Southern California’s Iconic Grand Dame: The Del Coronado Hotel

If you’re looking for an oceanfront hotel experience in one of Southern California’s most prestigious properties, while facing the Pacific Ocean, here are a few reasons why Hotel Del Coronado should be on. your radar for your next weekend. way or visit the best, I mean the west coast.

A past like no other

Few properties in the United States have a history quite like Hotel Del. Indiana businessman Elisha Babcock, Jr. and the Illinoian Hampton Story had big dreams and made them a reality out west. Just 11 months after construction began, at a time when Southern California lacked sufficient labor and plentiful raw materials, Hotel Del opened in 1888. One of the tallest buildings outside of New York to have electric lights, its architecture then was new and the rest – an unusual marriage of an over-the-top royal wedding cake to a huge ocean liner, complete with turrets, towers and skylights.

In 1890, King David Kalakaua of the ancient Kingdom of Hawai’i became the first head of state to visit Hotel Del, followed in 1891 by the forgettable US President Benjamin Harrison.

The Hotel Del quickly became the heart and pulse of San Diego society and in 1920, when the mayor hosted his daughter’s debutante ball, England’s Prince of Wales was on hand for the festivities. Charles Lindbergh was celebrated after his successful transatlantic flight in 1927. Even during the Depression and World War II, Hotel Del managed to stay open. The list of leaders who followed King Kalakaua is a political Who’s Who, including US Presidents Taft, Roosevelt, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George HW Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush.

Given Coronado’s relative proximity to Tinseltown, Hotel Del was a favorite among movers, shakers, celebrities, and Hollywood wannabes. In 1951, while performing in the Carousel Room of the Hotel Del (formerly known as the Circus Room), Liberace was discovered and the rest is history. Billy Wilder was a big fan of Del and many scenes from the 1958 film Some like it hot with Marilyn Monroe and Jack Lemmon were filmed here. Hotel Del was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977.

Location, location, location

On Coronado Island, Hotel Del is just a 15-minute drive or ferry ride from downtown San Diego and its many attractions, yet feels a world apart. San Diego International Airport is also 15 minutes away. For golf enthusiasts, it’s about time Nirvana tees off with over 80 courses to choose from in the area, including one of the nation’s premier municipal courses, Torrey Pines. The town of Coronado is charming and is within walking distance of Hotel Del. Cafes, restaurants, and beach shops line the quaint seaside town along Orange Avenue. The beautiful homes on Ocean Avenue and surrounding streets — no cookie cutters here — are swoon-worthy, especially since no two residences are the same.

For the military and aviation geeks among us, the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee has called San Diego the “birthplace of naval aviation.” Naval Air Station North Island established in 1917, and Naval Base Coronado Master Helicopter Base, inhabit an area one mile north of Hotel Del. Just south of Hotel Del is another naval station, this one for the Navy Seals. During the three days I visited, there was a daily display of low-flying aircraft to and from bases a few yards from shore.

The great thing about Hotel Del is that it’s easy to stay put. There are many activities on site. Besides the beach, ocean activities, pools, bikes, expanded state-of-the-art fitness center with a daily selection of exercise classes, there are historic tours of the property that begin on-site at the Ice House Museum, ghost tours, -audio tours and countless stories to hear. One of my favorites was that of L. Frank Baum, who wrote The Wizard of Oz in 1900, and began coming to the Hotel Del in 1904, designed the Grand Ballroom’s four crown chandeliers (the fifth is now located in the hotel’s historic powerhouse). Baum was inspired for these lights by the crown designed for the Cowardly Lion.

There’s also a charming, renovated spa with 21 treatment rooms and 25 talented therapists, many of whom have been at Hotel Del for years, and a hair and nail salon. Another great option is the Private Roast, where I was able to relive the sweetest childhood memories when an attendant lit a firepit on the sand and brought all the fixings for the s’mores. Proof that some calories are simply sweeter than others.

Reimagined modern beach vibe

A massive $400 million renovation and development of the property began in late 2018 and is nearing completion with only the final phase, the Shore House – comprising 142 individual units, including multi-bedroom residences – slated for completion more late this year. Most notable about the project, besides the relative speed of completion, especially given the pandemic, is that the new structures with its modern Nantucket-chic vibe, and all of the property’s renovations have been seamlessly integrated into a themed environment. welcoming and coherently designed.

We stayed at the Cabanas in a beachside room with an expansive deck that doubled as a private beachfront cabana, complete with an incredibly comfy daybed, extra seating, and, happily for chilly nights, a fire pit. electric. There are few things in life more enjoyable than seeing and hearing the ocean, feeling the warmth of the fire, and enjoying a glass of wine.

Here, too, decor sought to bring the outdoors indoors with trellis fabric headboards and frames, soothing beech wood walls, and sea blue rugs. The rooms are equipped with a large flat-screen TV, a Kuerig coffee machine, a refrigerator and a small work area. The bathrooms have large tiled showers.

food matters

Hotel Del is no place to diet, especially with Sundaes, a mouthwatering gourmet gelateria with an assortment of handcrafted paleta popsicles that are almost too pretty to eat and an array of toppings. But regardless, I’m a firm believer in the just-made-up theory that staring intently at the Pacific Ocean burns actual calories. That said, there are several healthy choices at Hotel Del’s many dining options, all of which offer stunning ocean views.

The dining experience from the sea to the table of Serea with magnificent views showcases the talent of Chef JoJo Ruiz. The Baja Kampachi with lime, micro cilantro, dried cherries, walnuts and schug, was so fresh it was surely in the ocean a few hours earlier, and if Christmas had a flavor, this would be it. The grilled octopus with pickled red onions was incredibly flavorful and tender, no doubt thanks to being sous vide several hours before grilling. The wood-grilled Maine lobster was also fantastic, and my husband ate not only Chef Ruiz’s crispy Brussels sprouts with reckless abandon, but also the night market vegetables, zucchini. It is the culinary equivalent, conjugally speaking of course, of the separation of the Red Sea.

At Sun Deck, craft cocktails are paired with small plates, salads, and sandwiches, to make the most of the many fire pits and stellar sunsets. We particularly enjoyed the California Mezze Plate with Herb Falafel and Lemon Hummus and the Black Sesame Tuna with Jalapeno Jelly. Surprisingly, my husband also devoured the chilled jumbo prawns over green pea gazpacho, even though he swore everything looked like peas decades ago.

Excellent breakfasts at Sheerwater where traditional items such as homemade baked goods, made-to-order eggs and fresh fruit are served on the buffet alongside specialty items, such as exotic Asian fruits, dreamy Mediterranean Shakshuka and Crispy, Zesty Chilaquiles.

Babcock & Story Bar, with its 150-foot one-room mahogany bar, is a delightful watering hole. It’s a place that no matter how much you enjoy your time there and your spirit of choice, you’ll wish the walls could share the many secrets they’ve undoubtedly kept for decades.

If you’re feeling peckish but can’t get away from the sand, luckily the Beach & Taco Shack will fill you up with spicy shrimp, steak asada or vegan mushroom tacos and ice-cold beers or margaritas. If you’re craving pizza, head to ENO Market & Pizzeria. Try the garlic chicken pizza with garlic confit.

The lesson learned

A grand old lady indeed and a long part of the Southern California backdrop, Hotel Del has been renovated and reimagined, while thankfully keeping its sense of history and place intact. Fortunately, as a woman of a certain age, the grace continued. Equally important, Hotel Del’s excellent service continues.

About Tammy N. McFarlane

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