Celebrities, Dining & Nightlife, Hotels, TravelThis Valentine’s Day, Hail to the Chief

u.s. grant signature suite

With Valentine’s Day in such close proximity to Presidents Day, why not celebrate love, life and happiness with a luxury getaway that’s fit for a president — or in this case, fit for 14 presidents? My husband and I were fortunate enough to check out a Signature Suite recently at the Old World French- and American Indian-inspired U.S. Grant Hotel — voted one of the 100 best hotels in the world — in downtown San Diego, Calif. And let me tell you, whether alone or with a sweetheart, this is one romantic place for glamour-lovers to steal away this weekend. Here’s why:

Touted as a “world-class urban sanctuary,” the Starwood-managed property was built in 1910 in honor of president Ulysses S. Grant by his son. Four years ago, the owners, the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, put just more than $50 million into its renovation, restoring its glory so that those of us with champagne taste could continue to appreciate its classic, regal atmosphere. Located within blocks of San Diego’s famous Gaslamp Quarter, where myriad restaurants and bars crowd the sidewalks and rival the nightlife feel of Las Vegas, the historic establishment is lit like a blue sapphire, priding itself on maintaining “timeless elegance.”

u.s. grant hotelDuring our stay, I asked for a tour of the hotel, including its multiple ballrooms and a sampling of its 270 guest rooms — all of which contained gargantuan headboards featuring original artwork by French modern artist Yves Clement (some available for purchase). I can’t say I’m surprised that the Forbes Travel Guide’s Four-Star Award-winning hotel also won “Best Guestroom Design — Luxury” in the HotelWorld Global Hospitality and Design Awards competition.

Of the hotel’s 47 extravagant suites, my favorite — the Signature Suite — is about the size of a small apartment at 770 square feet with two inviting King beds draped in crisp Italian linens, leather ottomans, two flat-screen TVs, a full-length mirror, chandelier, a 4-person dining table, club chairs, his-and-her sinks, Gilchrist & Soames bath products and a 10-foot-by-10-foot, walk-in marble shower with six showerheads. (Whew!) The suite usually runs $660/night off-season but can be had for as low as $495/night if you book online.

For the modest individual, the Superior Room is half the size of the Signature Suite, with an identically extravagant bed and distinguished decor for less than $200/night. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, the two-level Penthouse Presidential Suite ($3,500/night and up) is frequented by politicians and celebrities with empirical taste and expansive budgets (Christina Aguilera once stayed there). It offers a balcony with rooftop garden views, a small kitchen/service bar, a full staircase, Persian rugs, and 1,300 square feet of living space.

grant grill barIf you can bear to leave your room (and plush bathrobe and slippers), you will find the expansive lobby a warm, enchanting place to meet friends, sip cocktails or hole up on a vintage-style, velvet sofa and check your email (free wifi!). Even better for lounging is the hotel’s Grant Grill, a decidedly hip and beautifully designed bar/restaurant (despite occasionally stodgy hotel patrons) where Chef Chris Kurth serves up a menu of seasonal fare, including tantalizing delicacies like foie gras, jumbo diver scallops and even venison. Go for dinner tasting specials like this weekend’s four-course wind and chocolate tasting, “An Epicurean Evening of Art, Wine, Chocolate and Jazz,” at $45/person, or “Valentine’s Day Tasting Dinner” at $95/person. Or stop by in the a.m. for breakfast selections like decadent Duck Confit Hash or uber-sweet Citrus Brioche French Toast with Orange Blossom Honey and Pure Vermont Maple Syrup.


If you have 48 hours in town to spare, there are myriad things to do within walking distance. We strolled over to the Museum of Contemporary Art and took in the Tara Donovan exhibit while admiring the city’s mixed architecture — beautiful for photographs! If you have transportation, you could pop over to Balboa Park, home of the world-famous San Diego Zoo, for a day of museum-hopping on gorgeous, landscaped grounds.

No car? Venture several blocks in any direction for a taste of San Diego’s market-sourced cuisine and a view of the marina.

stingareeFor meals, we found several delicious cafes and diners in the area like the St. Tropez Bakery and Bistro and The Cheese Shop. But one of our biggest surprises was dinner at megaclub Stingaree, one of several popular stomping grounds in the area for bachelorette parties and young, scantily clad clubgoers.

Getting there early (around 7 p.m.) for Chef Antonio Friscia’s delicious appetizers like the ‘Menage a Trois’ and the Serious Mac-n-Cheese Fonduta proved well worth the effort to get decked out. Recognizable entrees and sides with a gourmet twist like the Vodka Penne (with blue Belize shrimp and Effen vodka) and the American Kobe Beef Burger (with truffle aioli) were tasty if not out-of-this-word (that would be the truffle-parm fries). If you’re vegetarian, feel free to ask for a veggie version of a menu item; they just might be able to whip that up for you. In fact, the locals told me Stingaree can get you “whatever you want” — though I didn’t feel the need to test them on this. And if you must get just one dessert, go for The All-Nighter. It’s perhaps the smartest combination of espresso and chocolate I’ve ever tried … and I’ve tried a lot of them.

stingaree rooftopShould you want to stay for the influx of nightlife, order some cleverly titled cocktails like the “Berry Manilow” and stake out an area on the beautiful, cabana-laden rooftop — quickly. Just to give you an idea of what to expect, Stingaree is a VIP-list, line-at-the-door, bouncers-everywhere kind of place (let’s put it this way: They have a “romantic” VIP/Bottle Service package called “Love is an Orange Humvee Limo”). Not only does the ladies’ room have a makeshift spa counter you can lounge at, the club prides itself on being the only venue in San Diego with bars, banquet kitchens and bathrooms on each of its three levels. (You just have to cross the dance floor and a set of stairs to get to most of them.)

But if you fancy yourself the quiet library type, sneak out the back door by 10 p.m., before the crowds arrive, and walk your happy tummy a few blocks to sniff out a quiet bar. We passed a some chic contenders (all of which had lines to get in) before deciding to go back to the line-free Grant Grill, where opera patrons in full black-tie garb, wedding guests, families and young couples all mingled to the tune of a DJ’s groovin’ lounge music. Lame? Au contraire. The vibe there was way more “grown-up” than most of the other bars we passed, proving that the U.S. Grant’s sophistication really is “incomparable.” With great service and selection — from a laid-back Blue Moon brew to a refreshing citrus “Buddha’s Hand” cocktail or a classic 18-year Macallan Scotch — we chatted the night away in style without having to strain our voices. Maybe it’s the old Hollywood fan in me, but I could not have imagined a better luxury venue in which to catch up with old friends or lovers.

The U.S. Grant Hotel is located at 326 Broadway in downtown San Diego. For reservations, call 1-800-237-5029.

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