Ever since seeing two great films shot on location (The Stuntman and Some Like it Hot), the Hotel del Coronado was a destination not too far from the Emerald City of Oz as a place I wanted to visit. Growing up in Western New York, anything in Southern California seemed to me so far away that a passport or a magical hot air balloon would be needed for a visit.
But I headed west as a young man and the Hotel del Coronado was in proximity. I was able to visit a few times with extended family, but most recently with my wife and two daughters I was able to spend Father’s Day at the fabled venue.
It was a glorious time warp for the four of us.
On the one hand, the vintage nature of the hotel was in delightfully stark contravention to the more usual decades-old legacy of many destinations in Southern California. On the other hand, the modern updates that were evident throughout the property made for a very comfortable and relaxing experience.
The original structure was built in 1888 and remains the second largest wooden structure in the US. It is one of the last examples of a wooden Victorian seafront resort, and it remains beguiling. In my travels, only the fabled Athenaeum Hotel in Chautauqua is a rival. Our ocean front mini suite at The Del overlooked the oval courtyard (is that where we ice skated one Christmas holiday back in the day?) and the expansive beach with the mighty Pacific beyond. The suite was luxurious for us, with two spacious queen beds, a desk area for me to make notes and a flat screen TV that I ensured we never needed. A refrigerator housed a few beverages we stored. Although the bathroom was smaller than what would be found in a more modern facility, we were fine with understanding that design size was the standard of yesteryear.
Indeed, the original building (in which we stayed) had a Hogwarts-like nature to it. It delightfully took us several trips from the beach and pool to find the optimum path to our room. Sometimes we would take the classic elevator, instructing the operator to take us to floor two, other times we would follow our nose down a different hallway. After a few treks we noticed the variable width of the hallways; what was the architectural directive behind that design decision? No matter, today it is an authentic charm that can’t be rebuilt ex post facto.
Our room was quiet, with perfectly sufficient air conditioning when we eschewed the ocean breeze for cooling.
Choosing between the huge pool and the broad beach was definitely a conundrum that had no bad decision. The pool staff was extremely attentive to our needs; towels, drinks or food were always a mere request away.
My kids were intrigued with The Del’s connection to Hollywood. Myriad films were shot there, and dozens of celebrities have been guests (from Charlie Chaplin and Humphrey Bogart to Frank Sinatra and Brad Pitt). Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz tuned up their personas at The Del, took the show on the road and parlayed it into the influential TV show. Liberace was discovered at the Del.
One evening we dined at Eno, and we chose the al fresco option. Sitting outside among the glow of the fire pit was charming. The gourmet pizzas were skillfully assembled. Of particular delight was the funghi (roasted garlic, seasonal mushroom, spinach, truffle oil, roasted tomato, mozzarella). The wine list was extensive, and our Santa Rita Malbec paired well with our food selections.
The staff was ever-ready to pull out our bikes from storage, and we often pulled ourselves away from the pool and beach to cruise the charming neighborhood nearby.
Coronado is an island off the coast of San Diego that can take you to a time and place far away. The Hotel Del Coronado is the venue that accomplishes that voyage the best.