The Hotel del Coronado is a historic beachfront property in Coronado Island, California. Many of the wooden hotel buildings were constructed in 1888, and the grounds are stunning. However, the crowds and management changes have created a scenario that may leave you feeling more “Bah Humbug” than Christmas festive.
Finding ourselves in town for our first Christmas as a married couple, Andy and I decided to splurge a bit and enjoy the beauty of a hotel that we’ve admired for years. On the surface, The Hotel del Coronado offers a stunning waterfront location, historic buildings, appealing amenities and delicious dining opportunities (provided you can get in to enjoy them).
The front desk told us that Christmas is their busiest time. Our first indication that this was true was the difficulty in getting into self-parking and the long lines to check in our room. In keeping with its Victorian beginnings, the lobby has a stunning upside-down Christmas tree at the center of it. The gorgeous detailing of everything from the ornate elevator doors to the ceiling work draws the Instagrammers. Unfortunately, that also makes the check-in process harder because the lines have to snake around people posing with the tree. Still, it’s quite a sight and adds to the hotel’s visual appeal.
Booking: Notes and Con
If you want to stay in the Victorian part of the hotel, you must make sure that you book a room in the historic buildings. Otherwise, you could end up in the tower which is just like any other outdated hotel, although you are still on the beach. There are private and semi-private villas that could be perfect for traveling families or a group of friends.
Book directly through the hotel. We made the mistake of booking through hotels.com. When we checked in, I noticed that our pre-authorization charge was more than the cost of the room for two nights, which didn’t make sense as we had already paid in full. We were assured that was normal. Then when we checked out, and the charge was still on there, we were assured by the front desk that it would be removed. You know where this is going, don’t you? They claimed the money never came over from hotels.com, and we were charged twice. It took me eight different contacts with the hotel over six weeks, even after they admitted that they had made the second charge in error before I moved on to Hilton corporate, who took care of the double charge in less than 24 hours.
Room: Pro and Con
Our room was clean, and although the furnishings were dated, we had a lovely view. We loved walking through the winding hallways. We could almost picture ourselves in our bathing clothes as we walked by the umbrella wallpaper in 1888.
Because it is a historic hotel, the walls are pretty thin. Usually, that doesn’t really bother us, but the person directly next to us brought their dog and then left the dog in the room the entire time. Clearly, the dog was not loving that and spent quite a bit of time barking to be let out to join the fun.
There is a gorgeous pool that is close to restaurants and just off the beach. It’s heated, and even in December, there were a fair number of people enjoying the water. And you know it’s considerably warmer than the Pacific Ocean.
There are a host of stores on the ground floor of the main hotel building. You can not only pick up some last-minute gifts and treats, but the halls are filled with old pictures of the hotel in its prime.
Movie night on the beach is a terrific family activity. The views are incredible, and they take care to make sure you are comfortable with a beachside movie. If I ever go back, I would definitely make plans to attend the beach movie.
Skating Rink: Pro and Con
One of the reasons I was excited about going to the Hotel del Coronado was the skating rink. The idea of ice skating within sight of the ocean in December was too tempting to resist. The views at sunset are incredible, and then the twinkle lights come up as the darkness settles over the rink.
Alas, we never ended up skating. We were only there two days, and the lines were so long that it didn’t make sense to spend that limited time waiting in line to skate on a crowded rink. The rink is open for anyone who wants it, whether they are staying at the hotel or not. This is great for the community and people in nearby San Diego. This is not great for people staying at the hotel with limited time to wade through the crowds.
Dining: Pro and Con
Hotel del Coronado makes an amazing Victorian Christmas dinner. It’s expensive, but just the experience of sampling terrific food in the Victorian dining room, all done up for the holiday, is worth the splurge. However, make reservations now. And once you make them, keep checking them. We heard a lot of complaints about lost reservations, and because the dinner sold out, they were out of luck.
There are many excellent restaurants in the hotel, including a fun-looking bar/restaurant that extends over the water. Again, the restaurants are expensive, but you would expect that at a resort. But, in the end, the public crowds made it difficult for hotel guests just to grab a drink or appetizers. I think we had a drink late on Christmas Eve, and that’s the only time we successfully navigated the restaurants. Trust me, make reservations now or at least make them when you arrive. Here’s the good news: there are excellent restaurants that we loved, that were far cheaper, within walking distance, including Clayton’s Coffee Shop (real 1940s diner feel), Leroy’s Kitchen + Lounge and Maretalia Ristorante.
Would I go again? That’s so complicated. I’d love to revisit Coronado Island. The hotel itself is fascinating. The beach is begging to be strolled and explored. Andy and I had a wonderful, romantic getaway because we’re flexible, and we were willing to spend time in the city rather than at the hotel. I would probably not stay at the Hotel del Coronado – it’s too expensive for too little access to the amenities (and my billing problems with their accounting department left me feeling deeply vexed).
However, if you do decide to go to the Hotel del Coronado (and its historic charms make it a bucket list hotel for many), choose a random Tuesday that isn’t close to any holiday. Skip Christmas, the 4th of July, Memorial Day, etc. Go on an average day, make dinner reservations beforehand and book directly with the hotel. That’s the best way to enjoy a hotel stay right on the beach. You may even hear more of those ghost stories that made the hotel famous.