San Diego Princess Resort (1404 W. Vacation Road, tel. 800-344-2626 or 619-274-4630, fax 619-581-5929) . Balancing rates and resources, this must be the foremost family resort within city limits. It's a 44-acre island, about a three-mile bicycle ride from Pacific Beach, about half a mile from Sea World. Opened in 1962 as Vacation Village, it was bought by Princess Cruises in 1983. 462 rooms and suites, three restaurants, five pools, croquet lawn, volleyball court, marina, water-sports equipment and bicycle rentals (the paddle boats are a local institution), workout facility, 18-hole putting golf course, landscaped botanical walks. In summer, there are children's programs for ages 3-18, ranging from two hours to five hours. At the outdoor Barefoot Bar and Grill, there's a sand-covered dance floor and live music on weekend afternoons. A swim-up bar is being added in the main pool. Rack rates: $130-$170, rising May 26-Sept. 4 to $150-$195 (more for suites). Weekday special rates May through September: $99. AAA and AARP members often get 25% off rack rates.
Quality Resort Mission Valley (875 Hotel Circle South, San Diego, tel. 800-362-7871 or 619-298-8281, fax 619-295-5610). Known as the Mission Valley Inn until last Sept. 30, this formerly limping property has been renovated inside and out over the last year. Centrally located alongside Interstate 8 in Mission Valley, it includes three pools and two restaurants on 20 acres, with 150 of 202 rooms now in service. Guests also have access to the tennis and racquetball courts and spa facilities of neighboring Mission Valley Health and Racquet Club. On the night my wife and I spent there, the only problem we detected was the sound of passing freeway traffic, which could be bothersome to light sleepers in rooms closest to the freeway. Rack rates: $59-$89. AAA and AARP members often pay $49.
Town and Country Hotel (500 Hotel Circle North, San Diego, tel. 800-772-8527 or 619-291-7131, fax 619-291-3584). In the middle of Mission Valley. It's not new and it's often full of conventioneers, but it's comfortable. 1,000 rooms and suites on 32 acres. Five restaurants, four pools, golf course at hotel next door. Short walk from Fashion Valley shopping center. Rack rates $85-$110, more for suites. AAA members pay $69-$89. Entertainment cardholders often pay $55-$75.
Travelodge Harbor Island (1906 Harbor Island Drive, San Diego, tel. 800-255-3050 or 619-291-6700, fax 619-293-0694). Better amenities than the average Travelodge. 207 rooms and suites, all with balconies and views. Restaurant, pool. Two miles from downtown, four miles from the zoo or Mission Bay. Free parking and shuttle service to Horton Plaza. Rack rates: $109-$135, suites higher. AAA members usually pay $69-$89, AARP members usually get 15% off rack rates. Entertainment cardholders often get half off.
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TOP TEN FOR STYLE
(in alphabetical order)
Hotel del Coronado Hyatt Regency La Jolla at Aventine Hyatt Regency San Diego Le Meridien San Diego at Coronado Loews Coronado Bay Resort The Pan Pacific Hotel, San Diego San Diego Marriott Hotel & Marina Sheraton Harbor Island Resort U.S. Grant Hotel The Westgate Hotel
TOP TEN FOR VALUE
Bahia Resort Hotel Best Western Hacienda Hotel Old Town Best Western Shelter Island Marina Inn Catamaran Resort Hotel Dana Inn & Marina La Jolla Cove Suites / Shell Beach Apts. Quality Resort Mission Valley San Diego Princess Resort Town and Country Hotel Travelodge Harbor Island
* MORE HOTELS: North San Diego County's top five. L21