Set at the end of San Diego’s slender Shelter Island, the recently renovated Kona Kai Resort has style to spare and views for miles. Don’t let the name fool you. There’s nothing Hawaiian about the sprawling beachfront resort, a Noble House Property, which features Spanish Colonial Revival architecture and newly renovated rooms and suites that are California coastal-chic. The Kona Kai does feel like a secluded island resort though, with a private marina, unobstructed views of the bay, a large pool, and grounds dotted with palm trees. There’s also a lovely spa and a tiki bar -- a nod to Shelter Island’s Polynesian-obsessed past.
YOU SHOULD KNOW Shelter Island doesn't make the most convenient home base option while visiting San Diego -- but it's not that inconvenient either.
Recently refreshed rooms are gorgeous, especially the 41 luxurious junior suites added during the hotel’s renovation. Standard guestrooms mix contemporary and classic elements, with tufted headboards, turquoise leaf-print wallpaper, traditional and modern furniture, and kilim throw pillows and carpeting. The bright rooms have a California casual vibe that’s also very classy. Entry-level rooms feature views of the pool and tiki bars but upgrade to a bay or marina view room if you can. They feature floor-to-ceiling glass windows and doors that open to a private patio or balcony. The newly added, nautical-inspired junior suites look like they’re straight out of a deco mag, with navy blue walls, caramel leather seats and sofas, sophisticated ocean artwork, and a unique double-sided fireplace that looks through to a private balcony overlooking the bay or marina.
Newly renovated bathrooms are contemporary and beachy-chic, with cerulean accent walls, white stone counters, ocean art, and tiled glass-enclosed showers with rain showerheads.
The refreshed lobby features eclectic decor that complements traditional Spanish Colonial elements like exposed ceiling rafters and boards, a grand arched entry, and wrought-iron candle chandeliers. Think bright contemporary turquoise armchairs, vintage-style brass floor lamps, vivid boho-print throw pillows, with more classically lined pieces of furniture thrown in the mix. There’s also a fireplace and a large, primitive horse sculpture.
The Kona Kai has a large pool, including a section with adult-only lap lanes, plus a hot tub and plenty of chaises, chairs, and umbrellas. Palm trees surround the pool area, which also features private cabanas and a thatched-roof poolside Paloma Bar (coming soon) with seating in the shade.
SpaTerre, the signature spa of Noble House Resorts, offers exotic Thai, Indonesian, and Fijian-inspired spa treatments and rituals in a beautiful, serene space.
The hotel’s fitness center is well-stocked with cardio equipment, including several treadmills, elliptical cross-trainers, stationary bikes, as well as strength-training machines, and free weights.
You can rent jet skis, sailboats, kayaks, and bikes on Shelter Island. The 2-mile-long island (actually a sliver of land that juts out into the bay) is good for a short, brisk walk or jog, as well.
Kona Kai’s sophisticated Vessel Restaurant features a 360-degree bar at the center with a backlit onyx bar counter, casual-chic contemporary furnishings and artwork, and floor-to-ceiling windows that frame marina views. The extensive new American menu includes large plates like charred octopus with papas bravas, seared diver scallops with chanterelle mushrooms, and skirt steak with leek and potato gratin. Vessel, which also serves breakfast, lunch, and weekend brunch, has a spacious outdoor patio if you’re lucky enough to nab a table.
Overlooking the Kona Kai Marina, the hotel’s poolside Tiki Bar serves tiki cocktails and kid-friendly mocktails from noon until sunset.
Shelter Island, a sliver of land that extends like a curled finger into the San Diego was developed in the ‘60s, the 2-mile Shelter Island embraced a midcentury Pacific island theme.
From Shelter Island, you’re best off having a car if you plan to do a lot of exploring. From the end of Shelter Island Drive, follow North Harbor Drive all along the bay until you hit Grape Street in Little Italy (turn left), which has an on-ramp for Interstate 5, or “The 5” as it’s known to locals. From I-5, a major south-north freeway, you can get to just about anywhere, either directly or via any number of highways and major roads.
The Kona Kai is located at the end of Shelter Island, which means you’ll have to walk, bike, or drive to the rest of the island’s offerings. Humphreys So Cal Dining & Music (5-minute drive or 20-minute walk), at Humphreys Half Moon Inn, has windows that frame the private marina just outside and a menu that focuses on California modern cuisine. The restaurant’s popular Sunday Champagne Brunch features an upscale buffet spread with bay views on the side. For a quick bite, the budget-friendly Pearson Deli (5-minute drive) has bay views and serves delicious, generously sized sandwiches for breakfast and lunch.
Tiki lovers: You are in a mini-Polynesian paradise. As it was developed in the ‘60s, the 2-mile Shelter Island embraced a midcentury Pacific island theme. The Bali Hai (5-minute drive) is known for “The Goof on the Roof,” a large tiki head of unknown exact origin. The Polynesian decor extends inside the restaurant, which is located on the scenic bay with views of the city skyline. The Bali Hai’s bar serves a mean mai tai. Decades-old booze shop Trader Mort’s Liquor (5-minute drive) is tiki-tastic, with tiki heads and a selection of hard-to-find rums. Humphreys Half Moon Inn (5-minute walk), a resort with lush tropical landscaping and an A-frame, Hawaiian-style entry. Every summer, the hotel hosts Humphreys Concerts by the Bay, with acts ranging from Fleet Foxes and Weird “Al” Yankovic to Toto and Joan Baez. From the outdoor seating, you can see the bay -- many locals watch the concerts from the water floating in kayaks and inner tubes.
WHY WE LIKE IT
With panoramic views of the bay and city, the Kona Kai Resort & Spa has a secluded feel thanks to its location at the end of Shelter Island. A private marina and beach, large pool, and serene spa are among the attractions, while newly renovated coastal-chic rooms and suites have given the Spanish Colonial-style hotel a much-needed, on-trend refresh.