SAN DIEGO'S ROMANTIC "DEL" - A Classic Honeymoon Hotel

by Louis Bignami

Back in 1920, when Edward, Prince of Wales visited San Diego there was a reception for over 1,000 guests at Coronado's classic Hotel del Coronado. Local folklore insists that one couple, Lieutenant Commander Earl Winfield Spencer, Jr. and his bride Wallis Warfield Spencer apparently made an impression -- or at least Mrs. Spencer did. Prince Edward, then King, gave up his throne for her in 1937. Hanky-panky isn't anything new. Neither are famous guests like Marylin Monroe who stayed here in a cottage on the beach in 1958 during the filming of Some Like it Hot. Eleven presidents stayed in the "Del" and it's deservedly one of the most popular honeymoon spots in Southern California.

Today, the "Del" seems the hot spot for Sunday brunch for San Diego residents, classic car club rally types or savvy visitors. However, you only get the full flavor of the Del when you stay overnight, wander the halls or explore the grounds -- preferably hand-in-hand.

It's one of the best classic hotels in the world. You can't fault the site with the bay on one side and the Pacific and its wide sand beaches beyond. You can't fault the look. The white spun sugar buildings with their unique peaked red roofs are beautifully apparent all over. You can't fault the hotel's history, the first guests visited in 1888. How old is that in real terms? The Del was the first hotel in the West to have electricity and Thomas Alva Edison inspected the job.

As a romantic and relaxing weekend getaway, the Del ranks with the best in the world -- I've a theory the honeymoons are wasted on newlyweds, but that's another story. There's more than enough tension, stress and exercise just down the beach where the Navy Seals train. So when my wife an I visit we rarely leave the premises, the pool, the grounds and the restaurants.

Public rooms, like the Crown Room with its 33 foot high ceiling and seating for 600, offer something special too. In this case, it's wondering about the thousands of wooden pegs -- no nails -- that apparently hold the ceiling up. Hanging out in the ornate lobby with its open birdcage elevator and palms offers world-class people watching. And a host of dining rooms offer better than average food for hotels. We run to fish dishes and the raspberry duck, but the Sunday brunch in the Crown Room is worth reserving early. Do ask about window tables. The refurbished Prince of Wales Room offers even more upscale dining.

We haven't, at least so far, ever stayed in two rooms that were the same size, shape or decor. According the Del's manager no two rooms are alike as the entire hotel was built by relatively untrained Chinese carpenters who learned carpentry, and English, on the job. So the back of the hotel on the west side runs to basic box designs, and the front that they finished after on the job training features complex round turrets and wildly attractive arches. At last count, I found seventeen different door sizes and some very unusual wood working details like pegged panels. Tip: Book in the Main Building complex, not the new buildings.

Some rooms feature round parlors, others have a private staircase, many have huge bathrooms, and ocean-front rooms in high demand may have lanais. Consider the robes, wonderful room service and other touches that insure each visit is a coddled adventure and a threat to your waistline. Good thing there's a spa, big pool, tennis courts and the beach to work off brunch or dinners.

Of course, if you insist on leaving the palm studded grounds you can walk down into Coronado to share upscale shopping with retired admirals and tourists. Or head out to the beach to watch the sun set over the romantic Pacific.

Del Coronado Hotel 1500 Orange Ave., Coronado, CA 92118 619-522-8000