Beach Party

Pacific Beach, one of San Diego's most lively and eclectic neighborhoods, has much to offer visitors

By: Kenneth Shapiro

Located 5 miles from Sea World, 7 miles from the San Diego Zoo and 10 miles from the San Diego airport, Pacific Beach would seem an ideal place to stay on a visit to San Diego, yet it is often overshadowed by its neighbors upscale La Jolla to the north and “family-friendly” Mission Bay to the south. That’s a shame, because with a beautiful beach and boardwalk, a wide range of accommodations and a mix of restaurants, bars and coffeehouses, P.B., as its known to locals, is just the place to call home when booking a trip to San Diego.

Despite being in the heart of the city, Pacific Beach has retained its beach-town vibe, with bicycles and Rollerblades the preferred methods of travel. While it’s still a surfing hot spot evidenced by the surf stores on and around Garnet Avenue, P.B.’s main drag the neighborhood’s coffeehouses and ethnic restaurants give it a cosmopolitan feel.

“Whether it’s the serenity of Mission Bay, or the beauty of the Pacific Ocean, or the boardwalk, we’ve got it all here,” said Ron Houston, president of Discover Pacific Beach Business Improvement District. “And there’s a certain energy here. You can’t miss feeling it.”

Of course, it’s the beach that’s the main attraction. Famous with surfers and the local college crowd, it’s also a great place to doze quietly in the sun or play with the kids in the surf. And the boardwalk lined with small boutiques and restaurants, and shadowed by a three-mile-long bike path (bike rentals are readily available) offers an excellent respite from lounging in the sun. About two-thirds of the way down the boardwalk, in neighboring Mission Beach, is Belmont Park, which bills itself as “San Diego’s only beachfront amusement center.” Belmont Park is the home of the world-famous Giant Dipper a wooden roller coaster built in 1925.

While there’s plenty to do in Pacific Beach itself, most visitors will use the area as a jumping-off point to explore San Diego’s many attractions. And there’s no shortage of accommodations in the area.

Probably the most well-known hotel in the area is the Catamaran Resort Hotel, situated on Mission Bay. Part of the Evans Hotels group, the Catamaran has 313 deluxe guest rooms and suites, with a mix of garden, ocean and bay views. It has an award-winning restaurant and two bars, and it offers a complimentary cocktail cruise aboard its boat, the Bahia Belle. Included among its many services is a watersports rental service where you can rent everything from boogie boards to Jet Skis. They also offer tours to local attractions and special packages.

“We’re situated right on Mission Bay, only five minutes from Sea World, and close to all of San Diego’s famous beaches,” said Damon Lockrem, director of sales for the Catamaran. “We have our own Mad Science kids club, and we feature lots of outdoor summertime entertainment, including luaus, music and barbecues.” The Catamaran’s rates are $169 to $375 per night, single occupancy, for a standard guest room. If you book before June 30, you may be eligible for their Pre-Summer Sale, with garden-view rooms as low as $139 and bay-view rooms for $179. The Catamaran offers travel agents 10 percent commission on booked rooms. (Check with the hotel for details on their commission policy.)

One of the most dramatic hotels in P.B. is the Crystal Pier Hotel. Located literally on top of Crystal Pier, in the heart of P.B.’s boardwalk, the hotel has 29 one- and two-bedroom units made up of Cape Cod-style cottages that sit on the pier, about 15 feet above the surf. The hotel has become well known in recent years as it’s featured on the television show “Hunter.”

“People find it very relaxing,” said Sharon Hurt, an employee of the hotel. “In some units, you can really feel the waves coming in as you’re lying in bed.”

Summer rates for the Crystal Pier Hotel run $270 to $400 per night, and rooms are usually booked months in advance. There is no travel agent commission. Another place to try is the Pacific Terrace Hotel, located on the boardwalk in Pacific Beach. This 73-unit “luxury boutique” hotel features deluxe guest rooms with large private balconies or patios, most with ocean views. “We’re actually situated on a slight bluff above the beach,” said Jenny Mendoza, the hotel’s director of sales, “so even the views on the ground floor are fantastic.” The hotel offers numerous services, including in-room massage therapy and a complimentary wine reception each evening. They will even arrange for surfing lessons.

They offer 10 percent commission; and best of all, they say they are “very travel-agent-friendly.” Agents can apply for commission when booking over the hotel’s Web site.

“I’m a former travel agent myself,” said Mendoza. “We’ll really work with the agent to help them if we can.”

Rooms run $260 to $385 per night in summer, depending on size. Rates are based on double occupancy, but children under 14 stay free.

Probably the most famous restaurant in P.B. is Sushi Ota, a regular in Zagat’s restaurant surveys and often voted one of the best restaurants in all of San Diego. Visitors should also try Nick’s at the Beach. This “casual California-style” eatery is known for its fresh seafood and veranda dining with a view of the ocean.

For breakfast and lunch, another landmark in the neighborhood is Kono’s Surf Cafe, located just a few steps from the ocean, on the P.B. boardwalk. In the evening, try the Cass Street Bar and Grill. A beer and wine bar with a good menu, Cass Street very popular with locals.

With 26 million visitors every year, San Diego is certainly a top travel destination. While there is no shortage of places to stay in the city, Pacific Beach provides a perfect base for your clients’ next trip down the San Diego way.

Discover Pacific Beach, 858-273-3303,

Catamaran Resort Hotel, 800-422-8386,

Crystal Pier Hotel, 800-748-5894,

Pacific Terrace Hotel, 800-344-3370,