Sign Up for Our Monthly Cruise Newsletter
Casually sipping a Kolsch-style beer under the sculpted glass of the newly opened Ketch Grill & Taps restaurant in San Diego, I lamented only one thing: the absence of a cruise ship.
With a sudsy beverage originating from Cologne, Germany, and an uninterrupted view of the adjacent B Street Pier, all that could have made the summer day a better representation of global and local travel would have been a vessel moored nearby.
Just because there are no such ships (currently on pause due to the pandemic) sailing in and out of California doesn’t mean there isn’t still plenty of cruise experiences — including exciting new ones — to be enjoyed in America’s Finest City.
As a native resident of the southern homeport, I have always admired the city’s remarkable ease of access to all travel in a small downtown radius. The International Cruise Ship Terminal, San Diego Santa Fe Depot (Amtrak station), America Plaza Trolley Station, Interstate 5 and San Diego International Airport are all within 2 miles of one another, perfectly aligned along the scenic Embarcadero of San Diego Bay.
At this time of year, cruise ships would ordinarily be frequenting our shores; instead, Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Eclipse and Celebrity Millennium remain mostly anchored off the coast, periodically docking bayside only for fuel and pared-down crew provisions until they are put back into service.
If nothing else, the two ships made for a great, albeit hazy, photo-op off Coronado Island during a staycation that my wife and I recently took.
Our basecamp for the weekend was SpringHill Suites San Diego Downtown Bayfront and Residence Inn San Diego Downtown Bayfront, which opened four years ago across the street from the cruise terminal. The dual hotel properties share a mid-rise tower. We opted for SpringHill Suites with corner rooms overlooking the historic B Street Pier and newer Broadway Pier facilities. Breathtaking daytime and evening vistas of the cityscape justify the upgrade. Regardless of accommodations, if your clients are looking for a pre- and/or post-cruise hotel with great proximity to the dock, they need look no further.
In fact, the Marriott hotels and InterContinental San Diego reside on what was once a parking lot that supported both cruise and train travelers. From the SpringHill’s rooftop pool, you can look in either direction toward the contemporary cruise piers to the west and traditional train depot to the east.
Culminating other Embarcadero improvements over the last several years is the newest Portside Pier, which debuted on July 28. Replacing the tired Anthony's Fish Grotto that sat next to the cruise terminal for decades is now a modern collection of The Brigantine, Inc. restaurants and eateries encapsulated in flowing Frank Gehry-like lines: Brigantine Seafood and Oyster Bar, Miguel’s Cocina, Portside Coffee & Gelato and Ketch Grill & Taps.
Ketch includes the quick-service bar that acted as a perfect prelude to our Friday night dinner at Miguel’s as we waited for an open table. The San Diego staple’s signature white sauce and tortilla chips, along with delicious dishes such as ahi tuna tacos, were wonderfully washed down with coastal-themed margaritas. The venue’s wide views of the bay make it ideal for gazing upon San Diego’s natural wonders and eventually docked cruise ships alike.
Similarly, Brigantine Seafood and Oyster Bar made for a tasty Sunday morning brunch. Reservations were already full, but arriving a little early to get in the standby line while sipping on chilled brews from Portside Coffee & Gelato ensured we got in at opening. Creamy clam chowder and a succulent seafood omelet were winners here, but my wife would shy you away from the uninspired chicken and waffles.
Just a stone’s throw away from the restaurants on the Brigantine end is Maritime Museum of San Diego and its timeless iron-hulled sailing ship, Star of India, also awaiting visitors from shore and soon again from cruises.
The Embarcadero is already bustling with activity, but cruise ship calls will further activate the stretch of San Diego Bay with a much-needed influx of tourists to the city. Following Cruise Lines International Association’s latest voluntary suspension of sailing through Oct. 31, there is hope that cruises will resume in California by November.
My family and I are already booked on a four-day Carnival Cruise Line vacation onboard Carnival Miracle, roundtrip from San Diego on Nov. 5. Our fingers are crossed that we will be able to embark as scheduled and enjoy all that San Diego has to offer cruise travelers.
The DetailsPortside Pierwww.portofsandiego.org/projects/portside-pier
SpringHill Suites San Diego Downtown Bayfrontwww.marriott.com