Historic Hotel del Coronado offers the ideal setting for a quick getaway.
By Sharon Stello
Shimmering in the sun, thanks to golden flecks of mica in the soft sand, San Diego’s Coronado Beach stretches 1.5 miles long and is frequently named one of the top 10 beaches in the U.S. This year, it ranked No. 7—the only one in California—on the annual list by Dr. Beach, a Florida university professor who employs a set of 50 criteria to determine the country’s most captivating coasts.
And rising above this glittering beach on Coronado Island, which is technically a peninsula, the historic Hotel del Coronado has welcomed presidents, royalty and movie stars throughout its more than 130 years. Then-President Nixon held a state dinner at the hotel in 1970 (the first not held at the White House), while the storied venue also played host to events honoring England’s Prince of Wales in 1920 and aviator Charles Lindbergh in 1927. Iconic with its red roof and turrets, and also reportedly haunted, The Del has been designated a National Historic Landmark.
To help preserve the hotel’s past while seamlessly bringing it into the modern day with plenty of updated amenities, a three-year, multimillion dollar restoration began in 2019 and was to be completed in September with Shore House opening its residential-style accommodations to guests this month. The phased project implements the final parts of the property’s Master Plan, completely reimagining many of the 902 rooms while also restoring in painstaking detail the hotel’s grand lobby and front porch, where visitors may now sip wine or cocktails and relax in a rocking chair to the sounds of swing music as guests did in the late 1800s.
Also part of the project, the hotel redesigned the front drive and main entry, renovated the central pool in The Cabanas section, refreshed on-site shops, added new restaurants and debuted the Ice House Museum, where visitors may learn about the property’s past and sign up for tours. While soaking up the history, guests might learn that The Del was on the cutting edge of technology as the first “electrified” resort west of the Mississippi when it opened in 1888; a furnished tent camp was offered in the early 1900s for those who couldn’t afford a hotel room; part of “Some Like It Hot,” a movie starring Marilyn Monroe, was filmed at the hotel; and L. Frank Baum, author of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” lived for months at a time at The Del from 1904 to 1910, writing part of the Oz series and designing crown-shaped chandeliers for the Crown Room there.
Historical highlights aside, The Del provides a welcome beachside escape for couples, families and solo travelers, including those coming with a canine companion as the area is quite pet friendly. And it’s less than a two-hour drive from Laguna Beach.
While some may choose to stay in The Victorian building to be fully steeped in history, two newer areas, The Views and The Cabanas, have much to offer including many rooms with a beachfront balcony or a terrace with a fire pit.
Meanwhile, Shore House at The Del, which is accepting reservations now for fall, will be perfect for families and large groups with its 75 one-, two- and three-bedroom residences featuring well-equipped kitchens; washers and dryers; large verandas offering ocean, harbor or resort views; and a separate valet, resort entrance and check-in area from the rest of The Del. Shore House also has its own zero-edge, ocean-view pool with private cabanas and day beds, a poolside bar and a bistro with space for chef’s table events, lounge areas and fire pits.
Couples and solo travelers, however, may prefer The Cabanas, where some terraces come with direct access to the pool as well as the food and beverage service there. All of the rooms in The Cabanas are just steps from the Sun Deck restaurant, the perfect place to enjoy dinner and drinks as the sun sets.
Rooms in The Cabanas feature a coastal blue-and-white color palette with a driftwood-toned panel behind the beds, a sunburst mirror and accents that give a nod to the nautical as well as a large HDTV and bathrooms with a newly appointed double door entry and spalike feel. But perhaps the best part is outside on the aforementioned beachfront terrace where you can relax and enjoy the ocean view, cuddle up by the fire at night, enjoy your morning coffee while watching people and dogs walk by, or hop onto the paved boardwalk for a stroll yourself. Just across the path is the beach for those who prefer to feel the sand between their toes as they wander. A resident sandcastle artist often leaves sculptures to admire along the way.
For guests in search of rest and relaxation, consider reserving a daybed on the beach or a premium cabana at the pool. The blue-and-white-striped cabanas accommodate up to eight people with an L-shaped sofa, flat-screen TV, a fully stocked mini refrigerator and snacks plus two reserved chaise lounges under an umbrella.
Take a dip in the pool then soak up the sun or indulge in the cabana amenities. A server will be by to take your order for any drinks or poolside bites from the Sun Deck menu. Sip on an agua fresca, pina colada, rose sangria, gin-based Sun Deck Lemonade, margaritas, beer or wine, and nosh on black sesame tuna with yuzu-ginger ponzu, The Del Double Cheeseburger, Loaded Hoisin Fries with Asian barbecue chicken and more.
To continue the relaxation theme, book an ocean-inspired treatment at the spa. Slip into a state of serenity with options like an aromatherapy or sea salt stone massage, a seaweed leaf wrap or a restorative anti-aging facial with antioxidant algae complexes. The spa also offers its own terrace and oceanfront pool plus a salon for manicures, pedicures and hair styling. Yoga and spin classes are offered as well, with some sessions right on the beach.
Those who prefer to have their hair wind-swept from a day of activities should consider renting bikes in front of the spa to pedal along the beach path or all the way around the island, which includes a naval air station. The island’s main street, Orange Avenue, is lined with boutiques, art galleries, eateries, coffee shops and even an independent bookstore, Bay Books, that boasts one of the largest assortments of domestic and international magazines in Southern California. Just a few doors down, MooTime Creamery serves scratch-made ice cream in a rotating selection of flavors that’s created with more than 16% butterfat and churned at a low speed for a dense, creamy texture similar to gelato. Get a scoop, cone or sundae—or a Moo Taco (a folded waffle shell filled with ice cream, dipped in chocolate and topped with sprinkles or nuts) or Moo Pie (ice cream sandwiched between two cookies).
If you’d rather take to the water, a marina is located just across the road from The Del where a catamaran can be chartered to cruise around San Diego Bay: Take in the skyline of America’s Finest City as you sail under Coronado Bridge, past historic tall ships and up to the USS Midway, an aircraft carrier that now serves as a museum. Indeed, The Del serves as a great home base to explore greater San Diego or Coronado Island, but also provides enough options to stay on property for most or all of your trip. For example, during the summer and holidays like Halloween, snuggle up under the stars for family movies on the beach—from “The Goonies” to “The Wizard of Oz” and “Hocus Pocus”—on some Saturday nights.
When it comes to dining at The Del, both casual and more elegant eateries await. For a seaside escape, it only makes sense that the property features Serea, a newer restaurant focused on a sustainable sea-to-table experience. Here, chef JoJo Ruiz brings together fresh seafood, a raw bar and seasonal ingredients from around Southern California.
Start with tuna tartare, charcoal-grilled octopus or local halibut ceviche, or choose ice-cold or wood-roasted oysters, Mexican blue shrimp, Maine lobster or seasonal crab. When it comes to entrees, choose from options like the grilled local swordfish with marble potatoes and green olive salsa verde or the pan-roasted Ora king salmon with fennel and carrot salad. Nonseafood options are also available, from roasted half chicken to grilled lamb chops or steak.
For breakfast, head to the buffet at Sheerwater, offering an array of pastries, fruits, yogurt and hot dishes from chilaquiles to egg shakshuka, bacon and sausage, pancakes, French toast bites and more. Sheerwater also opens for dinner with clam and shrimp pasta, a wagyu steak, Baja California achiote sea bass and roasted chicken breast or beef tenderloin.
Eno Market & Pizzeria provides a casual lunch and dinner spot—with coffee, breakfast sandwiches and pastries also available to-go in the mornings at the market. In the afternoon and evening, order a pizza for takeout or dine on the patio under the gazebo. Choose from salads or artisanal pizzas like margherita; pepperoni; garlic chicken; the Islander with roasted pineapple, prosciutto and pancetta; or the Funghi with hen of the woods mushrooms, prosciutto, mozzarella, Grana Padano cheese, cream sauce and garlic.
During your stay, be sure to also grab a craft cocktail at the Babcock & Story Bar, which showcases the hotel’s restored original mahogany bar, panoramic ocean views and a large patio with live music on select nights.
Meanwhile, the property’s best beach bite can be found at the Beach & Taco Shack. Tacos are filled with carne asada, spicy shrimp, the catch of the day, wild mushrooms or a mix of carne asada and shrimp. A variety of beer, wine and cocktails are also available, but the go-to drinks are the Double Sesh or Party Wave, which are blended, rum-based libations served in a fresh pineapple. Order online for pickup to avoid the long line. Grab and go or enjoy at tables on the sand while enjoying live music every afternoon.
And the resort makes one of the ultimate SoCal traditions—beach bonfires—easy with the Roast package complete with beach chairs and a fire pit on the sand, which can be reserved for an hour and accommodates up to 10 people. Enjoy roasting s’mores, spotlighted by the moon, with the sound of waves in the background. Perfect for families or groups of friends, it’s a great way to make memories that last a lifetime.
Photos courtesy of Hotel del Coronado