotel Hell.

Today: Lofts and suites are designed by Pininfarina, the team behind Maserati and Ferrari. Expect slick, high-end decor and flourishes, including Bang & Olufsen sound systems, Frette linens, and Dornbracht rain showers.


9. Courtyard San Diego Downtown

The bank vault at Courtyard San Diego Downtown is a meeting room now.

Address: 530 Broadway, San Diego, CA 92101

Hotel class: Moderate

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This isn’t your average Courtyard by Marriott. It’s a stunning hotel thanks to its former life as the San Diego Trust and Savings Bank — one of the most stunning commercial buildings of its time. It was designed in a Romanesque revival style and completed in 1928.

After a series of banking takeovers in the 1990s, the bank was closed in 1996. In 1999, the building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In 2013, it was extensively renovated and opened as Courtyard San Diego Downtown while preserving many of the building’s most notable architectural features. 

The lobby features original stenciling and marble quarried from all over the world, including 19 types from the Mediterranean Sea. There’s even a Starbucks in the lobby if you want to stop in for a coffee and a guided tour by hotel ambassadors. Oh, and you can even hold a meeting in the old bank vault.

Today: The guest rooms and one-bedroom suites are also very nicely-done with free Wi-Fi, a microwave, mini-fridge in addition to beds with high-end white linens, and tastefully-colorful accent pillows.


10. Ramada By Wyndham Gaslamp Convention Center

Ramada by Wyndham Gaslamp Convention Center

Address: 830 Sixth Ave. #6307 San Diego, CA 92101

Hotel class: Budget

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You may know this property as the St. James Hotel, which opened in 1885 as San Diego’s luxury high rise hotel — inside the city’s very first skyscraper. In fact, the original St. James Hotel sign remains on top of the building.

It was a magnificent building in its time, with its brick facade and shiny tin plates on the upper stories. In an era of prosperity, the St. James symbolized the promise of San Diego. Then, when the boom came to an end, the St. James was no longer the place for land and railroad deals. The then-new Hotel del Coronado also stole some of its thunder.

Today: Fast-forward to now, and the St. James Hotel is a Ramada by Wyndham property about seven blocks from the San Diego Convention Center and other things to do in downtown San Diego. The mahogany bar inside Brian’s 24, the hotel restaurant and a local favorite, is from Joan Crawford’s estate. You’d check in now for the excellent Gaslamp Quarter location and no-frills rooms that price extremely well.


11. Gaslamp Plaza Suites

Gaslamp Plaza Suites

Address: 520 E. Street, San Diego, CA 92101

Hotel class: Budget

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The building that Gaslamp Plaza Suites calls home was originally constructed in 1913 as the Watts Building, which was intended to be San Diego’s first skyscrapers.

At first, it was the offices of San Diego Trust and Savings, until they moved in 1927 to their own new building downtown a few blocks away. (As an aside, that building is today the Courtyard San Diego Downtown.) For many decades in the 1900s, it housed the offices of various businesses, from doctors to lawyers to importers and, later, jewelers. In 1988, it was renovated into the hotel that it is today.

Today: The hotel still features the original marble stairways, brass elevator doors, mosaic tiles, and Australian gumwood carpentry. While they have regular guest rooms, it is a wallet-friendly place to find junior and one-bedroom suites in the Gaslamp Quarter neighborhood.


12. Cosmopolitan Hotel and Restaurant

Cosmopolitan Hotel & Restaurant

Address: 2660 Calhoun Street, San Diego, CA 92110

Hotel class: Budget

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Located in historic Old Town San Diego, the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Restaurant was originally built as the Bandini family home in 1827. That was back when this area was Mexican territory, and tiny Old Town later became San Diego. In subsequent years, this area became an American territory. The Bandini family faced hard times and sold the dilapidated property.

In 1869, it was purchased by a stagecoach company. The original home was transformed into a restaurant and stagecoach office. A second story was also added at this time, and that became the Cosmopolitan Hotel. From 1971-2005, the ground-floor restaurant was the ever-popular, but touristy, Casa de Bandini. It featured flashy costumes, giant margaritas, and complimentary, pre-meal baskets of chips and salsa. In subsequent years that restaurant relocated nearby, and the property was extensively renovated to return it to a more authentic version of the 1800s original, as it is today.

Today: Choosing an Old Town San Diego hotel has the benefits of being within walking distance of the Old Town Transit Center, where you can catch the MTS trolley to other places in San Diego or Amtrak trains to further afield. What’s more, this San Diego historic hotel is steps from various Mexican food restaurants, free museums in historic buildings, Old Town State Historic Park, and other fun things to do.


What are your favorite historic hotels in San Diego?

Feature photo credit: Hotel del Coronado

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