Kona Kai Resort and Spa

Immediately eliciting vacation visions of fish tacos and toes tucked carelessly into the sand, sun dappled San Diego needs no introduction. If any So Cal locale speaks perpetual getaway, annual and always, this might be our winner.

I found this amplitude of ambiance harnessed in a Shelter Island beachfront with a Polynesian name and a Spanish Colonial hardscape. Kona Kai Resort & Spa revealed itself to be a most wonderous secret of the San Diego scene. A private petite beach, a duo of pools (one family, one adult), cruiser bikes, private cabanas, bonfires and an on-site spa, it’s a little insane. How spoiled we are to have blisses as this, still undiscovered.

Kona Kai Resort & Spa One Bedroom Suite Living Room
One Bedroom Suite Living Room

Located on the southern end of Shelter Island, the recently refurbished Kona Kai Resort & Spa resides in that coveted space between the marina and the main bay. Got a dog? Throw him in the car. He’s welcome. There’s an ease to this place, an openness that is enhanced by the marina breeze, the seagulls, the sailboats, and the overall scene that just generates a renaissance of recreation.

The rooms resonate with a tropical whimsey. Rich woods, orange accents, bold leafy patterns, nothing too serious (unless you take your deep soaking bathtub seriously, in which case, game on). Every room is a room with a view, be it a marina or a bay or an ocean or Coronado, every balcony overlooks a little lovely in the distance. Rainfall shower heads, marble finishes. Ambiances are outfitted in oceanic homages. The whole place kind of sings of it.

One Bedroom Suite Bathroom at Kona Kai Resort & Spa
One Bedroom Suite Bathroom

If you’re traveling with young ones, the Camp Kona Kai offering gets a big yes. Complete with an in-room tepee and toy campfire, and a resort credit to go to town on some Dippin Dots ice cream or other poolside pleasantries.

And measures of health and safety, those are serious too, but you don’t have to mind them much, because they’ve done their due diligence for us. Seating and lounging all situated at least six feet apart, plexiglass dividers at the front desk, sanitation stations at every turn, and a staff mindful of distancing at all times. It’s like they spent all of 2020 planning this for us.

Beach Cabana
Beach Cabana

For a resort, it is an accessible one. Nothing over the top, overly elaborate, or excessive. The rates are reasonable, and mood is merry. Location wise it’s centrally excellent. Getting to Little Italy, Old Town, and of course the amusements, super easy. Someone somewhere knew how badly we all needed this vacation.

Be it beneath a canary cushioned cabana or the turquoise tarp of a canvas umbrella, the vibe is summer as far as the senses can reach. Just to live inside the layers again, the sun and the sea and the bay and the beauty of disconnecting and reconnecting – I cannot encourage it enough. To remember not just the benefits of vacating, but the awakening of wellness that is one with it, if it’s not vital, it feels that way. At least here it does.

Al Fresco Dining
Al Fresco Dining at Vessel Restaurant

The Details

Kona Kai Resort & Spa, 1551 Shelter Island Drive, San Diego, California 92106, United States.

Tel: +1(619) 452-3138 / +1(800) 566-2524 (Reservations)

Website: www.resortkonakai.com

Take Hwy 5 towards downtown San Diego and get off at Rosecrans. The resort has plenty of self-parking available for guests.

Type of Hotel: Beachfront Resort & Spa

Number of Rooms: 170 luxury guest rooms, 41 suites (Junior and Executive) and complimentary Wi-Fi. Looking to live a little extra-large? Request a Coastal Revival Suite or an Endless Summer Suite and get up to 645sq ft of fun.

Price Band: Medium

Insider Tip: If you’re looking to situate yourself close to all those famed San Diego attractions (The San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld, LEGOLAND), this is a fantastic home base. Also, if you’re bringing a dog, know they’re not permitted at the pool or the beach.

Reviewer’s Rating: 7.5/10

Author Bio:

Jolie Loeb is a Luxury Lifestyle columnist based in Los Angeles.

Photographs courtesy of Kona Kai Resort & Spa


  1. I so look forward to getting back to the San Diego area! Thank you for checking it out and looking forward to hearing more about all the beautiful places you adventure to. Love your reviews, Jolie!

  2. I never thought I’d miss the lines at Legoland – until 2020! This sounds like the perfect relaxing end to a busy day in San Diego with kids!

  3. Wow – what a hidden gem. Definitely would like to check it out. Will be dropping the kids at grandparents first…..

  4. It is truly life-changing to be able to plan travel again (YES), and this sounds like the perfect place to stay in San Diego! Thank you for your beautiful words!

  5. I’m craving a vacation like that! Love that cute little private beach. Chill and relax…We are all overdue for some of that deliciousness!

  6. Oh my sweet goodness! This looks amazing. And I love that there could be a luxury experience near water and sites that is within the realm of “doable” financially. Thanks for the heads up!

  7. So great that you wrote this now! My neighbors were just talking about taking their family to San Diego and wanted recommendations for places to stay. I will definitely pass this along….and will check it out myself some day!!!

  8. Wow! Reading this article really made me realize I need a vacation! And San Diego sounds like such a wonderful place to visit. You had me at Little Italy! The resort room is gorgeous!

  9. Reading this in Waikiki makes me wanna scoot right on back to the mainland for more sweet, sweet vacay! Thank you for waxing poetic about the hidden gems we all could use to soothe away some (some) aches of 2020.

  10. I had been searching for a place to stay in San Diego for the last several days. You found the place for me! Thank you, this looks perfect!

  11. Some friends from my home state of Oklahoma are planning a trip to San Diego, and asked me if I had any hotel recommendations. Now I do, thanks to you! Great timing and much appreciated!!!

  12. I love San Diego! Can’t wait to get back there and check this place out! Thanks, as always!!!!

  13. Next vacation to San Diego…this appears to be a most attractive choice on every count. I will definitely consider this resort as a top choice.

  14. Looking forward to checking out this hotel during my next trip to San Diego. We are always looking for a family friendly affordable place to stay in San Diego and this destination sounds perfect. Thanks for sharing this gem with us.

  15. This is a really idyllic place for a quick and easy family getaway. San Diego is definitely a dog friendly town, but Kona Kai even brought us dog bowl and a bed for the puppy. It made for a really relaxing way to be with family and the dog, while still being able to appreciate the overall experience. The fitness center was great and may sport some of the nicer fitness center locker rooms I’ve seen in a very long time. The service was really strong overall — the people working there all seemed to be happy to be a part of the Kona Kai family.

    • So true about the fitness center! Spotless and the locker room was spa quality. Plus exercise always feels better with a view of the water.

  16. This seems like such a great place! Thanks for keeping us enticed with your writing…we are in San Diego a lot for soccer and staying someplace like this would definitely make it feel like less of a chore!!!

  17. How do you find these treasures, Jolie! This one goes on the “must visit” list. Pls keep these reviews coming!

  18. This place sounds amazing! And so close to LA. I was just looking for a quick and quiet getaway…that would be affordable and near water!

  19. I thought this would make me miss Hawaii, but actually, that beach cabana is so lovely, I just want to get away to San Diego – which could actually happen this summer, while Hawaii can’t. So glad you write about this spot!

  20. Looks lovely and so relaxing! Couldn’t be happier that they planned all 2020 for our arrival in 2021. Thanks for scoping it out.

  21. When you can’t make it to Hawaii…
    I love a road trip to San Diego. This place looks so great! Summertime is here!

  22. This has all the boxes checked for a beautiful family experience. The memories are laid on a perfect platter to savior for a lifetime. It’s fresh and new but yet reminds me of childhood family celebrations. Take your pup….what’s not to enjoy?

  23. Sounds like a delightful to place to stay, why go to Hawaii? Again, thanks for your amazing descriptions of everything!

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