Basic by the Bay: A Review of the InterContinental San Diego
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To The Point
Great location and warm service didn’t make up for basic accommodations for this brand. Pros: centrally located, welcoming staff. Cons: basic decor, furnishings and amenities.
The San Diego hotel scene is heating up with the addition of a few new properties lately, including the InterContinental San Diego, which opened in August 2018. The 400-room, 19-story hotel is part of the new BRIC complex, so called because it’s at the corner of Broadway and Pacific Highway, right on the downtown waterfront. (BRoadway and PacifIC — get it?) In addition to the InterContinental, the complex includes a dual-branded Marriott property with a SpringHill Suites and Residence Inn in its other tower. There are also a few restaurants and shops so far, including a Del Frisco’s steakhouse, with more planned.
I spent Thanksgiving in San Diego, so I decided to check out the hotel on the Saturday of that holiday weekend, when the city was quiet and room rates were relatively low.
I booked a standard water-view king room for $233 for the night. However, in addition to taxes, there was a $25 daily amenity fee that was levied for: basic Wi-Fi; in-room local and domestic calls; wellness-center access; pool access; complimentary use of the business lounge; $25 off Club Intercontinental access; and up to two complimentary signature cocktails at Vistal Bar (one per person).
Basically, I was charged a resort fee at a city hotel for amenities I’d either usually have access to as a regular hotel guest (like the gym), as an IHG Rewards Club member (like internet) or that I didn’t need at all (like cocktails). I was annoyed when the final bill came out to closer than $300 and ended up being more like $330 when I factored in the $38 overnight parking fee ($50 for valet).
Award rates were available for 50,000 points or various cash-and-points options that ranged down to 40,000 points plus $70. None of those got me a value anywhere near TPG’s valuations, so I decided to save my points for more expensive stays.
I earned 15 IHG Rewards points per dollar as an IHG Platinum elite thanks to the fact that I have the old IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card (I hadn’t switched over to the new IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card yet). I paid with my Chase Sapphire Reserve to earn 3x Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on top of that.
The hotel was right in the heart of downtown San Diego. It was a 10-minute drive to the airport and just across the street from the Santa Fe Depot on one side and the San Diego Bay on the other.
Speaking of the bay, the USS Midway Museum was down the block, and you could book many tours, like to Old Town and around the city, at Broadway Pier. The Maritime Museum and Star of India were only a block away, and the restaurants of Little Italy and the Gaslamp Quarter were about a 15-minute walk.
Petco Park and the San Diego Convention Center were both a 10-minute drive, while Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo were each around 15 minutes away by car. In short, the hotel was pretty centrally located whether you were in town for business or sightseeing.
I arrived at the hotel at around 1pm. The hotel shared a driveway with the Marriott properties and the Del Frisco valet, though its entrance was separate.
I pulled around to where a valet was standing, and he said he’d keep the car for me on a complimentary basis while I checked in. Then I’d just have to decide if I wanted to self-park for $38 or valet for $50.
He offered to help with the bags, but I just had a small suitcase, so I declined.
He then directed me inside, where a bellman pointed me toward a set of glass elevators that took me up to the lobby on the third floor.
The concierge desk was to the left when I left the elevator, and there was a small sitting area directly ahead between me and the reception desks.
No one else was checking in when I arrived, so I just stepped up to the nearest desk where there was an agent working.
She pulled up my reservation and thanked me for my loyalty. I had been upgraded one category to a premium water-view king room on a higher floor that would have cost $16 more for the night.
She also offered me a 600-point welcome amenity and the two drink vouchers for the bar included with the amenity fee.
She told me about the fitness center and pool up on the fourth floor and sent me on my way.
The elevators to the guest rooms were beyond the reception desks in the hotel’s main tower and required a keycard to access guest floors.
My room was about midway down the hall on the 15th floor. It was listed as 380 square feet.
The room was spacious and bright, thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows, but otherwise it was rather basic.
The king bed had a wooden frame and leather headboard.
It was dressed in white linens, a top sheet and fluffy duvet with blue stitching, and had four oversize pillows. It was very comfortable that night.
The wall behind the bed held a painting that was the only piece of art in the room. Other than that, the walls were bare.
The nightstand on one side held a clock and the other the telephone. There were two power outlets and two USB ports on each side, and one of the drawers held the room safe.
Beyond the bed and next to the window was a simple chaise lounge.
The drapes were not electronic or anything, but included a sheer curtain (so people across the driveway in the other hotel couldn’t see in) and blackout curtains.
The view was nice and took in the pool area.
It also extended out to San Diego Bay and beyond.
On the wall across from the bed was a 49-inch television mounted on the wall. This doubled as the room compendium, because you could look up the various hotel amenities and room-service menus (but not order) on it. You were also supposed to be able to stream content from your various devices over the TV, but it did not work for me from various phones or iPads, so I’m not sure if there was a system issue.
The desk was small and basic.
The drawers to the side held the minibar, which was well-stocked with drinks.
There was also a Keurig coffeemaker with capsules.
On the counter, meanwhile, were various snacks like gummy worms and almonds, plus a charging kit and a “Romance Kit” in case you needed certain items for an evening in.
Back toward the front door, the closet was fairly large and contained two comfortable robes, hangers, drawers and an ironing board.
Across from that, behind another rolling door, was the bathroom. One word on this door: It rolled shut for privacy, but you could still see out through cracks on either side and could hear everything happening in the bathroom, and vice versa. I know doors like these are a space saver, but at least make them more soundproofed than that.
Though spacious, it was not the most impressive bathroom. The toilet was right next to the sink, and there was just a shower, no bathtub. The sink counter was large, so you could spread out your toiletries. I also liked the two blue glasses.
There was a box of complimentary amenities including a nail kit and a sewing kit.
The mirror had incorporated lighting that could be brightened or dimmed with a button on the mirror itself.
In the shower were wall-mounted and handheld shower heads. The two good design features were that it had a closing door — none of this half-glassed-in nonsense where you end up dripping all over the floor — and that the on-off handle was on the wall opposite the shower heads so you wouldn’t get sprayed while waiting for the water to heat up.
As is the standard any InterContinental, the bath products were Agraria.
The room Wi-Fi worked OK. Thank goodness I only had to pay $25 to make sure it was free (eye roll).
Though the room was large and the amenities were nice, this did not feel like it was a luxury hotel. The décor was so basic, there was so much wasted space, and the bathroom felt subpar. Overall, the room felt more like a nice Holiday Inn rather than an InterContinental. I did, however, appreciate the turndown service while I was out at dinner, and came back to a room that was freshened up, a remade bed and replenished towels.
Food and Beverage
The hotel will eventually have a bar on the 19th floor that looks like it will be stunning. There was also an outdoor bar with a small seating area near the pool on the fourth-floor rooftop, but it was not operating while I was there.
So, for my stay, the only restaurant in the hotel was across the lobby from reception, called Vistal. It had a huge bar with TVs showing sports, and a large indoor dining area plus an outdoor terrace overlooking the water. The look was pretty generic, but the bartenders and hostess were all very nice.
Chefs Amy DiBiase and Paul McCabe are well-known down in San Diego and created the menu here with a focus on local seafood and regionally produced ingredients. The menu for my stay included a cauliflower-puree soup with green-onion salsa and curried crème fraiche; cornmeal-crusted ling cod sandwich with brown-butter mayo; olive-oil-poached halibut with pickled green beans and whole-grain mustard; and Baja prawns with purple-sweet-potato gnocchi and oyster mushrooms in a cilantro pistou. It looked good … but not enough to get me to change my plans from eating out in Little Italy that evening.
Equally interesting was the cocktail menu, which featured a whole section of original gin drinks including a Lavender Lust with Empress 1908, agave, lime and egg whites. That evening after dinner, we redeemed our drink coupons for a Gin-Serac with Ford’s Gin, yellow chartreuse and Peychaud’s bitters, which was smooth and refreshing; and a Chef’s Choice, which was like a coffee-flavored Manhattan with rye whiskey, chicory-infused Ramazzotti liqueur, sweet vermouth and bitters. Together, they cost $25, so I got my resort fee back at least. The bartender was also friendly and attentive, walking me through the menu and pointing out interesting specialties.
There was also a Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse that was part of the building but had a separate entrance.
The hotel’s main amenities were both on the fourth floor. There was a fitness center with a large main room for cardio and weight machines. While I was staying at the property, it overlooked a huge construction site.
There was also a separate room with spinning bikes and a huge video display for on-demand fitness classes.
Guests could grab towels and chilled bottles of Evian from a refrigerator near the entrance, though I did not see any gym attendants there throughout the Saturday afternoon that I was passing through.
Across the building, the very basic pool had both loungers and a few small cabana-style seating areas. Only a couple other hotel guests were out there.
Because of its orientation and the surrounding buildings, the pool only seemed to get direct sunlight in the early morning and late afternoon. It was also short and just 3 feet, 3 inches deep, so don’t expect to be doing laps here.
I did not check out the Club InterContinental lounge while I was there, but access got you complimentary breakfast, evening canapés and drinks from the full bar for a $125 daily fee per room. So even with the resort fee, you were looking at $100 per day.
The hotel also had 35,000 square feet of indoor event and meeting spaces, though I did not get a chance to see them, either.
It’s nice to have another midrange hotel where you can earn and redeem points in downtown San Diego. However, this Intercontinental didn’t seem to have the same upscale touches I’ve come to expect from the brand. The customer service — including check-in agents, waitstaff and housekeeping — were all warm and welcoming, and I did appreciate little service elements like turndown and the diligence of the valet and bell staff. But the room felt basic and bland, and the pool area could have been so much better.
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