Review: Hotel La Jolla — A Kimpton Property

About a year ago I wrote about Kimpton’s Inner Circle program, which I had heard a ton of great things about. All of my friends that were Inner Circle members raved about how personalized the service is and how generally happy Kimpton employees are, so I was excited to give the brand a try.

Per my post about a year ago, here are the basics of their elite program:

As you can see, their entry level elite status is InTouch (which requires seven stays or 20 nights), and gets you:

  • Complimentary wifi
  • A $10 minibar credit ($15 credit in New York) whenever you stay at one of their hotels
  • Passport Rewards, which means that if you stay at 10 different Kimpton properties in a year you get a certificate for an additional free two night stay

Then there’s Inner Circle status (which requires 15 stays or 45 nights), which gets you all of the above plus:

  • A customized welcome amenity consisting of your favorite drink and snack
  • A complimentary night at every new hotel (they open at least a handful of new hotels every year, and as an Inner Circle member you get a free night at each of them)
  • A room upgrade based on availability (based on what I’ve heard these upgrades can be pretty generous, regularly to suites)
  • Direct access to the CEO (okay, this sounds like a gimmick, but it’s still kind of awesome)

I status matched to Kimpton last year, and while I had intended to make several Kimpton stays, for whatever reason it never quite happened. I guess I was too busy requalifying for status with Hyatt and Starwood.

So I actually had my first Kimpton stay this past weekend in Southern California. After spending a night at the W Hotel San Diego and then the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, I decided to leave the downtown area a bit and stay in La Jolla instead. Hotel La Jolla is a property that was recently refurbished and rebranded as a Kimpton, so I was quite looking forward to checking it out.

The first thing I found interesting in making my Kimpton booking is just how many promotions they run. When I went to the website and searched availability for my date the rate was $159. However, when I logged into my Inner Circle account there were several promotions on the main member page.

One promotion offered a rate of about $140, while another promotion offered 20% off plus a bottle of wine.

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That means the rate was just $127.20 plus a bottle of wine, which was extremely reasonable. For what it’s worth these rates don’t pop up if you just log into your account and do a search, but rather you have to search with the specific promotion codes. So there are ways to save money by booking through promotions, but it does take a bit of research (unlike other chains where promotional rates automatically pop up when making a booking).

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It’s also worth noting that Kimpton properties are all dog friendly. My friend was traveling with a dog, making this a great option as well.

Hotel La Jolla is about a 15 minute drive from downtown San Diego, and frankly isn’t exactly stunning from the outside.

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton exterior

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton exterior

As we pulled up we were promptly welcomed by two bellmen that confirmed we’d be parking overnight. The only option for parking is valet, which is $28 per night. That’s absolutely ridiculous, in my opinion, given that this isn’t a city hotel, and the parking setup is actually similar to a Hampton Inn or Holiday Inn Express, whereby there are parking spots all around the hotel — they’re simply reserved for valet. Given that almost everyone drives to the hotel, it’s basically a way of sneakily raising rates by $28 per night, I guess.

Anyway, near the entrance I found it cute that they had a “Welcome Furry Friends” sign, with the names of all the dogs staying at the property.

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton welcome “board”

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton dog welcome

The lobby was simple but beautiful, and felt very “local.”

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton lobby

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton lobby

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton lobby

We were promptly helped at check-in, and I think the lady checking us in (Charrah) may have just been the nicest and most enthusiastic person ever. She was hilarious, had an infectious smile, and couldn’t have been more professional. I was quickly beginning to see the “Kimpton difference” in terms of the employees.

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton lobby

She asked whether I wanted a white or red bottle of wine, and went over some of the Inner Circle benefits.

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton keys and promotions

I was assigned a room on the 7th floor (the hotel has 11 floors). This is the first time in a while I’ve stayed at a hotel with exterior hallways — bleh!

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton exterior hallway

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton view from exterior hallway

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton floorplan

Fortunately the room itself was spacious and beautiful. There was an entryway with the bathroom to the left. The entryway led into the main room, which featured a very comfortable bed, desk and TV, and chair with ottoman in the corner.

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton room entrance

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton room

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton room

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton room desk & TV

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton room chair and ottoman

There was a minibar with both snacks and drinks. As an InTouch member you get a $10 “raid the minibar” credit per stay, which generally covers a drink and snack. I think that’s a really neat benefit. Nowadays you can even spend that credit at the bar instead.

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton room minibar

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton room minibar

The room also had a balcony with two chairs and a coffee table, though it was really small.

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton room balcony

The balcony featured views of the surrounding area and the Pacific Ocean in the distance. For what it’s worth the view from the 11th floor restaurant was amazing, so in this case a few floors makes a big difference.

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton room view from balcony

The bathroom was also really functional, and featured a sink, toilet, and walk-in shower which faced both the room and bathroom (though there was a privacy shield that could be lowered so that the shower isn’t visible from the room).

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton bathroom

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton toilet

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton shower

The room featured C.O. Bigelow toiletries, which I quite like.

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton toiletries

On the whole I thought the room was in brilliant condition, as you’d expect for a newly refurbished hotel. The wifi in the room was really fast as well. Ultimately you can tell this is an older hotel, and when you’re refurbishing a property there’s only so much you can do. For example, there’s not a practical way to get rid of the exterior hallways or to make the balconies bigger. But they definitely made the best of what they had to work with.

About 30 minutes after I arrived my Inner Circle amenity and bottle of wine arrived. I was brought a Diet Coke with lime, nuts, chocolate, and a handwritten card — AWESOME! Not only was the amenity awesome, but the associate that brought it was super cheery and asked me how my stay was, if I needed any recommendations for things to do, etc.

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton Inner Circle welcome amenity

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton wine included with rate

In terms of the hotel’s other facilities, there’s a fairly nice gym on the ground floor.

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton gym

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton gym

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton gym

Next to it is the pool, which isn’t huge though is nicely appointed with plenty of lounge chairs.

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton pool

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton pool

Next to the pool is the bar/zoo. The bar has really nice outdoor furniture and a fire pit, which was awesome given the slightly cool temperature. Kimptons must be heaven for dogs, because I’m pretty sure there were more pounds worth of dogs than humans at the bar. Not only have I never seen so many dogs, but I’ve never seen so many well behaved HUGE dogs.

The humans were more behaving worse than the dogs, as they were watching something on TV that I couldn’t figure out. Something about the 56ers and Sealions… or something like that.

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton outside bar

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton outside bar fire pit

The service at the bar was also top notch. The bartender/server clearly loved his job, and was super-friendly. My friend was cold and wanted coffee, and while the bar doesn’t have coffee, he was more than happy to coordinate with the restaurant on the 11th floor to bring her down some coffee.

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton outside bar appetizers

In the evening we decided to have dinner at Cusp, the hotel’s restaurant. Kimpton isn’t just known for their hotels, but also for their restaurants, so I figured we’d check out their offerings. At around 5PM I headed up to the restaurant to make a reservation for 5:30PM, and mentioned we were both Inner Circle members.

One of the Inner Circle benefits is “complimentary chef’s creation at Kimpton Restaurants.” You’re supposed to let the host know you’re Inner Circle when making the reservation, so I did that. She told me I should’ve received a handwritten note at check-in that I was supposed to bring to the restaurant to get the chef’s creation, so suggested I go down to the front desk to get that.

So I went to the front desk, and they didn’t know what I was talking about, so phoned up to the restaurant. Within a few moments the associate told me the restaurant was now aware I was Inner Circle and we should be good to go. So 10 minutes later we headed to the restaurant for our reservation, and I confirmed once again with the host that she had received the information from the front desk. She confirmed she did and that we were “all set to go,” though we never actually got a chef’s creation. I also didn’t know at what point to ask about it, since I had no clue if the chef’s creation came in the form of an appetizer, dessert, or what.

Anyway, the restaurant itself was gorgeous, and boasted beautiful views.

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton Cusp Restaurant

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton Cusp Restaurant

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton Cusp Restaurant

Our server in the restaurant was great as well. Since it was Restaurant Week they had a $35 three course set menu. At check-in we were given little cards advertising a $25 two course menu available before 6PM (which is one of the reasons we ate so early). The server informed us that it wasn’t available that night, in which case I’m not sure why they’d hand us a “card” about it when we checked in a couple of hours prior and were staying for one night.

Anyway, the service in the restaurant was genuinely friendly and well intentioned, I was just kind of disappointed in the advertised special not being available and the lack of the “chef’s creation” after specifically following up about it multiple times.

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton Cusp Restaurant menu

The food was spectacular, fortunately. I had the heirloom tomato & burrata as a starter.

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton Cusp Restaurant heirloom tomato & burrata starter

Then for the main course I had the sea bass, which was served as a risotto paella of sorts with mussels, shrimp, etc. It was spectacular.

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton Cusp Restaurant oven roasted corvina sea bass main course

Then for dessert I had bananas foster. Yum.

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton Cusp Restaurant bananas foster dessert

Kimpton also has a complimentary wine hour in the evenings, though I didn’t have a chance to check that out. In the mornings they have a free coffee and tea setup in the lobby.

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton coffee setup

We once again had breakfast at Cusp.

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton Cusp Restaurant

I had an egg white scramble and fruit, which was tasty.

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton Cusp Restaurant breakfast

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Hotel La Jolla Kimpton Cusp Restaurant cappuccino

Bottom line

This was my first Kimpton stay, so I’m commenting on literally every aspect of the service and experience here. On the whole it was apparent to me that Kimpton has a different service mentality than other major US hotel brands. There were some small service snafus, though across the board the employees were incredibly friendly and genuine, and that’s not something you find at many hotels.

Physically this is far from the nicest Kimpton. This is an old property that was recently refurbished, though there’s only so much you can change without tearing the building down and starting from scratch. I’ve certainly visited (though not stayed at) other Kimptons — many of which are newly built — and been very impressed by them.

I’ll definitely give another Kimpton a shot soon.

If you’ve stayed at a Kimpton, what were your impressions? And for those of you that are Kimpton cheerleaders, which property should I check out next?

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Comments

  1. I’ve stayed at Kimptons in San Francisco and Seattle and have enjoyed my stays very much–it’s a different mentality, all right. They do seem to specialize in revamping older properties, sometimes in slightly funky neighborhoods. I guess in La Jolla that means a 60s-era ex-Holiday Inn?

  2. I’ve been using Kimpton for basically all my U.S. work travel now for the past two years… the properties I’ve stayed at have much nicer appearances than yours. They are particularly good in San Francisco… you definitely need to give more a try, cause the one you stayed at is atypical.

  3. I think you need to consider withholding the tip from a restaurant server when they repeatedly make mistakes, and/or fail to follow through on service. While that “chef’s creation” (an appetizer, I imagine) was going to be free, a top-level Kimpton member is entitled to it as a perk for being a loyal customer who spends a lot of money each year with the hotel chain. That’s value that you lost after choosing to stay there over a competing hotel.
    Would you have put up more of a fight if you opened the minibar ready to use your $10 credit, and it was completely empty?
    W

  4. Love Kimpton! Although this one looks kinda shabby. Was there no funky bath robe in your room? That’s their specialty!

  5. I had one stay in a Kimpton and loved it. Very nice employees. Told them its our first time in the city and got upgrade to a very nice suite.

    Mark, no comment about the toilet yet? 😉

  6. Based on this review, I’d not be inclined to stay – I’d either choose a downtown hotel (US Grant and W are both great, and often very reasonable – the Grant is an FHR participant); or keep driving north to the Park Hyatt Aviara. I have the same initial problem as you do here (and at the PH) – mandatory valet parking where the hotel is suburban. I don’t like valet parking because I do come and go quite a bit – that’s life with a toddler.

    It sucks they didn’t get you their restaurant amenity, but the menu and food itself do look better than most hotel fare (even at upscale properties).

    Sorry, I just can’t get over $28 valet parking in the suburbs.

  7. The more I read your reviews of San Diego hotels, the less I want to go there. What a compilation of old and not chic hotels!!!!!

  8. @ Brazilflyer — Well in this case I don’t really think it was the server’s fault. My guess is that it wasn’t properly communicated to the server by the host. Agree in general, though.

  9. I had an amazing say at the Hotel La Jolla and Charrah is AMAZING. Did you use the free bicycles? Some other Kimptons to check out – Canary Hotel in Santa Barbara, Eventi in NYC, Ink48 in NYC… Surfcomber on Southbeach was also awesome

  10. Lucky, unless they’ve changed the program recently, the InTouch benefits are available to anyone who simply enrolls in the program. I’m pretty sure the 7 stays/20 nights is how InTouch members earn free nights.

  11. I travel to San Diego quite a bit and I find La Jolla to be overrated. I recently stayed at the Hotel Solamar downtown and was treated well as a matched inner circle member. We were upgraded to a master suite on a high floor with nice views, given gluten free cupcakes (requested amenity was vegan/gluten free snacks) and a six pack of locally brewed beer as a welcome amenity and there was a self service parking lot across the street for $15 per 24 hours. San Diego gives you great weather but on the whole, it is more run down than most cities.

  12. Thanks for the review of this property! I’ve been considering it as a staycation since we love La Jolla but have stayed away due to the dated looking exterior.

    I stayed at the Palomar downtown once, and had an amazing experience. I prefer it over the W, the Manchester GH, the Westin Gaslamp, and Andaz – all of which I have spent a night at. Next time you’re in town, give it a try!

    I am also curious about Salomar – which is on my short list of places to stay.

  13. We got the chef’s creation treat for free at Donovan House in DC, which coincides with one dish we ordered (so we had the dish twice). Chef came out to introduce the dish herself. The restaurant was great.

  14. Love Kimptons. Have stayed in several from Vancouver BC (though no longer there), Seattle (both the Monaco and Vintage Park), Chicago, San Francisco, Cupertino, and Minneapolis. I’m not sure I have a favorite, but we have nearly always enjoyed our stays at the Hotel Monaco in Seattle; mostly because we do travel with our dog and he’s treated like a king there. Always enthusiastic and we’ve never had a bad experience.

    The only downside: no international redemption opportunities, but for domestic only, very hard to beat for boutique hotels.

  15. You always refer to the other person you are with as friend. I like your older reviews where you at least list their first name. At least that way it wouldn’t feel so cold and dismissive of them.

  16. Nice to see some reviews of our local hotels!

    And I agree with Larry – who are these “friends” you always travel with? Lol! Just giving you a hard time because you constantly mention how introverted you are. I’m introverted too, and I don’t like traveling with anyone other than my wife.

  17. I thought lucky liked men until I saw the king size bed and the she reference. Now we know he is straight for sure.

  18. I’m glad to see you had a good experience at one of my favorite San Diego hotels (yes, La Jolla is in San Diego). The building was a major handicap to the refurbishment, but it has some style now. And as you experienced, the people are great throughout the hotel.

    Those who would complain about $28 dollars to park in “suburbia” should try parking on the street – good luck with that! The hotel is in a very dense, very expensive, highly trafficked neighborhood. It’s not suburbia.

    I’m glad too that you had a good experience at Cusp. I think it’s one of the best restaurants in the relative wasteland of San Diego dining. Thanks for the tip about the chef’s creation for Inner Circle members. I had never heard of it (assuming you can actually get one served).

    You missed two of the best features of the hotel: the free bikes for riding to the beach, and the free car transport into La Jolla proper. Those two features make up for any other shortcomings.

    I hope this means you’ll be reviewing lots of Kimptons. Even with some quirks and flaws, they’re far better than most chain properties. Check out The Eventi (my favorite)and Nine Zero.

  19. Lucky. Should we believe you? Somehow I don’t think you are telling the trust. As Jason said above was she hot?

  20. Always hated Kimpton properties: I’ve stayed in their DC and Chicago hotels, and both felt terribly shabby to me, as if they thought a coat of paint and a leopard-print bathrobe (?) could overcome a musty, stained shoebox of a room.

    And let’s ease up on the speculation about Lucky’s love life. Not everyone who invites someone of the opposite sex on a vacation is looking for a cuddle. 😉 I’m sure if he has a significant other to report, he’ll let everyone know.

  21. Did you say the secret password (sugarplum)? I said at the Alexis in downtown Seattle last week and got free valet parking ($40 value) I was also upgraded to a huge, beautiful suite as an inner circle member (which was a status match to Hyatt diamond) the Alexis was awesome!

  22. Last Kimpton I stayed at was Monaco in San Francisco – they used to bring a goldfish to your room on request to ‘keep you company’ if you we missing a pet from home!

  23. haven’t caught up on the blog in a while, but had a relatively similar experience to yours at the Hotel La Jolla in December.

    A few things: 1) you can park on the street .25mi from the hotel for free (which makes the $28 valet-only even more egregious, I think); 2) this is one of the lower-level Kimptons–usually, IC members get upgraded to suites; 3) the food is good, but most Kimptons have better restaurants.

    I really like their program, but find it incredibly inconsistent.

    I status matched last January and have since stayed at 20+ Kimptons.

    The welcome amenity and near-guaranteed suite upgrades are both fantastic benefits, and I’ve found that they are often running promos that offer even more free stuff. The biggest problems I have with Kimpton are two-fold: 1) they seem to think their loyalty program benefits are optional for properties (ie, some hotels won’t upgrade, won’t provide a significant amenity, etc); 2) 90%+ of the time, my bill is incorrect at check-out, and I have to fight to get it fixed.

    Still, I’ll probably requalify with Kimpton again this year, along with Starwood as a backup. Since I primarily do big city domestic travel for business, their lack of properties isn’t a real problem for me.

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