Downtown San Diego has been through big changes over the years. The debut of the San Diego Convention Center in late 1989 brought the meetings and conventions industry downtown and along with it came an influx of hotels, restaurants and nightlife entertainment in the Gaslamp Quarter throughout the ’90s. In 2004 Petco Park, home of baseball’s San Diego Padres, opened and transformed the adjacent East Village neighborhood. Today, downtown San Diego is going through another renaissance, from new boutique, design-forward hotels popping up to transformations at some of the large full-service convention properties.

“We are seeing a trend of limited-service hotels as well as duel-branded properties in downtown San Diego,” said Margie Sitton, vice president of sales for San Diego Tourism Authority.

Last year Hilton Garden Inn and Homewood Suites opened a joint campus in San Diego’s Little Italy neighborhood. The hotels share guest areas and the adjacent Pacific Standard Coastal Kitchen, a new restaurant with Bravo’s Top Chef alum Giselle Wellman as executive chef. Just south, another dual-branded development opened earlier last year. SpringHill Suites San Diego Downtown/Bayfront and Residence Inn San Diego Downtown/Bayfront share 11,400 square feet of meeting space, an outdoor pool and patio.

Luxury properties are also a sign of the times in downtown San Diego.

“We are really excited to have more higher-end-brand hotels in downtown,” Sitton said, referring to two large projects in the works.

A 400-room InterContinental broke ground last year along downtown’s Embarcadero and is expected to open in 2018. In addition, a 39-story mixed-use property, nestled between the Gaslamp Quarter and East Village neighborhoods, will have residential units anchored by a Ritz-Carlton hotel, and is slated for a 2021 debut.

Pendry, a new brand from Montage Hotels & Resorts, is also making its debut with the Pendry San Diego, set to open this month in the city’s Gaslamp Quarter. The brand aims to blend the culture of each property’s neighborhood with unique restaurants, lively bars and luxury amenities.

The 317-room Pendry San Diego is designed to offer 35,000 square feet of meeting space with two ballrooms, outdoor deck space and multiple breakout rooms. Plans also call for six dining and entertainment venues on-site, including The Pool House, a rooftop lounge; Lionfish, the hotel’s signature restaurant; and Nason’s Beer Hall, named after Nason & Co. Farmer’s Market, formerly located at the site in the early 1900s.

Amped-Up Offerings

East Village’s Kimpton Hotel Solamar is in the final stages of renovations to its rooftop outdoor space. LOUNGESix can be used as a relaxing retreat by day, bar by night or private event space for up to 500 guests. The LOUNGESix refresh comes on the heels of a renovation to all 235 guest rooms, lobby and 14,000 square feet of meeting space. In addition, the hotel launched Brews, Bites and Battles, an experience tailored to corporate groups.

“The idea came about during a group strategy meeting when we wanted to incorporate an experiential option for our meetings and events,” said Eric Manning, director of sales and marketing for Kimpton Hotel Solamar. “Some of our guests and their preferences were the inspiration behind this concept, and we then realized we can translate that into a larger audience.”

 Participants can enjoy craft beer tastings presented by the hotel’s lead bartender, get in the kitchen and create dishes with Executive Chef Anthony Sinsay, and team up for a cocktail competition with Hotel Salomar’s mixologist as the judge. The winner of the “battle” wins a spot for their concoction on the hotel restaurant Jsix’s cocktail menu for a week.

“All three elements can be done together or separately,” Manning explained. “For instance, a group can do one per day during a three-day stay. The competitions are held on our rooftop pool deck and lounge, or within our Jsix Restaurant.”

The Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel sits adjacent to the San Diego Convention Center and is gearing up to launch the brand’s Meet with Purpose, an initiative designed to increase meeting productivity and attendee satisfaction.

The program incorporates balanced food and beverage options along with exercise breaks and sustainability components that can be customized based on time, budget and number of attendees. Options include Yoga & Yogurt, with morning yoga and a breakfast of yogurt, fruit and granola; Flex Power, where an instructor leads a 25-minute class focused on breathing techniques and stretches followed by a nutritious breakfast or snack; and Meditative Moment, during which groups participate in a 10-minute meditation session ending with a smoothie or healthy meal.

A Marina Makeover

The Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina, adjacent to the San Diego Convention Center, debuted its new convention space last year, bringing its total square footage to 280,000. The two-level structure features indoor and outdoor venues, including the Marriott Grand Ballroom and Pacific San Diego Ballroom. The new Marina Grand Terrace, an outdoor patio that can accommodate 3,000, overlooks San Diego Bay and the hotel’s marina.

“We can do food truck events for receptions [on the Marina Terrace],” explained Gina Elsass, event management supervisor for Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina. “We partner with an exclusive vendor who can arrange these events specific to the type of food offering the client would like to see. Food trucks can set up onto the terrace, and then decor specific to the truck theme can be set around each truck, with entertainment, etc.”

Another way to incorporate some local flavor into catering menus is with chef Jeff Roberto, owner of San Diego’s Sushi On A Roll, and his team, who can cater fresh sushi for on-site meetings and events. The team can also host interactive group dining experiences at its brick and mortar location not far from the property.   

Groups can take advantage of the 446-slip marina that sits at the property with a bay cruise aboard a yacht or opt for more action with sailboat regatta races, Elsass explained.
“Groups have used this option for teambuilding experiences. Additionally, we have partnered with local venues where we can schedule adventures such as dinner cruises to privately chartered boats.”

Mixing Business with Pleasure

The Hard Rock Hotel San Diego is nearing its 10th anniversary as a downtown San Diego hot spot at the entryway to the Gaslamp Quarter. In addition to its 40,000 square feet of meeting and event space, the San Diego Convention Center is just a short walk across the street, and for after-business hours, the nightlife of the Gaslamp is right outside the lobby doors.

There is also plenty of entertainment on-property. There are four food and beverage options, including Nobu, a foodie favorite; Maryjane’s Diner, a late-night spot; 207, the hotel’s bar on the lobby level; and Float, a rooftop lounge.

“With our 10-year anniversary quickly approaching this year, we knew it was time to prepare for our next successful decade of providing the city with world-class entertainment and the most spectacular events,” said Matt Greene, general manager, Hard Rock Hotel San Diego. “We knew that in order to raise the bar on what we have accomplished over the last 10 years, it would take a true powerhouse partnership.”

Getting back to business, in addition to the ample indoor meeting space, groups can take advantage of the Southern California weather on the hotel’s 11th floor at Elevation, a room with floor-to-ceiling windows and an adjoining terrace. This space, with views of the San Diego Bay and the Gaslamp Quarter action below, is an ideal spot for a sunset reception or the brand’s Wine Riffs dinner that is not only a food- and-wine pairing experience, but features lighting and a soundtrack to each course.  

Outside the Box

Up the coast, the 417-room Hyatt Regency La Jolla at Aventine has programming that gets groups out of the boardroom and onto the beach, and in the kitchen. The property partnered with Surf Divas, a local San Diego company that first opened as an all-woman’s surf school and now offers lessons, camps and rentals, and can also offer groups an active outdoor experience.  

“Reinventing the ‘board’ meeting since 1996” is Surf Diva’s motto when it comes to corporate events and teambuilding. Hyatt and Surf Divas can also arrange for stand- up paddleboard lessons.

The hotel also offers a sushi-making class, led by Executive Sushi Chef Jerry Warner of Cafe Japengo, located in adjacent Restaurant Village. In addition, groups can add a sake tasting or beverage pairing.

Wellness Options

Across San Diego Bay, the Marriott Coronado Island Resort & Spa completed renovations last year of all of its 300 guest rooms and unveiled a new spa and wellness center. The 5,500-square-foot Spa Coronado and two-story Wellness Center blend healing treatments and luxurious services. New fitness classes include sunset yoga, and there are myriad outdoor experiences, including organized beach walks.  

The resort’s executive chef, Michael Poompan, strives to use local ingredients to create health-conscious menu options at resort restaurants and on its banquet menus, such as Wellness Bento Boxes at the property’s Spa Cafe.

Meanwhile, in North San Diego County, Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa recently debuted the renovation of its 12 villas, an adults-only Rein Poolside Retreat, and enhanced wellness and spa offerings, including organic spa treatments.

Tech Savvy in Paradise

Paradise Point Resort & Spa, a Destination Hotel situated on a 44-acre island in Mission Bay, launched the ALICE guest solution last year. The operations platform connects guests with the hotel, as well as on-property services, via a mobile app.

Through the mobile app, guests at the 462-room resort can place food and beverage orders, make a spa appointment, call for transportation, check the weather and even book off-site activities like surf lessons. ALICE can also be used to connect planners and attendees with hotel staff for needs and requests.