One of the world’s few remaining examples of a wooden Victorian beach resort, the beachfront property in San Diego, Calif., has become a major tourist destination, while still operating as an upscale hotel. The latter consists of 757 rooms and 142 suites, with dozens of beachfront villas and cottages, some with private swimming pools.
During a recent trip to San Diego, a friend and I hopped on the Old Town Trolley, which took us across the sweeping bridge linking the mainland with Coronado Island to the hotel.
We spent part of the day exploring the National and State Historic Landmark, a Grande dame that reminded me of The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies, another historic hotel that’s a magnet for visitors to that region. A 90-minute tour of The Del is offered by the Coronado Visitors Center four days a week, but we preferred to explore on our own.
While The Del still wows with its period charm –– including its meticulously restored lobby –– it’s worth remembering that at its 1888 opening, the public marveled at modern conveniences like electric lights in the guest rooms and elevators. The Del features five restaurants, including the stately Crown Room, which is known for its sumptuous Sunday brunch, along with a half-dozen casual eateries; nearly 20 boutiques and gift shops; and a spa with 21 treatment rooms and an infinity-edge pool. The hotel also spans an expansive public beach that’s been rated one of the best in the country.
A beautifully designed coffee-table book that’s sold in several shops on the property commemorates the resort’s beginnings. In 1880, Midwestern speculators Elisha Babcock Jr. and Hampton Story forked over the-then huge sum of $110,000 to purchase the entire Coronado peninsula.
By 1887, the men had raised $1 million by selling off land parcels, and used the funds to build the resort, which opened in February of the next year.
Since then, The Del has enjoyed a mostly fabled history, hosting royalty, U.S. presidents, movie stars, and –– legend has it –– even a ghost or two. Movie buffs will recall its starring role in Billy Wilder’s classic 1959 comedy, Some Like It Hot, for which in stood in as the fictitious “Seminole Ritz” in Florida.
For us, the highlights of our visit proved a chance to get up close with The Del’s trained hawks, which are used to keep seagulls from bothering beach-goers, and a special anniversary exhibition. The latter display –– with images of Some Like It Hot co-star Marilyn Monroe frolicking on The Del’s lawn and original turn-of-the-century room keys and room service menus –– made me want to step back in time and experience the hotel during its first heyday.