Famous hotel should be on your Bucket ListIf San Diego is one of the premiere vacation destinations in the country – and we think it is – the premiere destination in San Diego has to be the Hotel del Coronado. No other property in the city combines the history, charm, location and amenities that are all wrapped up in one neat package at what locals call the Hotel del.
It was a hotel we just had to experience, a Bucket List item that finally got checked off during a recent stay.
The location is a no-brainer. It was in the mid-1880's that the original developers, Elisha Babcock and Hampton Story, bought the entire undeveloped peninsula of Coronado, miles and miles of flat beach along with great views of the Pacific and the hills across San Diego Bay. It would be tough to find a better location for what was then promoted as a fishing and hunting resort.
In 1888, they opened a hotel they hoped would become the "talk of the Western World." The Queen Anne Revival-style architecture – with the resort's distinctive red-turreted roofs – set the Hotel del Coronado apart and insured the hotel would live on forever in picture postcards and one very famous Hollywood movie.
So there we were, staying in a legend. We had visited the Hotel del many times but never actually rented a room at the property, and entering the ornate, regal but slightly dark lobby as a bona fide guest conjured up images of those titans of industry who once traveled by train across the country to vacation with the country's elite at this magnificent hotel. Our entrance was not quite as grand, handing the valet the keys to our Toyota rental which we had driven all the way from San Diego's nearby airport.
The lobby at the hotel is a busy place, a crossroads where curious tourists – that would be us on all previous visits – mingled with guests, touring the property just like they were inspecting a property to buy. Many will never actually stay at the Hotel del, but they will darn well take home pictures of every nook and cranny because everyone back home has heard of the Hotel del. Even young people, who weren't anywhere to be seen in 1958 when Marilyn Monroe filmed Some Like It Hot, have no doubt heard about or seen the movie and, just in case they have not, the hotel displays plenty of photos from the movie to make sure they're fully informed.
There are countless restaurants and shops at the Hotel del Coronado, almost like a cruise ship – albeit a historic one – parked on the Coronado sand. Prices range from moderately expensive to if-you-have-to-ask-you-can't-afford-it, but then Billy Wilder did not choose to film his movie at the Motel 6. A great way to quickly check out prices is to use the Beer Index – the price of a quality draft beer which, it turns out, is about $10 including the tip at the Hotel del's outdoor beach bar. Not only does the index provide a remarkably true gauge of the resort's pricing, but it also makes the news a little easier to take.
But no one comes to the Hotel del to scrimp or vie for the hotel's All-time Cheapskate Guest Award – most people who come here expect to pay a little more for higher quality and, lets face it, to experience a bit of that Hotel del mystique. This is not just any hotel – its the Hotel del – and there are only a few hotels in the country that have anything approaching its history and reputation.
That quality was evident in our hotel suite. The first thing we noticed was the high ceilings and the feeling that, while completely updated, the architectural design has been preserved. The taupe-colored walls had white moldings, creating an attractive two-tone color scheme. The suite was divided into two areas – the main bedroom with its king-size bed, fancy pillows and duvets, and a seating area with a couch on the other side of a partial wall, with flat-screen televisions in both areas. The bathroom was completely updated and luxurious. But the piece de resistance was the outdoor veranda with its outdoor seating that was perfect for relaxing while enjoying an expansive waterfront view.
The hotel comes with every diversion you can imagine – lots of beach activities, swimming pools, a spa and other recreational offerings – and it was fun to walk further down the beach enjoying the sunset on a perfect Southern California night. It's a short walking distance from the hotel to the shops and restaurants of Coronado, which offer a wide range of services and pricing. Across from the hotel is the marina and just about every direction you look, there are more opportunities for scenic and memorable pictures.
Biking is especially good in Coronado – at least from our point of view – because it's flat. It's a short ride down to the passenger ferry terminal that takes you across San Diego Bay into downtown San Diego and you can pack your bike right on the ferry. The terminal is located at Ferry Landing Marketplace, where there is yet another cluster of interesting shops and restaurants and the absolute best views of the San Diego skyline.
As you might imagine, the Hotel del has excellent dining on property including its signature restaurant 1500 Ocean, which features California Coastal cuisine, all made with fresh local ingredients. We sampled ENO, which features delicious Neapolitan style pizzas baked in their outdoor wood-fired oven. They have specialty pies such as the Giardino Fresco with grilled asparagus, roasted red pepper and ricotta – well, you get the idea. This is not exactly Papa John's. But prices are quite reasonable and the indoor-outdoor atmosphere is perfect for that being-on-vacation feeling.
Much of our short time at the Hotel del was spent enjoying that view from the veranda, reading our book while one eye was on the festive activities along the Coronado beachfront. This beach was, after all, named the best beach in the country in 2012 by none other than Dr. Beach, and on any given day it has plenty going on. Whether it's surfing, paddle-boarding, swimming or just sunning, the beach is one big reason people find Coronado Island irresistible – and the other, of course, is the Hotel del Coronado.
For more information on the Hotel del Coronado, please visit www.hoteldel.com or phone 1-800-468-3533.
PHOTO CREDITS: Sandi Ordway
RECOMMENDED LODGING: San Diego lodging
Click here for more great Northwest travel ideas!
Click here for great deals on California travel