Closer to the road on G Street and Harbor Drive, another towering sculpture celebrates love. Locked in an embrace, this time with his wife and child who have rushed into his arms as he returned from a sea deployment, “Homecoming” is a spellbinding seven-foot bronze artwork. Both statues celebrate San Diego’s heritage as home to the US Pacific fleet and crews.
Since 1970, The Westgate Hotel, just 11 blocks away, has provided a fairy-tale setting for inamorati like these to rediscover each other.
Designed in the grand tradition of Europe’s most lavishly romantic hotels, the Westgate was the most expensive property in America when it opened. That it came to exist at all was down to an incredulous remark made by President Eisenhower over dinner to financier C. Arnholt Smith, the Donald Trump of this time, who took the comment – “Is this the best hotel you have in San Diego ?”- either as a put-down or as a challenge. But $14.5 million later in building costs, plus a helluva European shopping spree with the Missus, the Westgate debuted with a lobby straight out of Versailles, a look -alike anteroom where nobility waited for an audience with King Louis XV.
Today, you can still take afternoon high tea in the majestic space, transported to another time and place by a pianist tickling the light fantastic on one of the first of five Steinway pianos ever manufactured, lit to advantage by a chandelier of hand-cut Baccarat crystal and framed by tapestries created by the first painter to King Louis IV.
And the 400 sq. ft. guest rooms decorated with elegant Richelieu furniture are equally sumptuous.
Floating Film Sets & Art of the People Just a Trolley Ride Away
Catch the Old Town Trolley (a stop is just steps from the Westgate) for a narrated tour of San Diego and theneighborhoods of Uptown, Downtown, Embarcadero, Balboa Park, Zoo, Old Town and their history, and disembark at the Cruise Ship Terminal stop on Harbor Drive, North of Broadway. From there it’s a short walk to the San Diego Maritime Museum where the HMS Surprise, made famous by Russell Crowe as Captain “Lucky” Jack Aubrey in the academy award winning film,is berthed. Designed as a dead-ringer for an 18th century Royal Navy 24 gun frigate, the 179-foot full rigged ship is a veritable floating filmset showcasing costumes worn by cast, props, film clips and other memorabilia. The Surprise is as seaworthy as she looks; in 2007, volunteer crew sailed her four times.
On Saturdays young marine corpsmen fresh from their passing out parade like to congregate on the deck of a real B-39 Russian submarine, one of the largest conventionally powered submarines ever built, that was used in the Cold War to track U.S. and NATO warships.. During its deployment from 1950s to 1990s, it carried 24 torpedoes, 78 crew, and was cable of diving to a depth of 985 ft. A clue to how lithe you must be to climb down into the submarine is the giant hoola hoop positioned at its entrance. If you can shimmy through it, you’re good to go. Better to try this before lunch at the nearby seafront Anthony’s Fish Grotto, where its famous fish and chips are a San Diego favorite.
Alternately, sustain yourself for a tour of the 15 museums in 1,200 acre Balboa Park, the largest urban cultural park in the US, with lunch at Peohe’s – The Chart House on Coronado island, just four trolley stops away. With the spectacular indoor palm trees and waterfalls, the awe-inspiring 360 ° view of the San Diego skyline, private dock, and tiered seating that insures privacy, it’s hardly surprising that four of its booths are famous for inspiring proposals. The food is also a wow – seafood and classic dishes, which like the décor, are infused with inspiration from tropical islands.
Up for a dose of art and culture? The park’s Mingei International Museum is one of its most surprises. With a focus on folk art, it explores the ethereal beauty of everyday objects like toys, rugs, masks, kitchen pottery, and baskets. Take the exhibit “India Adorned.” It makes the point that everything Indians wear and decorate their homes with is gorgeously embellished, and celebrates the architectural majesty of line, texture and shape of its architecture. Don’t leave the park without checking out outstanding museums like the Museum of Photographic Arts, one of the few in the U.S.; the San Diego Automotive Museum, with more than 80 historic automobiles and motorcycles on displays, and the San Diego Air and Space museum, home to the Apollo 9 Command Module spacecraft, which will enthrall your inner budding astronaut. Time your visit to include a production at Tony Award winning Old Globe Theatre, which has sent many plays to Broadway.
Do Not Disturb
Slip into something sensuous; bless your pulse points with a bit of Sarah Jessica Parker’s Lovely, and saunter down into the Westgate’s Grand Lobby for the start of something special – happy hour with a new twist on classic cocktails. Then onto dinner at The Westgate Room, which will leave you breathless. The floral arrangement on your table and the large presentations in the room have all been created by Barry Rose, the hotel’s resident floral designer, who also offers occasional classes.
“We have really invested in the presentation and the quality of our food, even lowering the price point for breakfast,” says Richard Cox, general manager.
No wonder the property has been awarded the AAA Four Diamond – 2008, the San Diego Magazine’s Critics for Best Service -2008, and named to the 2008 Travel + Leisure 500, comprised of the 500 best hotel resorts and hotels in the world.
Save room for dessert – you’ll discover why later.
Sip some wine in the Plaza Bar, and turn up the temperature on romance with vocalist Karen Giorgio, who, on Saturday nights, belts out everything from jazz to show tunes, while accompanying herself on the piano. On Sunday and Monday nights, Latin music with vocalist Julio Huerta is so hot that guests are stacked up in the hallway waiting for seats.
And now to bed. Your bower has been transformed to a canopy of love – a heart of rose petals, chocolate dipped strawberries, French champagne.
Look out the window, Cinderella. Your carriage is ready.
If You Go
Sheila Sobell and Richard N. Every are worldwide travel photojournalists. Visit them at www.writersobell.com
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