The Hotel Del Coronado, also known as “the Del,” is a unique San Diego landmark - a grand Victorian-era hotel on a picturesque palm tree-lined beach. Located in Coronado, just across the San Diego Bay from downtown, it has been a luxury resort since 1888 and has hosted 15 US presidents along with countless movie stars and other celebrities. With that kind of guest list, you might expect its grounds to be highly exclusive but, in fact, Coronado Beach in front of the hotel is open to the public and a great place to swim or take a walk.
In the 1880s, Southern California was in the midst of a real estate boom. Developers would sometimes build a grand hotel as a way to draw attention to a new area before they began building residences there. At that time, Coronado and North Island were both islands in the San Diego Bay (they’re now connected to the mainland and each other by fill). A group of five investors who owned the two islands began the ambitious 339-room hotel project to kick off their development of the area.
Before they completed it, the housing market went bust, making it difficult to find capital to complete the building. San Diego transportation tycoon Charles Spreckles bought the hotel from the original investors and completed the project. It was designed by architect James Reed, and the landscaping was done by Kate Sessions (who also started the botanical gardens at Balboa Park). Much of the work was done by Chinese-American laborers from San Francisco and Oakland.
By the 1920s, the hotel had become famous for hosting visiting dignitaries. During Prohibition, it became a favorite party spot for Hollywood celebrities, and guests here included Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, Rudolph Valentino, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Mae West, Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, and Ginger Rogers. The hotel has been featured in several movies including the 1959 classic “Some Like it Hot”. L. Frank Baum, the author of the “Wizard of Oz” books, also stayed here and the hotel may have inspired his vision of the Emerald City. During World War II, the US military used the hotel to house soldiers. More recent celebrity guests have included Kevin Costner, Whoopi Goldberg, Gene Hackman, George Harrison, Keanu Reeves, Brad Pitt, Madonna, Barbra Streisand, and Oprah Winfrey.
In recent decades the hotel has had several upgrades, including the addition of cottages and villas to expand its capacity. In 2017, it was taken over by Hilton Hotels and Resorts, who began another redevelopment and expansion in 2019.
Cover image: : Hotel Del Coronado, CC BY 2.0 via flickr.