the lafayette hotel pool area

When San Diego restaurant and bar powerhouse CH Projects took on the enormous task of purchasing and renovating the historic Lafayette Hotel, the group decided to lean in and go for it. To go as big and wild and extravagant as they could, because otherwise, what was the point?

Just what would happen if the team known for its beloved and often flashy concepts in the city — Raised by Wolves, Polite Provisions, False Idol, Born & Raised, Noble Experiment and a long list of others — was given free rein to do as they pleased with an entire hotel? About $31 million later, the group unveiled an audacious design that combines a party-centric atmosphere and a proper amount of indulgence, with yes, plenty of excellent eats and cocktails that’s transforming the very notion of San Diego’s hospitality scene.

The Lafayette Hotel and Club debuted in 1946 as an in-city retreat for San Diego’s finest, but in the modern era, the hotel and its rooms fell to the wayside, even as its pool scene remained a destination for sometimes rowdy summertime festivities. Now, the reimagined Lafayette is a retro-chic, funky hot spot, and probably one of the most Instagrammable hotels in the country. Think: vibrant colors and plush velvet furnishings, loud animal prints and checkered tile floors, showy chandeliers, patterned wallpapers, and eclectic décor of all kinds, seemingly a million bold components that should clash with one another yet somehow make the chaotic juxtaposition work.

pool chairs and pool at the lafayette hotel
Courtesy, Matt Kisiday

The pool and swim club remains the heart of the hotel that reopened in summer 2023, with two stories of rooms in an elongated U flanked around it, and balconies looking down upon or terraces opening directly into the action. While lounge chairs and umbrellas evoke a touch of Italian dolce de vita, make no mistake about it, when the sun is shining, and even perhaps when it isn’t, you can bank on there being daytime celebrations and nighttime revelry.

Guests enter through a cafe (from where the hotel’s many F&B concepts are tucked), with the Lobby Bar announcing its immediate presence underneath a lavish, glass atrium. The circular, marble-topped bar showcases velvet, animal-print stools and is ringed by half-booth tables. It’s the type of design and concept CH Projects is known for, with the well-made cocktails to match, a focused but crisp list that appeals to visitors and locals alike. The crowd at the hotel’s bars and restaurants is actually dominated by the latter, a testament to CH’s proven pull with the community and their ability to continue debuting one memorable project after another.

The Lafayette’s lineup also includes old-school Americana hub Beginner’s Diner. Guests here receive the full 24/7 diner experience, with the booth, music, and of course, food, to match. Imagine hearty diner fare incorporating SoCal and Mexican touches and blending it with Jewish classics. You’ll find matzah ball soup, Reubens and latkes, but also wagyu meatloaf, breakfast tacos, and bánh mì.

the quixote restaurant within the lafayette hotel
Courtesy, Kimberly Motos

Quixote is a dark, buzzy Mexican restaurant that’s becoming an attraction of its own, thanks in part to an agave back bar made from an upcycled altar from Oaxaca, Mexico’s heartland of mezcal production. The fare and flavors are inspired by the region as well, with standouts from chef José Cepeda including Oaxacan fondue, crab and corn doughnuts, tlayudas and tamals, and a showpiece whole grilled fish.

Not to be forgotten is The Gutter, a bowling alley, arcade game hub, and bar, as well as the outdoor Pool Bar fueling those sunny soirees at the swim club. Now joining the fray is Lou Lou’s, a club and ballroom with a separate street entrance featuring jazz supper club dinners, music performances, and private events.

bar room near the pool at the lafayette hotel
Courtesy, Shannon Patrick

If you’d prefer to go back to your room to enjoy a beverage or two, The Lafayette has you covered there as well, with one of the most stacked mini bars I’ve ever seen. There are dozens of spirits, including rare and high-end bottles, as well as cocktail kits replete with instructions, custom glassware and cocktail tools, serving trays, fresh citrus, splits of Champagne, and loads of snacks. There’s nothing mini about this bar, it’s a comprehensive collection of pro grade, in-room cocktailing capabilities befitting the hotel’s bar world background.

For San Diego visitors looking for a dose of purely quiet or serene relaxation, The Lafayette is probably not going to be your first choice. If you leave the city and head up the coast, the golf courses and spa retreats abound, of course. But for those who’d either like to go full bore, or perhaps just dabble and appreciate the scene from afar while enjoying a cocktail-soaked gastronomic tour de force, The Lafayette is a new must-visit.

lafayette hotel pool club poolside cabana
Courtesy, Kimberly Motos

In a world where so many new hotels display a static, similar, sterilized, and safe version of contemporary comfort, The Lafayette is an unabashed trendsetter. A true one of a kind. There’s no place else like it.

Featured image courtesy of Haley Hill

(Travel Curator may earn a commission from booking links on this page)