Weekend Away: San Diego

Weekend Away: San Diego
Pulling onto F Street, I handed the keys over to the attendant and walked into a fiery red lobby. A hotel with this much intrigue makes it easy to spice up a relationship during a trip to San Diego.

The building that houses the Keating might date from 1890, but there is nothing antiquated about this luxury boutique hotel. Designed by Pininfarina – the designer behind Ferrari and Maserati – the Keating offers 35 guest rooms decorated in signature red and black. From the moment I stepped into my room (or 'stanza' in Italian), it was impossible to ignore the seductive nature of the design. Rooms are free of interior walls, removing the division between bedroom and bathroom. In these sultry rooms, the walk-in showers are completely on display.

The Keating San Diego boutique hotel

Cutting-edge design results in a hotel that has been called a 'lifestyle landmark'. Rooms are so enticing that it is easy to linger for hours. There are the cozy fire-engine red robes. The nibbles and drinks ('sip and snack' bar) to ward off hunger. The technology that barely requires you to lift a finger, as remote controls can soften the lights or alert anyone on the other side of the door that you don't want to be disturbed.

I was so seduced by the room that after a long day of travel from the East Coast, we decided to stay in for the first night. The in-room dining menu, with its wide selection of choices from the downstairs restaurant, Merk, convinced us to stay in our robes. With a LaVazza coffee machine in the room, there wasn't a single reason to cross the threshold.

The Keating San Diego boutique hotel

Each of the 35 guest rooms and suites has its own reason to stay in for the night. Some rooms feature exposed brick, lounge areas with views of the San Diego skyline, and ergonomic chairs. While walk-in rain showers provide a sensual experience, the Imperiale suite takes this concept to the next level. Right there in the lounge area is what Pininfarina calls their Morphosis Series Jacuzzi tub. These futuristic tubs, with room for two, are enticing for a soak, even if you're the type of person who never longs for a bath.

When I finally tore myself from the Keating, the fantastic location of the hotel became clear. The front door is steps away from the main street of the Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego with all of its shopping, restaurants, and nightlife. The San Diego Convention Center, Balboa Park, and the scenic island of Coronado are all within close distance as well. I relied on the knowledgeable staff at the Keating, who shared their expertise with me several times. Since the staff of the Keating is as hip as the design, I trusted their judgment for restaurant recommendations and scenic drives.

Coronado Bridge San Diego aerial view

My convertible was waiting out front for me when I descended the stairs into the lobby. The destination for the morning was Coronado, but more specifically, the opportunity to drive over the vast, scenic bridge that connects Coronado to downtown San Diego. Once I arrived on the island there were a variety of shops and dining spots, along with miles of soft beaches. While a trip to San Diego can be full of action and attractions, I chose the alternative: taking it slow and enjoying the southern California sunshine.

After a serene day, I was ready to experience the nightlife scene in the Gaslamp Quarter. One restaurant had been recommended to me by food-loving friends back east: Searsucker. Opened in 2010 by Top Chef finalist Brian Malarkey, Searsucker is one of the restaurants in San Diego that is responsible for redefining the city's food reputation. Here New American Classic cuisine is served alongside craft beer and unique cocktails. The massive 7,000 square foot space is warmed by large couches, mismatched chairs, and exposed ceiling beams. Before the food even arrived, the quirky design of Searsucker won me over.

For me, one of the most important indications of a restaurant's quality is the enthusiasm a server has for the food. As I glanced over the menu, my helpful server walked me through different dishes, describing her favorites and answering my questions with a passion for each ingredient and subtle flavor. It was evident that she has not only tasted the food, but believes in the dishes that are created in the open kitchen.

The Keating San Diego boutique hotel

After sharing a fresh summer salad and a grown-up version of shrimp and grits, it was on to the main courses. At the suggestion of the server, I tried the pork butt, fork-tender and packed with slow-cooked flavor. Small plates accompanied the entrees, including the restaurant's already-famous duck fat fries and jalapeno-chorizo corn off the cob. After sharing a couple decadent desserts, I was certain that Chef Malarkey's talent translates off the screen and into the kitchen.

It was a short stroll back to the Keating Hotel, past bustling bars and nightclubs. The Keating has its own subterranean nightclub called Sway, but on this night, I felt the lure of my room calling from upstairs. This hotel has succeeded in creating a space that sparks your interest – both for the design and for your partner. As I climbed the stairs to bed, I couldn't help but think that the Keating is effortlessly cool, just like the Italians themselves.

Jessica Colley is a freelance travel and food writer based in New York City. Follow her travels on www.thegreatamericantraveldream.com

Hotel Profile: The Keating