Dropping the Dime on Where to Stay in San Diego

With Travel Writer & Connoisseur of Comfort,
Sam Russell.

Whether you live a life in a pretty fabulous bubble, or you never get out and go anywhere, this travel blog is my personal nudge to your hungry spirit. Plan a trip, cash in those vacation days, and when no one else can offer you a warm, sunny California welcome with lots of personal attention, there is a plethora of people here who can. Back in the day, my personal work with NBC San Diego never allowed for staycations like these, so to return like a tourist and soak up this Life of Riley without any clients knowing I was in town sounded like a godsend to my senses.

So, here’s dropping the dime on one of my favorite cities—San Diego.

San Diego, California is filled with a wide array of communities that are easy on the eyes and spirit. If Grand Del Mar is the gateway to Malibu, then Pacific Beach is the serene pathway to San Diego living. There is an immediate and abundant offering of yoga studios, women’s boutiques, and eateries for every palate. But to find breadth and depth in this area, you really need to set your end destination at Tower23 Hotel. Boasting JRDN Restaurant on site, we didn’t know we’d stumbled upon the precious pearl of San Diego until we did. And count on hypnotic ocean views and superb cuisine dominating your precious vacation time here.

(Between LaJolla & Downtown San Diego) | 723 Felspar Street | San Diego, CA 92109 | 858-270-2323 | t23hotel.com

Needing a break from the car culture of Los Angeles, we opted for Amtrak and Lyft to shake off the work week we had just left behind. To be honest, my head was still spinning with work deadlines and emails that needed attention—until we pulled up to Tower23. It was at this exact moment that I knew everything would just have to wait until Monday.

The scenic pictures from this modern beachfront setting will burn a hole through your camera.

A flood of positive online reviews about this hotel got us really jazzed about the visit. It’s a glass-paneled boutique hotel hugging the ocean with chic décor at every turn. After a smooth check-in with the young, friendly California smile behind the front desk, we made our way up to the sanctuary suite that would soon change our cranky post-work spirits.

Catch your reflection in the elevator, as you will never be quite the same. The decor is clean and stylish. As we navigated the bright glass-walled hallways with travel bags in tow, we wondered if other guests were cocooned in yummy rooms, too mesmerized by the rhythmic tide of the ocean lapping on the beach just a breath away. We guessed right.

The Sanctuary | Suite 316

Pacific Beach is a lively part of town, and when the outdoor activities take a toll on your tired feet, Tower23 Hotel is the calm sound base you are looking for. The Sanctuary Suite 316 is set back from the foot traffic of the “beachy” boulevard adjacent to this hotel, and we highly loved that. When ready to be sedated by the sounds of the ocean only, this suite is that smart choice.

My other half spent most of the weekend courted by the partial ocean view from our private balcony as I connected with the light show in my jacuzzi tub. The force of water coming down from the ceiling was a first, giving the illusion of water falling from the sky. A separate rain shower was available for my other half, who doesn’t indulge in the soaking tub scene like I do. Strange, I know.

A large flat-screen TV and ample sitting area for work that just can’t wait are two perks of this amazing room that we honestly never touched.

Feathered or non-feathered pillows? Those were the last words that came to mind before the Tempur-pedic bed with down comforter called my name. The front desk was happy to accommodate my request for an extra bed pillow. Like a newborn out of the nest, the next morning was that brand new me buried deep inside and longing to come out.

If the last place you staycationed at didn’t fill your soul, consider the above your clean slate.

 What We Saw & Perks When Staying at Tower23 Hotel

  • Mini-bar in the room and a lusty selection of snacks for sale
  • Oceanfront courtyard lounge with firepit (guests of Tower23 only). We observed the hard-working staff ritually tending to this space with pride.
  • Meeting space Available 
  • Welcoming staff and ambiance
  • Wheelchair accessible property
  • On-site parking available
    Spring break specials available! Linger longer & get a discount on your stay
  • JRDN Restaurant— offering upscale casual California cuisine served al fresco

A true neighborhood gem hiding in plain sight.

We were crazy excited about dinner plans, and JRDN was the polished choice of the neighborhood. It’s that place you go to impress a date, a client, or just simply live your best life. It has a total people watching, cocktail mixing, and beachside vibe as you enter. The bustling bar adjacent to the glass-enclosed kitchen is the perfect locale to grab a drink while your other half is still primping in your yummy suite upstairs.

723 Felspar Street | San Diego, CA 92109 | 858-270-2323 | t23hotel.com

A bold neon red wave wall just beyond the bar area suggests a shift in the dining experience as the bustling bar scene fades behind you when greeted by the hostess who plays welcoming gatekeeper to the best fish I’ve personally ever had. But I am getting ahead of myself.

My dinner guest was keen on every bite of the braised short rib and smoked potato puree, and the braising au jus created more sound effects that can only be described as gleeful meets primal moan. Sounds personal, I know.

The twinkle in my eye came from, yes, the Mediterranean Sea Bass. As a true rite of passage for this seasoned foodie, it was simply the best fish I’ve ever had. The harmonious marriage of flavors—the fried capers and beurre blanc left my palate and spirit so very pleased. The fish was cooked to perfection, and the portion barely left room for dessert. Almost.

Outside dining…with a view.

Wishing we had friends dining with us that evening so we could try their tempura-fried spicy lobster roll and scallops with smoked mushroom consommé and mushroom jam. Neighboring tables took the time to catch the sunset in between bites of sushi rolls and a bottle of wine. The manager was so kind as to open the sliding glass doors to allow the night air and sound of crashing waves to serenade our meal. No heart is exempt from this menu or setting.

It would be a sin to not wrap up this love letter without mentioning the caramel popcorn shavings and crystallized ginger on their signature carrot cake. Please order a second one to take back upstairs to catch the late-night moon together.

Oh, and don’t forget to share with your other half, too.

If you can visualize the coolest eclectic eatery from the likes of Austin, Texas, and merge in the airy comforts of Southern California, you, my friend, just stumbled upon San Diego’s latest secret—Fort Oak. This place makes you wish you had residence right around the corner. Suggest this Sammy-find for brunch, dinner, or Happy Hour to your San Diego friends and watch as they’re all gobsmacked as to how you are in the know. Our last adventure in San Diego before catching the Amtrak to Los Angeles had to be unique and flavor-forward. Craving a place that felt very authentic to its surroundings—hands down, that would be Fort Oak in Mission Hills.

1011 Fort Stockton Drive | San Diego, CA 92103 | 619.722.3398 | fortoaksd.com

As you enter, consider this a session on decompression. Good energy and a funky U-shaped bar greeted us and artfully seduced our senses way before we made it to our table. Side note—send my single gal pals here pronto for bar side Happy Hour.

We learned over an appetizer of Old Bay Prawns with lemon and cocktail sauce that the space was once a Ford dealership, and the aesthetic smartly pays homage to that. The bar drinks also give a nod to Ford Cars: The classic Camaro with Reposado tequila, carrot, lemon, ginger, and the popular Galaxie with vodka, cucumber, citrus, green tea, and aloe, to name a couple of winners.

After our brief bar intro, we moved our brunch plans to the main dining room, themed to entice your date. Passing through a central patio, which serves as the heartbeat of Fort Oak, we landed in a charming wood-accented dining room. It was chilly that day, so we opted for a table dining room side. So glad we did—an inspired space matched by an inspired kitchen.

No brunch is complete without breakfast favorites, a robust selection of meats, and mimosas. Fort Oak elevated brunch to a whole new level with Tahitian Vanilla Pancakes, Smoked Salmon Toast, Breakfast Meatballs, and my personal obsession—Chicken Fried Quail and French Toast. The hot honey, date puree, and house cultured butter were such welcoming and supportive details to this lovely dish. My guest surrendered to the 8 oz. Australian Wagyu beef. Yes, meat can surrender like that!

Fort Oak’s rustic urban, wood-fired cooking in an open kitchen will delight any foodie craving seasonal dishes.  There’s also a raw bar menu, house-made cheeses, and charcuterie, with plenty of shared plates. The menu is lusty and worth of every moment of your time to read.

Chef and owner Brad Wise also offers a six-course table offering with wine pairings for those who have visions of a night out with dressed-up friends, laughter and libations under the stars.

Linger any longer and you’ll be tempted to return for dinner reservations. Duroc Pork Chop with black garlic sauce, Baja Striped Bass in a Scallop Beurre Blanc, Opah Pastrami Toast—all promise the best dining experience you’ve ever had.

Now, this is dropping the dime on doing it right in San Diego!

Always wondering and always wandering,

Sam Russell – twitter – instagram