A lot of San Diego hotels are close to the ocean, but not like the Crystal Pier Hotel. Built in 1930 on the wooden Crystal Pier in Pacific Beach, the historic hotel features two long rows of charming cottages that extend along the pier over the beach and breaking waves. It’s been an extremely popular vacation destination ever since. Bonus: Each cottage comes with a private parking space.
YOU SHOULD KNOW Book early -- at least 11 months in advance for summer. The hotel requires a multiple-night stay and a deposit upon reservation.
The hotel’s cheerful cottages come in a few configurations: studio, one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and suite. All but one of the units have kitchenettes, and each boasts a private seaside deck with chaises and patio tables for soaking up the sun. Featuring bright white shiplap walls, planked ceilings, gleaming hardwood floors, and nautical accents like stripes, oars, and ocean artwork, the cottages are lovely and serene, though more charming than upscale. Some of the bedrooms are on the very cozy side.
YOU SHOULD KNOW The pier is open to the public during the day and is a popular location for strolling and fishing. It’s closed at night, though, and the hotel itself has gated entry and night security.
Bathrooms vary by cottage but feature white shiplap walls, oval mirrors, and a shower or shower-tub combo.
No lobby, just a friendly check-in office.
No pool, but the ocean is right beneath you. The water is 68 degrees during the summer.
Just north of Mission Bay, Pacific Beach is one of San Diego’s oldest suburbs. Because of the bay, you must travel east for about 15 minutes to pick up Interstate 5, the major south-north freeway that runs all the way up the West Coast. One you’ve reached I-5, you can get to just about anywhere; there are many highways that connect sprawling San Diego. This all assumes you have a car. If you’re not planning to hang out in Pacific Beach or on public transit for your entire trip, you’ll want to have a car.
Right next to the pier, the family-friendly Kono’s Cafe (1-minute walk) is a local favorite. The cozy, casual oceanfront diner has a surf theme, with wall-mounted surfboards and artwork. The hearty food is perfect for a day of hanging loose. For a glam dinner experience, JRDN at the Tower 23 hotel (2-minute walk) serves sophisticated takes on surf ‘n’ turf. The restaurant has a sexy interior, with a striking 70-foot “wave wall” that pulses with ambient light, as well as a sleek, sun-soaked patio.
Pacific Beach is a party town, albeit a laid-back beachy one. At night it attracts a young crowd, from surfers to college students from nearby UC San Diego. The good news is that there are tons of options, from mellow to bumping, including family-friendly spots for an afternoon beer. The Grass Skirt (7-minute walk) is a hip spot with Polynesian decor and delicious craft tiki drinks. If you want to eat dinner there, definitely make a reservation. Otherwise, try to snag a bar stool or table. If there’s nothing available and you have to wait -- if you’re lucky -- a bartender or server might slip you a “Chi Chi on us” card that you can exchange for a vodka-based pina colada after 10pm. PB Alehouse (3-minute walk) is a two-story beachfront bar with house-brewed beer and a great patio for people-watching. The kid-friend brewery by day gets pretty boisterous in the evenings.
WHY WE LIKE IT
The historic Crystal Pier Hotel has a postcard-perfect appeal, with rows of charming cottages perched on a pier over the ocean. No wonder it’s always booked so far in advance, often by repeat guests who love to fall asleep to the sound of breaking waves. Cottages include kitchenettes and private decks, along with a reserved complimentary parking space. And Pacific Beach, especially near the beachfront, is a laid-back, very SoCal neighborhood with lots of shops, restaurants, bars, and cool surfers.