Blessed are the prescient souls who purchased coastal La Jolla land in decades past. Take Max Heimburge, a shoe store magnate who constructed the La Jolla Cove Hotel directly across from what's arguably the most scenic beach in San Diego in the 1950s. A granddaughter now operates the hotel, and was struggling to keep it afloat when Anthony Melchiori of the TV show Hotel Impossible stepped in to help. He found the condition of the rooms and infrastructure appalling, of course, but whipped everybody into shape, oversaw a quick fix for the most obvious problems, and—in a move that cheered potential guests—suggested a lower room rate. His intervention worked, occupancy is up, and the entire operation has been spiffed up.

So what specifically has changed? Balconies along the ocean-facing facade (95 percent of the units face the sea) have new furniture and fresh paint job on the railings. Inside, there's an enough space to feel you've rented a seaside apartment, with wide living areas, small kitchen, bedrooms and bath. Soft aqua walls and furnishings with clean, simple lines modernize the units. The best rooms (where my husband and I spent the night after our La Jolla Cove wedding) are in cottages on a hill behind the hotel, though the climb up steep steps is a drawback. Rooms without a view are a bargain, given the neighborhood.

Guests tend to mingle on the terrace behind the building with a saltwater pool, hot tub, and three propane barbeque grills. The rooftop terrace, where continental breakfast is served, would be a great place to hang out were it not often booked for weddings. On-site parking is a huge plus, as street spots are nearly impossible to find. La Jolla village's shopping and dining district is a block uphill.