The drive over the Coronado Bridge is a dramatic introduction to the quaint resort city on the other side. Just over three kilometres in length, the towering bridge connects San Diego to Coronado, soaring over 60 metres with a gentle curve at its midpoint offering an optimal vantage for all that surrounds it: the San Diego skyline, the expansive naval base along the shore, and in the distance, the iconic red-shingled roof of the Hotel del Coronado.
In 1885, Elisha Babcock, Jr. and Hampton Story, two retired Midwestern businessmen (aided by a handful of investors), purchased the entire “island” of Coronado for $110,000. (Coronado is technically a peninsula, joined to the mainland of California by a thin spit of land called the Silver Strand.) As locals tell the tale, the development of Coronado is tied almost entirely to the creation of the stately Hotel del Coronado, which opened in 1888 after 11 months of round-the-clock building. Today it is as much an attraction as it is an accommodation, acclaimed for its impressive architecture and spectacular seaside setting.
Over the years, the property has attracted the likes of Thomas Edison, Babe Ruth, Katherine Hepburn, George Harrison, Madonna, and Brad Pitt. Billy Wilder famously filmed his classic movie Some Like It Hot, starring Marilyn Monroe, here in 1958, and Charlie Chaplin was known to premiere his films in the ballroom with a kerosene projector. The hotel has also hosted 11 United States presidents, including Roosevelt, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, and Clinton. It’s not surprising—the island has the feel of classic Americana, with its star-spangled banners, naval presence, and jets roaring overhead throughout the day. The split of land is so temperate, it’s clear why America’s early wealthy families flocked here, an ideal escape from harsh east coast winters.
A walk through the Del offers a semblance of time travel, as historic touches have been carefully preserved. The original elevator is still manned by an operator; a second-floor balcony looking down on the lobby remains intact (a prime spot for people watching); a lavish Sunday brunch, featuring stations for everything from seafood and roast to waffles, patisseries, and made-to-order sorbets, is held in the Crown Room, decorated with lights designed by Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum, who lived nearby (Coronado is said to be the inspiration for the Emerald City). Of the hotel’s 757 rooms, no two are the same and, contrary to modern convention, the ones at the bottom of the hotel are the largest, getting smaller as you ascend the property (the servant’s quarters were typically up top).
“People like historic, they like retro, but they don’t like old,” says Andre Zotloff, the hotel’s vice president and general manager. This is where the Del excels: offering current hotel amenities in a historical context. Even Wallis Simpson’s old beach bungalow remains on the property. “The point is to be consistent,” Zotloff continues. “Classic, but current.” He gives the example of selecting a hotel car. “Many would expect us to have a Rolls Royce, but I say… Maserati: modern and sexy, but timeless.”
Indeed, Zotloff and his team have excelled at setting a modern tone throughout the hotel, with sleek day beds available for rent on the beach, and the expansion of the hotel to the Beach Village at the Del, which offers luxurious suites and villas with added privacy. The au currant touch is evident in the dining options on the property, too, from the artisan pizzas at Eno Pizzeria to fabulous beachfront fine dining at 1500 Ocean, where one simply must have the tasting menu (with wine pairings of course), to the refreshing cocktails offered at the Sunset Bar, crafted with ingredients from the on-site garden mere steps away. “I want to create points of conversation,” says Zotloff. And conversations will happen, though likely at home as every moment spent on this idyllic isle will pass with nary a care (unless you’re left lamenting your partner’s choice of hat). With Zotloff’s keen eye for detail, this historic property’s heyday only stands to continue.
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