A 1991 movie, LA Story, made fun of Los Angeles and its lack of history and culture. Steve Martin cynically gives Sarah Jessica Parker a tour of our fair city exclaiming, “Some of these buildings are (wait for it) … 20 years old!” But indeed there are some Angeleno landmarks and traditions that date back more than 100 years, and my family recently got to experience one, Hotel Del Coronado, just 2.5 hours south of LA, but a world away from the glitz and hustle of the city.
Hotel Del, as it is affectionately known, attracts families that return generation after generation, to celebrate weddings, anniversaries, birthdays and holidays, most notably Christmas, at this luxury beachfront resort. The iconic red-shingled roof of the wooden Victorian-style main hotel is immediately recognizable and has played the backdrop not only for memorable family vacation photos but also for many Hollywood movies.
Since its opening in 1888, the hotel has hosted many of the silver screen’s greats, such as Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino, Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn and Mae West, and today it still serves as a getaway to the rich and famous, from Madonna, Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt, to a slew of Presidents, including Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barak Obama.
The hotel is one of the largest all-wood structures in the United States, and its famed Crown Ball Room, which served as inspiration to the writer of Wizard of Oz, L. Fred Baum, who often stayed there, features a wooden ceiling installed with pegs and glue — not a single nail.
Its architectural and cultural history alone make Hotel Del a destination worth visiting, but its welcoming, family friendly atmosphere and family traditions keep families returning year after year. Most famously, the hotel hosts a legendary month-long winter holiday celebration featuring a beachside outdoor ice skating rink, thousands of festive white lights and an giant Christmas tree in the lobby, an homage to America’s very first electrically lit outdoor Christmas tree at the hotel, in 1904.
The lobby’s brass-gated elevator, complete with a uniformed elevator operator, and the dark wood-paneled stair cases and the bright, wide-open enormous hallways to guest rooms harken back to an era of grand hotels, adding to the nostalgia of the Hotel Del, and serving as a wonderment to children, who look forward to coming back to the hotel each year for holidays and vacations.
The property was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977and a California Historical Landmark in 1970 and has been named by USA Today as one of the top ten resorts in the world. Despite its age, the hotel has kept up with modern times with multiple renovations, including more than $10 million in upgrades, including the addition of a few dozen limited-term occupancy cottages and villas a couple hundred more rooms, in addition to the 399 original rooms.
The amenities include an Olympic-sized salt water pool, tennis courts, and many lush gardens and gazebos around the property, along with shops and restaurants. Of course, with the digital age, Hotel Del added Wi-Fi, flatscreen TVs, electronic key cards and all the modern comforts that today’s luxury travel expects. But while many hot spots come and go, Hotel Del has stood the test of time.
For many of today’s visitors, like our family, the Hotel Del represents the best of new and old, where grandparents enjoy the charm, comfort and familiarity of a magical place where their own childhood memories were made, while they watch their grandchildren play on the beach and make memories for a lifetime. For our family, our visit this holiday season was the first of what we plan to make an annual tradition. And maybe one day we will be lucky enough to come back and see our own grandchildren fall in love with the Del.