The picture prompts unanswered questions. Who was that woman? Was it a special trip––a farewell outing or a last hoorah? Was it the daughter’s first time to the ocean? The mother’s last? Did they live nearby, or did they come from far away to play on the beach?
“Look at that,” I said to my wife as we sat in front of the Hotel Del Coronado. “That mom and her kid are perfectly framed by the sunset.”
There are few sounds sweeter in life than the giddy laughter of a child. The splashing waves, cool against the evening air, tickled this girl to no end. Perhaps because it was Valentine’s week, or perhaps because my wife and I are expecting our first child, but for whatever reason the scene of the mother dancing with her daughter in the ocean captivated us.
I snapped the photo, and Jodie made a suggestion. “You should almost, maybe, see if they want us to email them the picture.”
The idea sounded silly, at first––after all, we were complete strangers. But then I thought, maybe if Jodie came with me so they saw I was married, and normal, we could introduce ourselves and explain how we happened to take the photo. Get her email address and send her the photo when I got back home. We hemmed and hawed, then decided we would try it. It could be a great keepsake for the mom, we reasoned; how often do you have a picture-perfect postcard capturing a magic moment of you and your child silhouetted against the sunset?
Before we approached the mother we watched the rest of the sunset and snapped a few photos of ourselves, one with the ocean as our backdrop and one with the hotel’s signature panorama in the background. Satisfied with our photos, we then turned our attention back to the mother, only to find she had disappeared.
We looked around, confused and disappointed. It seemed we had only turned our back for a moment to snap a few pictures, but I guess we took too long. My ego in wanting the perfectly centered and staged photo of us, for some future picture frame, wasted the opportunity to give the mother a memento of this candid, joyful moment she had experienced with her daughter.
I regret not speaking with the mother. Kindness shared between strangers is one of travelling’s unexpected joys. I had my chance, and I blew it. But it is my only regret from the Land of Oz.
As we discovered, it turns out picture-perfect moments are not all that uncommon at The Hotel Del Coronado. The National Historic Landmark, with its distinctive red roofs contrasting the azure waters of the Pacific Ocean, has stood as an icon since 1888.
For more than 125 years, the Del has drawn people from all over the world, including every American president since Lyndon Johnson. It’s easy to see why. It is the largest oceanfront resort on the Pacific Ocean, and it sits on 26 acres of what has often been named the No. 1 beach in America: Coronado Beach.
The attraction is greater than beautiful buildings and breathtaking beaches, however; the Del, with its aged, wooden character and its smiling, devoted staff, exudes an authentic charm you can’t create or capture. Simply put, it’s one of a kind.
After reading about the hotel in the New York Times best-seller, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die,” my wife and I thought we’d add the hotel to our list of “1 Place to See Before You Have Kids.” And so, four months into our first pregnancy, we decided to pack our bags and leave behind a record-breaking cold Minnesota winter in favor of the sparkling beaches of Coronado Island. The Grand Lady by the Sea, as the Hotel Del Coronado is affectionately referred to, did not disappoint us.
In fact, the hotel exceeded our lofty expectations––a challenge made greater by the fact that I spent the two weeks preceding the trip reading my wife the hotel’s staggering list of awards, showing her videos of the Del over and over again, and even watching Marilyn’s Monroe hit film “Some Like It Hot,” which was primarily filmed at the Del.
OK, so I was excited. But can you blame me? The hotel was designed specifically to be “the talk of the western world,” and its fame has steadily grown as the hotel has aged gracefully and, in many ways, remained unchanged.
Of course, there have been some evolutions at the hotel, such as Del Beach, which launched this May. The luxurious waterfront set-up features plush daybeds and half-moon cabanas, as well as a plethora of recreational activities geared toward adults and kids.
The new program––including a lively beach playground for kids and boogie board, surfboard, stand-up paddle and kayak rentals––is the first West Coast operation to be managed by Boucher Brothers, a Miami-based hospitality management company charged with setting up and managing the beach daily from sunrise to sunset.
Under the Del umbrella, the Beach Village has its own contemporary design and offers elevated service and amenities including secluded pools with a private cabana, sunset cocktails at the exclusive Windsor Cottage Club and the option of a private dinner prepared by a master chef in the comfort of your own cottage or villa suite.
A constant at the Del is its sense of romance. Over the years, The Grand Lady by the Sea has often been voted as the No. 1 place in America for a destination wedding. Hard to argue with that. I mean, can you imagine a more picturesque place for a wedding in the continental U.S.?
As for the food served at a wedding reception at the Hotel Del Coronado, I’m sure it’s amazing. Jodie and I had dinner at the Del’s signature restaurant, 1500 OCEAN, and had difficulty deciding what we loved the most: the food, the beachfront setting or the service.
Our waiter worked previously as a tour guide on one of San Diego’s popular trolleys and delighted us all night long with stories and folklore about Hotel Del Coronado’s rich history––which, I suppose, is a glamorous way of saying the guy genuinely enjoyed entertaining us and wanted to make sure we were having a great visit. His pride in the area and in his work was clear as he took so much care in giving us detailed tips and advice on what we should do during our stay.
One of his recommendations was biking, which we loved. There is a scenic, six-mile boardwalk around the curved isthmus of Coronado, and renting from the Del’s onsite bike shop, PeDels, is the way to go. It’s also a beautiful, relaxing way to burn off a few calories from the delicious desserts found not only at 1500 OCEAN but also at the Del’s various on-site restaurants and ice cream cafés.
Fishing on and around Coronado Island is also very good. I spent a half day fishing out in front of the island and caught dozens of spotted bass, as well as a beautiful leopard shark. I love to fish so for me it was perfect, but there also other ways to enjoy time on the water during a stay at the Del, such as sailing, kayaking or paddle boarding.
There is a ton to see and do all around Coronado, but we made a point to take it slow and soak up the history and ambience of the hotel. The hotel does an excellent job of keeping that history alive. One cool fact is that author L. Frank Baum stayed at the Hotel Del Coronado many times, going all the way back to 1904. In fact, he wrote part of his Wizard of Oz series during his stays the Del and, in a 1905 San Diego Union article, attributed his outburst of creativity to the hotel’s colorful atmosphere.
Specifically, the hotel and its grand, spiraling rooftops and colorful views were Baum’s inspiration for the Emerald City he dreamed up for The Wizard Oz. It’s true there’s no place like home, but there’s also no place like the Hotel Del Coronado.
“Those who do not find Coronado a paradise have doubtless brought with them the same conditions that would render heaven unpleasant to them, did they chance to gain admission,” Baum wrote in 1904. The prolific writer also penned a poem about the hotel which answers any remaining questions one may have about the iconic Hotel Del Coronado.
Let Coronado wear her crown
As Empress of the Sea;
Nor need she fear her earthly peer
Will e’er discovered be.
We revel ‘neath her tropic palms
And scent her brilliant flowers;
And fondly greet the song-birds sweet
That warble in her bowers.
And every day her loveliness
Shines pure, without a flaw;
New charms entrance our every glance
And fill our souls with awe!
The website for the Hotel Del Coronado is www.hoteldel.com. For more information, call 1.800.468.3533.
For information on other activities on Coronado Island, visit www.sandiego.org/Coronado.