9 things you can’t miss at San Diego's US Grant Hotel

US Grant Hotel exterior

In the heart of downtown San Diego lies a historic jewel: The US Grant Hotel. 

Built by President Ulysses S. Grant’s son, it opened in 1910 and has seen Prohibition, the Great Depression, multiple renovations, and near-demolition go by. Today it’s owned by the Sycuan Tribe of the Kumeyaay Nation who once lived on the land. They’ve restored its early 1900s glory, and members visiting San Diego should make sure to tour the building to fully absorb all it offers, even if they don’t book a stay.

View of the chandelier at the US Grant Hotel from below

1. A show-stopping chandelier

The Grant’s front doors are on Broadway, but there’s another entrance on Fourth Avenue that was once the hotel’s carriage entrance. When the Sycuan renovated the Grant in the 2000s, they reopened this long-shuttered area and restored its travertine tiled floor. The entrance’s most arresting attraction is its enormous original 1930s-era crystal chandelier, which sparkles from a seemingly impossible number of facets.

The bronze letter box in the lobby of the US Grant Hotel

2. An antique mailbox (that works)

Moving from the entrance to the elevators, visitors will discover a brass letter box. It’s not just for show: Visitors can mail stamped letters or postcards to friends back home (or anywhere else) from this fully functional drop box.

The Celestial Ballroom of the US Grant Hotel

3. A speakeasy-turned-ballroom

Underneath the Grant lies the Lower Level, where visitors will find a banquet hall now known as the Celestial Ballroom. It opened in 1910 as the hotel’s restaurant, but during Prohibition it became a popular speakeasy. Liquor was smuggled in through the tunnels that brought saltwater to the hotel’s old Turkish and Moroccan baths (which are now Grant Hall). The speakeasy is long gone, but the room’s elegant curved ceiling remains.

A portrait of Ulysses S. Grant

4. A portrait of Grant himself

It’s worth walking around to the back of the Celestial Ballroom. Along the way, members can browse dozens of historical pictures, drawings, and news clippings. Eventually they’ll come to an oil-on-canvas portrait of the hotel’s namesake, painted in 1910 for the opening of the hotel. It was restored for the hotel’s 2006 reopening and is considered the centerpiece of the hotel’s $6.5 million art collection.

An elaborate ceiling with a hanging lamp

5. A ceiling worth gazing at

Right across from Grant’s portrait is a small room with an ornately carved ceiling; light from the hanging chandelier casts all the intricate carvings in stark relief. The walls are painted a dark midnight blue, and in one corner, there’s a mysterious combination safe bearing the name of President Grant’s son, Ulysses S. Grant Jr., that was shipped all the way to San Diego from Ohio.

Exhibit about the Kumeyaay people, including a model home

6. Exhibits about the native Kumeyaay

The hotel’s lobby features several exhibits and artifacts about San Diego’s native Kumeyaay people. Denied the right to their own land by Spain, Mexico, and the U.S., the Kumeyaay finally received 640 acres from President Grant in 1875. Their descendants in the Sycuan Tribe purchased and renovated the hotel 128 years later, and now visitors can see models of the homes the Kumeyaay lived in, the toys their children grew up with, the games they played, and much more.

A gazebo across the street from the US Grant Hotel

7. Horton Plaza Park

If members get tired of being indoors, they can enjoy an outdoor space that’s literally across the street. Horton Plaza Park recently reopened after a five-year renovation that included the restoration of an iconic fountain that’s as old as the US Grant Hotel. The park is surrounded by shops and restaurants, and there are also regular outdoor performances.

Sofas and chairs at the Grant Grill

8. The Grant Grill

No grande dame hotel is complete without a sterling restaurant, and the Grant’s serves fine dining along with civil rights history. As the place for San Diego’s male power brokers to do business in the 1950s and ’60s, the restaurant banned female patrons until after 3 p.m. In 1969, a group of local women attorneys successfully staged sit-ins until the rule was abandoned; the original “MEN ONLY UNTIL 3:00 P.M.” plaque remains as a reminder of their achievement.

The Grant Grill is no slouch in the culinary department, either. It’s a AAA Four-Diamond establishment, and its specialty is mock turtle soup, which it has served for decades.

A drip painting on display

9. A fine art gallery

The Grant has a surprising number of public floors. Above the Lower Level, the ground floor, and the mezzanine that overlooks the lobby is the second-floor art gallery. It features vibrant drip paintings by Yves Clement, a French artist who dribbled colors onto canvas in what he called “action painting.” Visitors who stay at the hotel will likely discover a black-and-white Clement work in their rooms as well.

Building icon

Experience history firsthand

Members save up to 15% on the Grant and other Starwood hotels, and receive Starwood Preferred Guest® benefits.

Book your stay at the US Grant through AAA

back to top icon