Pier South Resort Sets the Stage for Imperial Beach's New Eco-Tourist Scene

Pier South Resort Sets the Stage for Imperial Beach's New Eco-Tourist Scene
From www.justluxe.com, by Courtney Driver

As the most south-westerly city in the United States, Imperial Beach is the one of the last stops in San Diego before hitting the San Ysidro Border going into Mexico. Not well known as a tourist spot, the area is mostly residential and fairly sleepy; a typical California beach town. And while the oceanfront does have a bit of a main “drag,” with beach bars and the new Pier South Resort, IB is really about the more natural elements: the quiet, sand, waves and nearby nature reserves. 

Lately the city has been looking to capitalize on its natural attractions by revitalizing the area and during a recent lunch with city Mayor Serge Dedina, I discovered that he is strongly encouraging the growth of local businesses as well as eco-tourism to the area. Known by the locals as an easy-going surfer, the mayor has a deeply-rooted passion for the environment and Imperial Beach, having grown up on the city’s sands. Dedina co-founded a non-profit called WILDCOAST and has worked on a variety of conservation efforts over the course of his career as an environmentalist.

Horseback RidingPhoto Credit: Courtney Driver

Right now, nearby activities (besides blissfully laying on the sand of course) include horseback riding on the beach, surf lessons and the Imperial Beach Pier Plaza, home to a handful of shops. The Tijuana Estuary, a protected wetland area is also very close and you can hike or hire a guide for a nature tour through the park. For a scenic drive or bike ride, the seven-mile-long Silver Strand State Beach is an arm of sand that connects to Coronado Island, where you’ll find quaint shops and restaurants, as well as fun activities like sailing on the bay, wave runners, golf and for a romantic twist there are gondola rides out in the Coronado Cays.

Pier SouthPhoto Credit: Pier South

Opened in January of 2014, Pier South is the first major resort to arrive in Imperial Beach. It is a part of the Marriott Autograph collection, a group of hotels and resorts known for having individual personalities. This particular property reflects its beach surroundings, the interiors are clean and white, with hues of blues and sea foam green. Rooms are expansive at 650 square feet and 98 percent of them look out over the ocean; only 20 percent suffer a partial view of the water.

IB Sun & San Festival Photo Credit: IB Sun & San Festival

Renting a car when coming to San Diego is a must, as the county’s best attractions are spread out, although not overly difficult to get to. Pier South is about a 20-minute drive south of the airport, downtown, Old Town, Seaworld and the San Diego Zoo. Less than 10 minutes further and you’re in Mexico, making this a smart choice for anyone wanting to take a day trip to Tijuana, Rosarito or Ensenada. And, if you happen to be here during the sand castle-building competition at the Imperial Beach Sun & Sand Festival, you can just step onto the sand for an afternoon of fun. July is by far the busiest month for the hotel, being in the middle of the action for the festival and Fourth of July celebrations. Later in the month it provides a quieter reprieve for guests who choose to attend Comic Con, but want stay away from the craziness in downtown during the event (visiting celebrities, take note). 

Pier South ResortPhoto Credit: Pier South Resort

There are two basic room layouts that are essentially the same; the hotel actually does not offer a penthouse or a variety of suite options. One layout has more of a wide-open studio feel and the other separates the living space from a bedroom. The rooms will easily accommodate a family with a second sofa bed, ample drawer and closet space and seating that moves around easily. Bathrooms are a fresh combination of creamy stone and glass; the counter space however was a bit wanting and the amenities are not brand name. On the tech side, Wi-Fi is complimentary, the flatscreen is a healthy 46-inch and in our room there were ton of outlets. I counted about a dozen, eight alone within arm’s reach of the bed. Every upper-level room has a balcony, with accommodations on the first floor also offering access to the terrace, pool area and sand directly from a private patio.

Sea180Photo Credit: Sea180

Pier South’s on-site restaurant, SEA180 is part of the Cohn Group, a company well known throughout San Diego for their award-winning establishments. The fare here has an appropriate focus on seafood and an emphasis on fresh and locally-sourced ingredients from as far north as Temecula and as far south as Guadalupe, Mexico. The personality of the restaurant reflects a baja-Mediterranean cuisine that features a mix of coastal and Mexican influence with a twist, using proteins like duck for example, instead of pork, for "carnitas.”

The bar boasts a carefully-curated selection of wines from all over, including unique Mexican expressions, as well as a solid selection of local craft beers including Saint Archer, Modern Times and Cucapa. House-crafted cocktails are also intriguing with selections like the Green Flash, a concoction featuring housemade jalapeno-infused tequila. 

SEA180Photo Credit: Pier South

I had a chance to taste quite a few dishes over the course of four visits to the restaurant, the highlights of which included a melt-in-your-mouth 7-Hour Osso Bucco and a Coconut Tres Leches Cake for dessert. Other standouts included a dual amuse bouche of Fire Roasted Brussels Sprouts, and a “fish tostada,” constructed of a local Hamachi (yellow tail) Poke-style, mango, pineapple, yuzu and seaweed namasu, all balanced on a crispy wonton. Considering that SEA180 is pretty much the only upscale dining establishment within a short distance, it’s important to mention the menu is quite varied and there are a lot of crowd pleasers; eating here probably won’t become boring, should you choose to do so multiple times during a stay.

Pier South ResortPhoto Credit: Pier South Resort

In terms of nightlife, the selection at the moment is limited to dive bars and most eateries in the immediate area shut down on the earlier side, including the hotel’s on-site restaurant. So if you are looking for a night on the town your best bet is to grab an Uber black car into downtown or plan an evening on Coronado. If you choose to stay in and relax, room service is available until 11 p.m. and dishes like Lamb sliders, Pulled Pork Empanadas and Baked Farro n’ Cheese are a bit more fun that “typical” in-room dining items. 

Pier South ResortPhoto Credit: Pier South Resort

Going forward, Pier South has plans to integrate a wellness program into their offerings by summer 2015, with special dining options and eventually morning rooftop yoga. While currently the property only offers food and drink on the sand during special events, they plan on placing Mexican palapas on the beach for shade during the summer and expanding service to being available daily. 

Imperial BeachPhoto Credit: Pier South

With barely a year under its belt, Pier South Resort is carving a niche out for itself in Imperial Beach and with luck, the area will continue to develop in an exciting and environmentally positive way. We are already hearing rumors about another competing property looking to open nearby and residents are hoping the area will blossom into another one of San Diego’s beach town attractions. It certainly seems like it is already on its way.

IB Sun & San Festival Photo Credit: IB Sun & San Festival Pier South ResortPhoto Credit: Pier South Resort

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