CORONADO ISLAND, CA - While driving on the Coronado Bridge, which sweeps so majestically across San Diego Bay, we get our first glimpse of this island’s most treasured landmark, the Hotel Del Coronado. The legendary holiday retreat is a breathtaking site — rising on the shores of the Pacific Ocean like a giant pink sand castle, it’s red turret roof acting as a beacon for travellers ever since it opened in 1888. Much has been written about the historic Del (that’s what staff call her), where the rich and famous from Wall Street and Hollywood have come to stay and make movies: the classic Some Like It Hot starring Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis was filmed here in 1958.
The hotel’s Victorian architecture charms us as soon as we enter the handsome wood-panelled lobby where ornate chandeliers (their installation was overseen by none other than Thomas Edison) hang from the ceiling like giant Christmas tree ornaments.
The congenial receptionist hands us the key card to our room and directs us to the “brass box” in the corner of the lobby, which she informs us is “the oldest working elevator in the United States.”
When the brass gate of the museum-worthy Otis slides open, an elderly man wearing a pie hat and brass buttons steps forward.
“Hi … Come into my office ... What floor?” asks Andrew Loundsbury in one continuous sentence.
While sliding the door shut, the long-time lift operator asks where we are from. His ears perk up when we tell him “Toronto.”
“That’s where I’m originally from,” says the man whose stooped body shows the effects of the cerebral palsy he’s fought for so many years.
As the tiny, cramped lift slowly makes its way to the fourth floor where our room is located, Andrew tells us he’s been working at the Del for more than 30 years and says he likes to serenade guests with songs.
Above: The treasured Del Coronado Hotel rises on the shores like a giant sand castle.
“People like my Elvis songs the best,” says Andrew, one of six elevator operators employed by the historic property where the likes of Charles Lindbergh, Frank Sinatra, Babe Ruth and Ronald Reagan, have laid their heads.
Andrew says, “Tony Curtis liked my songs so much he gave me a $100 tip.”
“But,” says the likeable Andrew with a laugh, “James Brown tipped me $150 to stop singing.”
Andrew bids us farewell when we reach our floor and a few minutes later we’re standing in one of the Del’s 679 palatial rooms; ours has a gorgeous ocean view.
Thanks to a multi-million-dollar makeover, the Grand Dame of California hotels looks as good as when she first opened and remains the main reason why tourists come to Coronado, which is primarily a naval base, home to the U.S. Pacific fleet and the famed Navy Seals.
In fact, many of the people we see walking the grounds of the stately property that drifts off onto one of California’s most beautiful beaches are ex-military who have fond memories of the Del from their youth.
Left: The Del is home to the oldest working elevator in the U.S. Right: Long time elevator operator Andrew Loundsbury is as famous as the hotel.
“We were married here right after the War, in 1946,” an elderly couple from Michigan tell us while enjoying a drink on the Del’s Sun Deck grill.
There’s even a small museum in the great hotel that reminds us of the historic figures who have stayed here. One glass case is exclusively devoted to Monroe’s visit.
From our ocean view room and the Del’s seaside restaurants and bars, we get to see huge aircraft carriers like the USS Nimitz slowly make their way into port and fighter and patrol aircraft roar overhead. What a thrill!
Dining at the Del comes in many forms, from the elegant Crown Room where huge lights shaped like crowns dominate (Coronado means crown in Spanish), to the Babcock and Story sports bar, named after the Del’s original owners, there’s something to satisfy everyone’s tastes.
We elect to enjoy the alfresco dining options offered at the seaside Sheerwater — its freshly caught fish selections at dinner are exceptional — and the playful Eno, a family-style Italian restaurant that specializes in gourmet pizzas made in wood burning ovens.
There’s also 1500 Ocean, the Del’s signature dining room where Maine lobster risotto, roasted quail and Alaskan halibut go perfectly with wine pairings that feature California’s best vintages.
Families look forward to the Del’s nightly marshmallow roast on the beach. As soon as the sun begins to dip into the sea, kids can be seen pushing their parents in the direction of the sand where fire pits fuelled by huge oak logs flicker in the darkness. Song and laughter fill the air as s’mores are passed around.
Above: So much has happened at the fabled Del that they had to build a museum to honour those who have stayed there.
The addition of some stately family cottages and villas along the water’s edge has made the Del even more popular with families. The huge “cottages” are perfect retreats for extended family vacations.
As one of America’s most sophisticated hotels, the Del offers guests lots of pampering options, from upscale shopping to a state-of-the-art spa, which features ocean-inspired treatments administered by well-qualified therapists.
The Del’s contemporary spa also features a vanishing edge pool, outdoor relaxation area that looks out on the beach and seascape and a tranquil indoor lounge.
For more than a century, the Del has been making history — America’s first electrically lit Christmas tree appeared here in 1904 — and it will continue to do so for many years to come because it’s a place where people want to be.
Air Canada Rouge and WestJet offer direct flights to San Diego from a number of Canadian cities. / For information and room rates at the Hotel Del Coronado, go to www.hoteldel.com