History Redefined

After a $52 million upgrade, the luxurious US Grant in San Diego reopens

By: Jill Fergus

San Diego’s downtown is going through a major resurgence and one of the leading players is the US Grant Hotel, the city’s most historic hotel, which has reopened after a $52 million renovation. Dating from 1910, the hotel was built in honor of former president Ulysses S. Grant by the president’s real-estate tycoon son, and in its heyday, it was the social center of town everyone from Charles Lindbergh to FDR were guests. The dramatic 11-story Beaux Arts building has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979 and is now part of Starwood’s posh Luxury Collection. And in an interesting twist, the hotel is owned by the Sycuans, a Native American tribe of the Kumeyaay Nation (whose ancestors were some of the area’s earliest settlers). In 1875, Grant passed an Executive Order setting aside 640 acres for the Sycuans in East San Diego County so the purchase and restoration of the building represents an ancestral tribute to their legacy in Southern California.

The attention to detail during the restoration was meticulous and many of the original hotel elements remain such as the grand white marble staircase and enormous columns in the soaring lobby, an original two-ton crystal chandelier in the foyer, the intricate iron work of the mezzanine’s balustrade and the wood-paneled men’s smoking room which now serves as an intimate event space. And the famous portrait of President Grant by Lawrence Gray, which once hung proudly, is once again on display (its companion painting is in D.C.’s National Gallery). Aside from the many wondrous historic elements, the hotel has all the modern amenities befitting a 21st-century Luxury Collection hotel including WiFi service, a state-of-the-art business center, event spaces and an impressive art collection which includes specially commissioned pieces from Native American sculptor Johnny “Bear” Contreras and French painter Yves Clement.

The 270 rooms are elegantly designed with nine-foot high ceilings accented with ornamental crown moldings, imported tapestry-style carpets, white-on-white beds topped with Italian linens and custom-designed Empire-style furnishings. Guests will appreciate the 32-inch flat-screens and the large marble-and-granite bathrooms, but surely the most dazzling feature are the Jackson Pollock-like “drippings” oil paintings on canvas by Clement which are blended into the headboards. The premier rooms are the two bi-level presidential suites boasting two-bedrooms, contemporary glass light fixtures, ultra-modern bathrooms with a blue iridescent mosaic tiled wall and a high-tech infinity-edge bath tub. There’s also a fabulous stone terrace (connecting the two suites) overlooking the skyline. While there is no spa, guests can request in-room treatments from nearby Spa Velia and there are special spa suites on the top floor.

After a day enjoying the sights perhaps a trolley tour to Coronado or museum-hopping in Balboa Park or a cruise along the harbor where you’ll glide by U.S. Navy warships it’s nice to be back at the hotel for pre-dinner cocktails (try the Bay Crush or Grant’s Margarita) which are served in the bar of the hotel’s signature restaurant, the Grant Grill. The restaurant is beautifully decorated with soft leather walls, brocade-backed banquettes and decorative ironwork. The cuisine from executive chef Andreas Nieto is California regional and makes use of locally grown products, especially produce from nearby Chino Farms and the wine list is heavy with labels from California wineries. The hotel is just a few blocks from the trendy Gaslamp Quarter overflowing with sleek cocktail lounges and nightclubs but you’ll be hard-pressed to leave the comfort and luxury of the US Grant for too long, which is a sure sign that the hotel will once again become an integral part of San Diego.


US Grant Hotel



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