In 1892 a child spending her vacation at the Hotel del Coronado described the grand dame resort in a neatly scrawled postcard as “a beautiful dream in a fairy story.” She touted the red roofs against the blue sky, the cobalt sea, the white massiveness of the hotel’s castle-like sprawl and its abundance of windows and balconies. Today, that sense of wonder isn’t lost on guests, who arrive through its distinctly Victorian first layer, purportedly the haunt of ghosts and all variety of otherworldly beings. All will be enveloped by the evolved modern resort as it unfurls, now a collection of what the retreat calls “neighborhoods,” modern enclaves on the beach, each sporting their own mood yet each inextricably part of the whole. Everywhere, history reigns and nature — an exemplar beachscape — presides.
On Coronado Island, just across a bridge from San Diego and a short ride from the airport, the historic retreat lies amid a swanky residential area, anchored by a boulevard packed with mom-and-pop shops and edged by various military installations, boat docks, piers and sandy crescents with surfable waves. As the cornerstone of the destination, even its raison d’etre, the majestic hotel lords over eye-popping prime real estate. No wonder it perpetually buzzes with crowds — not just guests of the hotel, but beachgoers, day visitors, families, romancers, athletes and conventioneers. The Del, as those in the know call it, feels clubby, vivacious and joyful. With doors flung open in every direction, it welcomes swarms of revelers to its myriad restaurants, bars and public areas, even as it provides private sections — such as a happening outdoor pool and a reserved beach umbrella section on the sand for its guests.
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Those uninspired by history could visit The Del and be transported only by its contemporary chic and style. There’s enough present-day content to captivate even the most in-the-moment travelers. But, history lovers, more than anyone, will swoon over its well-earned largesse. Whether it’s the long list of celebutantes and glitterati who’ve left their mark (think: Bette Davis, Mickey Rooney, Marilyn Monroe, Lyndon B. Johnson, Kirk Douglas, Judy Garland, Prince Edward of Wales — to name a smidgen) or the knowledge that Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum designed the dream-laden, crown-shaped chandeliers in the aptly named Crown Dining Room, The Del’s rich past defines it.
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One fun fact, in 1900 The Del opened Tent City on its front lawn. Presented as an alternative to rooms in the opulent hotel, this veritable glamping concept featured luxurious tents (replete with chairs, carpets, comfy beds, mirrors, kitchen utensils and more) set on a tree-lined grid of streets — like a turn-of-the-century New Urban-style Utopian resort community. Families arrived in hoards; many stayed all summer. Lasting nearly 40 years, The Del’s more affordable parallel stay (perhaps its first “neighborhood?”) offered a range of curiosities and activities for its exuberant guests, including wild animals (apparently mischievous monkeys ran rampant), amusement park rides, swimming, summer camp adventures, restaurants, a bandstand and theater — even its own police department. Social meet ups between the rich hotel guests and the glampers happened so frequently Hollywood even made a Rom-Com about it back in the day.
What we love:
- The location: People dream of beaches and beach scenes like The Del’s — it’s right out of a stock photo or film, complete with skateboarders, skaters, surfers, bicyclers, loungers, attention grabbers and many more. The sand, full of mica, glimmers in the sun. Having been built in 1888 on the literal best snippet of land, it dominates the isle.
- The buzz: You can’t believe the swarming festiveness of The Del unless you see it for yourself. With nearly 800 rooms spread across a vast beach expanse, it manages to feel intimate yet vibrant. While guests mingle and frolic, locals and non-staying visitors also fraternize and enjoy the resort grounds and offerings as if it were the island’s living room, or better yet, festival grounds. It’s an absolute party, but a classy, sophisticated one, with something for everyone.
- The suites: Each “neighborhood” interconnects with the original Victorian mansion/castle/folly main house and with one another and all resort amenities, from beach to pool to restaurant. The Victorian, located within the original hotel, invokes the past with period rooms, while The Cabanas, where I stayed recently, embraces the chi chi present tense with beach or poolside contemporary suites. It has airy, modern touches and easy access to the pool and beach. The fire pit on my patio facing the beach was everything. Choose The Views, adjacent to The Cabanas, for its high rise feel and unobstructed views These spacious, au courant rooms are located steps from activity rental, such as surfboards. Ideal for families, the gated Beach Village feels like an enclave to hide away from the hubbub, offering cottages and villas in a kind of resort within a resort motif. Book the brand-new Shore House for its one-, two- and three-bedroom residences, perfect for families, long stays and group get-togethers.
- The history: We’ve gone on ad nauseam about the history but I can’t get enough of it and the stories completely informed my stay. The resort even has its own history museum, The Ice House, and an onsite historian. You’ll adore her. History tours happen daily and I recommend them. This is a great place to hear about the ghosts, move star capers and more.
- The activities: Before you go, come to grips with the idea that you’ll have to return to do it all. Some of the amazing things The Del offers include yoga on the beach, BOGA Fit in pool, Beach Spin classes, surfing lessons, painting lessons by the sea, live music in various venues daily, movies on the beach, s’mores on the beach, bikes to pedal on the beach path and in the storybook downtown, cooking classes and spa treatments. For children ages 5-12, the new Ocean Explorer program turns the beach into an engaging classroom.
Where to dine and sip:
- The retreat offers eight venues, including a gourmet grocery store, pizzeria and cool taco shack on the beach. For inspired, upscale seafood, al fresco dining and handcrafted cocktails with views of the ocean, choose Serẽa, where the Tuna Tartare and Red Snapper “Huachinango” go well with a spicy Del Sol, a Jalapeño Infused Casamigos Blanco and mango libation. For lunch, classic SoCal fish tacos or umami-rich mushroom tacos at the Beach & Taco Shack rule.
Who will love this resort?
Families, honeymooners, single travelers, business travelers, friends traveling together (think bridesmaid parties or reunions). It’s perfect for everyone.