Just crossing the massive architectural marvel with its dramatic curves known as the Coronado Bay Bridge from downtown San Diego to Coronado Island is a pure adrenaline rush. The bridge’s spectacular 360-degree unobstructed view of the downtown and the San Diego Bay filled with Navy ships and sailboats is a magnificent experience. Then the red and white turrets of the majestic Hotel Del Coronado come into view and already we’re feeling this is going to be one amazing weekend getaway. Coronado isn’t truly an island as it connects to a very narrow isthmus of land known as the Silver Strand but it sure feels like one. Anyone who’s in love with this incredible destination touts it a true island paradise.
History of the Hotel Del Coronado
Without a doubt, Coronado’s iconic priceless gem is the Victorian architectural masterpiece known as the Hotel Del Coronado. Built in 1888, the elegant and timeless turn-of-the-century grand resort stands sentinel over a mile and a half of a wide pristine glittery white-sand beach surrounded by palms and fronting the azure waters of the Pacific. Though seaside resorts were commonplace along the American coast during the 19th century, few were as large or distinctive as “The Del” – the moniker lovingly used by locals. This historic hotel also happens to be the second largest wooden structure in the entire United States.
This quintessential and legendary oceanfront boutique resort has hosted numerous U.S. presidents, foreign dignitaries, royalty, and celebrities over the years. Thomas Edison, Charlie Chaplin, Babe Ruth, Clark Gable, Vincent Price, Bette Davis and Katherine Hepburn have stayed at this magnificent venue. Several Hollywood movies were filmed here- perhaps the best known, Some Like it Hot with Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemon and Tony Curtis. L. Frank Baum, writer and creator of the famous Wizard of Oz referred to Coronado Island as his “personal Oz.” He did much of his writing here and many believe The Del was his inspiration for the Emerald City.
The Del is reputed to be the setting of one of the most famous love stories of our time. It’s widely reported that Wallis Simpson, living in Coronado and married to a U.S. naval officer at the time, met her future husband at a grand banquet at the hotel in 1920, thereby changing the course of history.
That man happened to be Edward, Prince of Wales and heir to the British throne. He abdicated his right to the British crown in order to marry the divorcée. Though she would never be queen, Wallis Simpson was granted the title of Duchess of Windsor and she and Edward lived a long and happy life together.
Throughout the years and even during challenging financial times, the Del managed to continually upgrade its facilities and add cottages, rooms and villas on property while still retaining its original charming Victorian character. Change is in the air even today as this magnificent property is currently undergoing a $200 million transformation and preservation effort. We can’t wait to see the results.
Staying at the Hotel Del
“Welcome to the Del” said the uniformed valets with a smile and a tip of their hats as they opened our door upon arrival. Even checking in to the Del is by itself quite an experience. Strolling up the carpeted walkway, we felt like royalty. Service here is attentive and impeccable. The lobby of the Del has a certain timelessness with its old-world dark mahogany pillars and balconies, Victorian-crystal chandeliers and elegant carpeting, furnishings and décor. Its storied history is well documented with fascinating photos and mementos on display throughout the hotel.
Visitors to this 28-acre resort have many choices of accommodations. These range from garden and ocean-view rooms and suites in the iconic Victorian Building, the contemporary beach-chic Ocean Towers, ground-floor seaside California Cabanas to the luxurious villas of Beach Village. Sun-kissed oceanfront view rooms are downright spectacular though rooms with garden and courtyard views offer the advantages of quiet privacy.
We’ve had the pleasure of staying in both garden and oceanfront rooms in both the Victorian and Ocean Towers. Choice ultimately comes down to time of year and preferred view. I admit we love falling asleep to the sound of the surf right outside our room so our preference is usually this type of accommodation.
Every room, suite, cabana or villa here is tastefully decorated with warm tones reflecting Southern California’s sun, sand, and surf. Rooms are spacious and those in the Victorian Building have magnificent high ceilings reflecting the era the resort was built. Our oceanfront room in the Ocean Towers featured a king bed with white plantation shutters opening to a balcony. A beautiful spacious bathroom with double sinks and a walk-in shower is perfect for couples or friends traveling together. We loved the soft luxurious robes the Del provides to its guests. Beds are unbelievably comfortable with high-end luxurious bed linens. It’s of no surprise that slumber comes very easy at this resort.
You’ll look far and wide to find as many amenities and experiences than those the Hotel Del offers. Its location directly on a world-renowned beach provides guests with access to the sand and mild surf, ideal for swimming. Building sandcastles is a popular pastime and we’re all intrigued with the unbelievable creations of Bill Bavlaka, a retired construction worker known locally as the King of Sandcastles. His magnificent sand-dripped sculptures bring oohs and aahs from beachgoers along with photo opportunities.
Kept at a year-round 82-degrees, the resort pool and hot tubs are the perfect place to relax. Cabanas are available for guest rental. These are simply magnificent with their L-shaped sofa lounge, 47-inch TV, refrigerator with water and soft drinks, cushioned loungers, an amenity basket and fresh fruit delivered midday. It doesn’t get any better than this.
For a total Zen connection, the Spa at The Del is an unbelievable experience. Tapping into the healing power of the sea, its ocean-inspired selections include massages, facials, and body treatments like Organic Lavender and Seaweed scrubs and wraps. The complimentary onsite fitness center has a variety of both cardio and strength-training equipment.
The Del changes with the seasons offering ghost tours, Halloween parties, fabulous Christmas decorations and our favorite, the spectacular holiday Skating by the Sea beachfront ice rink. Imagine ice skating under the palm trees surrounded by fire pits and stunning views of the Pacific Ocean.
Shopping at this resort is unlike any other we’ve been to. Numerous shops carry items from signature clothing, swimwear, home décor to jewelry and historical books and treasures. The best part about wandering through the shops is that everything here is unique and Del-inspired making for a very special experience.
Dining at The Hotel Del
One of the most impressive aspects of the resort is the seven seaside dining experiences available ranging from casual to elegant. The outdoor Sundeck sits above the pool area facing the beach surrounded by cozy fire pits. Famous Babcock and Story Bar features craft cocktails and a light menu with stunning ocean views. We love that the resort added the rustic thatched-roof Beach + Taco Shack, a quintessential Southern California beach bar where patrons enjoy the island’s best fish tacos, beer, wine and cocktails toes in the sand. On Friday and Saturday evenings, guests are entertained by live performers on the beach. Artisan pizzeria, ENO Pizza is a fun place to gather by the fire pits with a shared wood-fired pie accompanied by a glass of red wine.
Breakfast Buffet at Sheerwater
One of our favorite dining experiences was the expansive breakfast buffet at Sheerwater. The seaside buffet includes classics like omelets, Eggs Benedict, a seafood frittata, waffles, fresh toast pancakes and breakfast meats but also South of the Border favorites like Chilaquiles Verdes and Savory Tamales. A huge selection of baked goods, cheese and charcuterie is also offered. Sheerwater is open for both lunch and dinner.
Dining at Serẽa
Renowned San Diego chef JoJo Ruiz recently opened Serẽa at Hotel del Coronado much to the delight of locals and visitors alike. The Mediterranean-inspired sustainable coastal cuisine restaurant provides the ultimate sea-to-table experience with some of the most magnificent views of the Pacific. Dinner is served nightly along with Saturday lunches.
There wasn’t a dish we didn’t love at this eclectic restaurant. And guaranteed, the service was some of the best we’ve ever experienced. We started our culinary small-plate spectacular with a mix of daily selected oysters served with lemon, cucumber-cilantro mignonette and Baja-style cocktail sauce. Fresh and delightful.
Taking the advice of our wise and knowing server, we savored the Patatas Bravas, roasted potatoes with a chili garlic aioli and chive- a signature appetizer of the eatery literally too good to share. Garlic Harissa Chicken Kabob was a tantalizing treat with its roasted pepper tapenade, harissa yogurt and accompanying flat bread. Charcoal-Grilled Octopus with a red chimichurri sauce was likewise a culinary treasure. Without a doubt, the grand prize winner of the evening had to be the Grilled Lamb Ribs. Roasted to perfection, they were tender, savory and artfully accompanied with tzatziki, pickled cucumber and pepper.
One of the best parts about staying at the Hotel Del Coronado is location, location, location. Not only is it the ideal oceanfront setting but it’s also mere steps from the charming small-town U.S.A.’s easily-walkable main street filled with a myriad of quaint boutiques, eateries and beachy nautical gift shops.
One of our favorite ways to get around Coronado is by beach cruisers which can be rented from multiple venues in town to explore this beautiful beachside haven. History buffs like us loved the period photos and memorabilia celebrating Coronado’s fascinating storied past in the museum located inside the Coronado Visitor’s Center.
The island is also a golf-lover’s dream with one of the best public courses in the U.S. Immaculate greens, wide inviting fairways and dramatic views make this a top destination for those who love the game. For one of the most picturesque settings, we headed to Coronado Ferry Landing. Regularly scheduled water transport links Coronado visitors to the mainland- a.k.a. downtown San Diego but the area offers much more. The landing hosts a boutique shopping village, kayak rentals, individual and tandem bikes and even a surrey. Its waterfront restaurants provide customers with spectacular nighttime views of the San Diego city skyline.
A sign in the Hotel Del’s Babcock and Story’s beach gift shop says “Happiness Comes in Waves.” How perfect to describe the magical experience of a beachside escape at the Hotel Del Coronado.
Words and Photographs by Noreen Kompanik