The Hotel del Coronado opened in 1888 and fast became a premiere place to visit. It sits on Coronado Island, near downtown San Diego, right on a pristine beach. With its distinctive red roofs and white wooden buildings, the Hotel del Coronado exudes charm. You can wander the grounds, stroll through the inner garden courtyard, relax in the elegant lobby, and eat breakfast while taking in the ocean view -- even if you are not a guest at the hotel.
If you are in the San Diego area, include a morning or an afternoon to hang out at the Hotel del Coronado. It can be sunny and warm year-round, and Christmastime is especially decorative, so any time of year can be great. There’s so much to see on the sprawling 28-acre grounds. You will be in the presence of history and beauty, with the ocean waves breaking on the nearby shore.
Here are helpful tips and information on visiting the Hotel del Coronado, whether you are a guest or one of the many daily visitors who enjoy the setting and ambiance.
Drive Over The Bridge Or Take The Ferry
The fastest way to get to Coronado Island from downtown San Diego is to drive on the Coronado Bridge. Opened in 1969, this gently curving bridge allows you to cross over the bay in a few minutes. If you have more time, consider taking the ferry from the Embarcadero downtown across the bay to the Ferry Landing in Coronado. From there, the Hotel del Coronado is 1.6 miles away, straight down Orange Avenue.
Pro Tip: Valet parking is available at the hotel. But I recommend parking on the residential streets near the hotel. It’s not only free, but it also can save you time waiting on a valet.
Walk In Historical Footsteps At This Gilded Age Wonder
The Hotel del Coronado displays the intricate, pleasant architecture of the 1880s. The builders set out to create a resort hotel that would be “the talk of the western world.” The spot they chose is part of a narrow island with the ocean on one side and Glorietta Bay on the other. Today, downtown San Diego lies directly across the bay from Coronado Island.
The hotel immediately ran into financial trouble with the collapse of the economy, and it was bailed out by sugar magnate John Spreckels, who owned the hotel until 1948. Different owners since that time have renovated the hotel, but the original style has been preserved. Now under the Hilton umbrella, the hotel is undergoing another upgrade, but the exterior will look much like it did in 1888.
The history of the Hotel del Coronado lends an auspicious air to its stylish buildings. Visiting dignitaries have included presidents Taft, FDR, Ford, Nixon, Reagan, the Bushes, Clinton, and Obama. Film stars on the visitor’s list include Bette Davis, Kirk Douglas, Humphrey Bogart, Katherine Hepburn, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Judy Garland, Olivia de Havilland, and Jimmy Stewart.
One of The Del’s biggest claims to fame is its starring role in the movie Some Like It Hot in 1958. If you are planning to visit, have fun watching this Marilyn Monroe delight. You’ll get a view of the actual hotel as it was several decades ago.
It’s no surprise that the hotel earned designation as a National Historic Landmark from the U.S. Department of the Interior. It is worthy of a visit when you come to San Diego!
Best Things To Do At The Hotel Del Coronado
Wander Through The Lobby And Shops
Enter up the carpeted front steps. The wood-paneled lobby looks much the same today as it did in 1888. The second-floor balcony overlooks the lobby and can be reached by a wide stairway. The gold elevator is the original and is still run by an elevator operator. This was somewhat of a modern curiosity when built; hotel documents note that the elevator can safely hold 2,500 pounds. You will feel like you’ve stepped back in time when you make your way to your room on the upper floors.
Shops line the hall off the lobby, and more shops are found downstairs in halls off the front of the hotel. These are being remodeled, so check the website for updated information. If you want to shop in the meantime, it’s easy to venture down Orange Avenue right outside the hotel and find a variety of boutiques and specialty stores.
Stroll Through The Garden Courtyard
Just off the lobby is a garden courtyard surrounded by the white-painted Hotel buildings. Amble down the wide path and look up at the guest rooms with their various porches and balconies. At the far end, take the short stairway down to the parking lot and the path to the beach.
Laze On The Lawn
The “back” side of the hotel, between the restaurants and hotel rooms and the beach, is covered by a lawn area that’s ideal for sitting and people watching. The beach boardwalk is often busy with sightseers, dog walkers, and locals out for exercise. Bring a blanket and laze as long as you like.
Play At The Beach
The beach at The Del is public, so you can spend time in the sun and play in the waves. Young folks can build sandcastles. Cabanas and umbrellas are available for guests of the Hotel. And a snack bar is handy.
Pro Tip: The beach and the walkway adjacent to it are perfect for watching a spectacular sunset on the ocean.
Celebrate The Holidays
The lobby features a gigantic Christmas tree each December, with a different theme each year. Some years, seasonal decorations extend into the courtyard. December at the Hotel Del brings a festive tree and a public ice skating rink built on a section of lawn in the back of the hotel. You can rent skates and glide along with the ocean at your side. Inside the hotel, look for smaller decorated trees in hallways and restaurants.
Note The Windsor Cottage On The Beach Path
As you walk along the beachfront path, take note of the freestanding Windsor Cottage. This was once the Coronado home of socialite Wallis Simpson, who would later marry Prince Edward and cause a shake-up in the English Royal Family. Simpson was married to a naval officer stationed here and lived in the cottage from 1917 to 1921.
Today, the cottage is used to host breakfasts for Beach Village guests. Lounge chairs and fire pits on the patio also make it the perfect place to watch the sunset if you are one of these privileged guests.
Be A Guest At This Charming Hotel
Of course, you can actually stay at the Hotel del Coronado. Choose from three room options: The historic original hotel, a contemporary addition on the property, and the luxurious Beach Village cottages.
The iconic Victorian Building gives you a room under the red turrets and a feel for history. Each room’s decor is unique. Views vary with room location.
The California Cabanas and Ocean Towers buildings are modern in style and decorated in warm colors. Rooms all have either a balcony or patio. Some rooms offer views of the ocean or the resort.
Beach Village is a row of residential-style cottages along the sand, with architecture to match the original Hotel. These cottages, billed as the “pinnacle” of luxury, come with concierge service, breakfast, and private swimming pools. They are suited to a family gathering or group of friends.
Pro Tip: I highly recommend staying in the original building. I have toured the contemporary addition, and it is a nice, generic place to stay. It lacks the charm of the rows of white rooms topped by red roofs. Go for the historic experience and stay in the original Hotel. And ride that wonderful turn-of-the-century elevator.
Take Along Fido (And Fluffy)
The Hotel del Coronado welcomes both dogs and cats. Welcome amenities include bowls and placemats for your pets. Dog Beach, less than a mile from the resort, is a great place for your pooch to romp in the waves. And the lawn at the back side of the hotel provides a pleasant outdoor venue for relaxing with your dog.
Imagine The Days Of Tent City
Here’s something fun to know when you visit the Hotel del Coronado. At one time, a massive Tent City occupied the land to your left as you face the ocean here. Glamping has nothing on Tent City. Here, people could rent a tent furnished with electric lights, beds, washstands, tables and chairs, cooking utensils, and linen. The small city of tents also provided laundry service. Tent City featured restaurants, a soda fountain, a grocery store, a theater, a merry-go-round, and a dance pavilion. From 1900 to 1938, Tent City thrived, offering vacationers a budget option in the shadow of the elegant Hotel del Coronado.
Stand on the lawn and imagine the bustling Tent City as it was a hundred years ago.
Best Restaurants To Try
You can sit down and savor a meal, grab an ice cream treat, or hang out at a bar at the Hotel.
Sheerwater is a popular beachfront restaurant with views of the ocean. Dine inside or on the patio. Choose from fresh local seafood, savory smoked meats with house-made barbecue sauces, sandwiches, and salads. Sheerwater is a favorite of hotel guests for its hearty breakfasts.
The Crown Room
The Crown Room restaurant not only offers gourmet foods but also is an architectural marvel. The ceiling made of sugar pine is 33 feet high and is held together by wooden pegs, not nails. To preserve the view, no pillars were used, giving the large room a feeling of spaciousness and a view of the front lawn. The unique crown chandeliers, said to have been designed by Wizard of Oz author Frank Baum, were hung in 1911.
Notable celebrations in the Crown Room include a dinner for Charles Lindbergh to honor him after his solo trans-Atlantic flight. If you are at the Hotel celebrating an occasion of your own, the Crown Room may be what you’re looking for.
And if you are around between meals, stop at Sundae’s for a yummy gelato with all the toppings.
Shortly after the Hotel del Coronado opened, a young girl named Noel stayed at the Hotel for the winter. She wrote to her cousin in 1892: “The hotel is white and has red roofs everywhere. The red and the white between the bluest sky and the bluest water is like a beautiful dream in a fairy story." Plan a day or a stay at the Hotel del Coronado, and you, too, can experience this fairy story place on the beach in sunny San Diego.