My Dream Hotel
I can't resist the idea of a 126 year old hotel on an island. I first saw the image of that spectacular cone-shaped roof years ago, in the movie "Some Like it Hot". I've wanted to visit this place for a long, long time.
When Don and I started planning our TX-CA road trip, I hoped we could stop by to see this iconic hotel, built in 1887. After a bit of pondering we decided to bite the bullet and pay for a night at this dream getaway. The Del Coronado was even grander than I expected.
I was giddy as we stepped into the lobby, once called the Rotunda! Ritzy chandelier and flowers... rich dark wood in the ceiling and gallery... and a golden, cage-like Otis elevator! Classic!
I didn't get to see the ballroom! That's the room that is beneath the red-turreted roof. I guess you have to plan a wedding or... a ball, to use the ballroom. But I was able to enjoy it from about every angle when I was outside. I could just stare at it and think about the famous people who have been inside that ballroom. Or I could imagine being famous, then I could ask to see the ballroom and they would probably let me peek in.
Or wait a minute, maybe I could have just asked. I didn't even ask to go in the ballroom!
Okay, I am not one of the famous people associated with The Del, but at least I have enough nerve to put my photo side-by-side with Marilyn. This is to show you the then and now view from the beach towards the red-turreted roof. Little has changed since "Some Like it Hot" was filmed here in 1958. During those Hollywood years, there was a constant flow of stars at the hotel. But there were also presidents and poets and other interesting people back before movie stars discovered the hotel. One of my favorite writers, L. Frank Baum, supposedly wrote 3 of his Oz books while staying at The Del. I'm sure plenty of celebrities still visit the hotel, but when I asked the bartender to name a few recent sightings he could only name sports figures.
I'm always up for a people encounter, famous or not. My friend Lorrie told me about a wonderful elevator operator, so I walked up a couple flights of stairs to insure at least a partial ride without a crowd. Andrew was indeed quite entertaining. When he heard Don and I were from Texas he admitted he hoped we weren't Texas A&M fans. When we laughed that our kids had gone to UT, Andrew softly began to sing The Eyes of Texas. Don and I chuckled to hear the song we'd often heard at UT events, suddenly being sung by this shy, uniformed man.
I must mention that there may be more than one interesting elevator operator at the hotel. After I emailed this photo to my friend, she admitted this was not the elevator man she remembered!
When I first saw this man holding a stick with a sort of brush attached, I thought he was washing windows. It turns out he was hired with his Harris hawks to keep the grounds free of annoying seagulls. We chatted for quite a while as his sweet hawk flew off and returned numerous times. It was obvious that his work with hawks was more than a job. He admitted that the commitment to his birds and their care made traveling and even relationships tricky.
Lots of Pretty Crowns!
The little kid in me wanted to go around and count crowns. They were everywhere. The adult in me wanted to dress up and eat in the Crown Room that looks like a capsized ship with lovely crown shaped lights hanging down. But the Crown Room is only open as a restaurant for Sunday Brunch and it was Tuesday. Of course if we'd stayed until Sunday and gone to brunch, I would have once again searched for the kid in me, with kid menu prices. The adult price for brunch is $85.
While wandering the hotel we stepped out onto a little porch with a great view of the courtyard, full of palms and bouganvillas and pathways. You could even see over the roof to the ocean where the sun was due to set in a few hours. Since our first floor room had no ocean view, we kept this spot in mind for the evening.
Our room was off the courtyard on the first floor. That meant no more rides with Andrew in the elevator. But it was an easy room to reach and we could peek out at the garden setting.
There's no such thing as a bargain room at The Del, but we took the cheapest they had for about $350. There was more of a classy, modern feel to our room than a quaint, historic feel. Which was fine. I'm all for squeaky floors and antique beds if the price is right. But if I'm paying for luxury, I want a nice bed and good shower. Now, if we'd arrived in 1888, we could have gotten a room, plus three meals for about $2.50. And that was with electricity, which was mighty impressive back then!
Don is fiddling with the Keurig coffee maker in this pic. To us, that's a big perk for a hotel room. In the other pic, I'm fiddling with the champagne that just arrived with some jumbo sized truffles. That was a perk we paid extra for. It's called the Celebration Package and it adds about $85. to your room bill. It makes you look like you're very Romantic or very Rich, but in truth it comes with a $100.oo dining credit, so you might as well buy one if you're planning on eating at the hotel. The other perk that comes with it, is the fun of having it delivered by the room service guy who was just adorable. He looked like he'd been working at Del Coronado for about 80 years and his little uniform with the cute round hat was just charming. I should have gotten a photo.
There wasn't time for everything, but we made time for the pool. In the late afternoon the pool had a few guests, but at 8 am the next day, we had the pool to ourselves. We wore our hotel robes and carried the newspaper. I read and Don did laps. Heaven!
In the evening we crossed the street to the marina with the original hotel boathouse. "1887 On The Bay" is a restaurant now, but we just sipped a couple drinks in the upstairs bar where the boathouse keeper once lived.
We headed back to have dinner at Sheerwater, the patio restaurant with an ocean view. We had reservations for 8:00, but stalled when we noticed the sun about to set.
The lowering sun was beautiful, but the people watching was equally entertaining. There were actually 2 bridal couples attracting attention. One of the couples we spotted posing in at least 10 different spots around the hotel during the evening. I might add they did not look a bit happy and their smiles were forced. The perfect Romantic setting does not make you a perfect couple!
By 8:30, we were seated under a heater and enjoying lump crab and lobster mac-n-cheese. Between the patio and the beach was a private lawn party that was a good source of entertainment. Folks mingled and dined and occasionally picked up a croquet mallet or bocce ball for some lawn fun. All the while a trio of musicians played on a small platform in the grass. A few times the trio played a jazzy little number that made think Jack Lemmon and his bass had just come back to life in a scene from "Some Like it Hot".
All was quiet on the beach at 7 am the next morning. I walked out to see the sandcastle that had been surrounded by a crowd the day before. It was a treat to have that huge beach to myself for a moment. I wasn't even close to the water when I took this photo, but I was finally far enough away to fit the whole building in the picture.
I'll always remember grinning when we approached the hotel. It was bigger and better than I imagined. The nicest surprise was that there was no over the top snooty feel to the place. I don't think you can be 126 year old and put on airs. No coats of paint and fashion updating can completely hide the age or the stories or even the smell of this charming old hotel. I like that.
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!