Just off the coast of San Diego, you'll find one of the oldest and most iconic hotels in the U.S.: The Hotel del Coronado, Curio Collection by Hilton.
The Hotel del Coronado is located on San Diego's Coronado Island, a long strip of beach in San Diego's bay – and some of the most prized real estate in the area. So go figure, staying at this Hilton property can be extremely expensive.
That's where the free night certificates from credit cards like the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card come in. My wife and I cashed in three such certificates for a long weekend getaway to celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary at this historic property.
Read on for our full review of the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, California.
Hotel del Coronado Location
The Hotel del Coronado is located on the peninsula of Coronado, just across the bay from the heart of San Diego. The island is also home to a large U.S. Naval base, which means you'll see many planes, helicopters, and ships during your stay.
The resort itself is about a 15- to 20-minute drive from the San Diego Airport (SAN). If you rent a car as we did, you'll be on the hook for a $40 per night fee to park in the property's underground parking garage. But the city of Coronado itself is very walkable, with tons of shopping and restaurants just outside the grounds of the hotel.
It's located on beautiful Coronado beach, which has a massive boardwalk and tons of space to enjoy any and all beach activities.
A Brief History of the Hotel del Coronado
The Hotel del Coronado was built in 1888 by Elisha Babcock, Jr., and Hampton L. Story. It's not just an icon of San Diego – it's an American icon. It was designated as a California Historical Landmark in 1970, and as a National Historic Landmark in 1977.
The property is one of the few surviving examples of the Victorian beach resorts. Hotel Del was constructed entirely from wood and is the second-largest wooden structure still standing in the United States, after the Tillamook Air Museum in Tillamook, Oregon.
By the 1960s, the property was beginning to show its age. After a sale in the '60s and concerns it would be demolished, the hotel was refurbished and expanded. The property has changed hands many times since and is currently owned by the Blackstone Group LP. In August 2017, Hilton Hotels took over the management of the Hotel del Coronado and have placed the hotel in their Curio Collection brand portfolio – where it stands to this day.
Notable Guests at the Hotel del Coronado
When the Hotel del Coronado first opened its doors in 1888, it was the single largest hotel resort in the world. Naturally, it drew attention from many notable guests: By the 1920s and 1930s, the Del had become a Hollywood playground.
Twelve U.S. presidents and counting have stayed at the Hotel del Coronado since its opening along with many notable guests like Thomas Edison, Prince Edward VIII, Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, Babe Ruth, Brad Pitt, Oprah Winfrey, George Harrison, and many, many more.
Throughout the Del and even in the city of Coronado, you will see stars with many of the notable guests who have stayed at the property with a QR code you can scan for more information.
The Ghost of Kate Morgan
Talking about the history of the Hotel Del Coronado wouldn't be complete without mentioning Kate Morgan. If ghost stories aren't your thing, you may want to skip a stay at the Hotel del Coronado.
As the legend has it, in 1892, a young woman in her mid-twenties named Kate Morgan checked into the hotel alone under the name “Lottie A Bernard.” Five days later, Kate was found dead on one of the hotel's exterior staircases leading to the beach.
She had a gunshot wound to the head which the San Diego coroner later determined to be self-inflicted, though there is still much skepticism around the finding.
To this day, hotel guests have recounted sightings of seeing her spirit at the resort. Legend has it she tends to occupy and haunt her former guestroom, room 3327.
According to the hotel, guests in Kate’s room report everything from breezes that come from nowhere to having to deal with a TV that turns on and off by itself.
Booking the Hotel del Coronado
Since 2017, the Hotel del Coronado has been under the Hilton flag. That means it is possible to book a stay at the property through Hilton's website using both cash or Hilton Honors points.
Depending on dates and the time of year of your stay, expect to pay between $300 and $600 a night for a standard room. There are many different tiers of rooms at the Del, but the standard rooms are going to be the cheapest option.
If you plan to use Hilton Honors points, a standard room award night will generally start at 95,000 points. Again, there are many different room types which can cost up to 300,000 points each night.
Since I hold the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, I get a free weekend night certificate each year of card membership that can be redeemed at any Hilton property in their portfolio. That's a great benefit but it got even better throughout the pandemic: These certificates are now valid for any day of the week. Plus, Hilton has extended certificates issued prior to July 1, 2020 all the way through Jan. 3, 2022.
As a result, I had three free night certificates to redeem … which could be used on any night of the week. I applied those certificates to our three-day stay, which covered nightly costs of more than $400.
Finally, the property charges a $35 nightly resort fee, which is unavoidable.
Check-In Process at the Hotel del Coronado
When you arrive in the lobby area of the Hotel del Coronado, it's like a time warp to a different generation. They simply don't build hotels – or any buildings, for that matter – like this anymore: Beautiful wood tones, high ceilings, classic furniture, and much more.
The music from the 1920s helps bring you back to a different era, too.
Directly behind the check-in counter, you'll see the original wood built-ins with a board holding all of the original room keys from when the property first opened. These are, of course no longer in use, but it's a really neat touch that helps tell the history of the resort.
Because of my Hilton Honors Diamond status from my Aspire card, we were offered an upgrade to one tier above the room we booked. Since we booked a standard room, the upgraded room included a balcony with a courtyard view.
We were also offered a paid upgrade to a room with an ocean view, which we declined.
Hotel del Coronado Rooms
Standard Hotel del Coronado rooms, dubbed the “Victorian rooms”, are located in the original building. But from there, room levels climb all the way up to “The Views” oceanfront rooms with incredible views that go for more than $1,000 a night or over 400,000 Hilton Honors points.
We stayed in the Victorian Room. From the start, it was clear that the original building is full of character. That's evident the second you step off the elevator or staircase into the hallways.
The Victorian Room
These rooms were originally constructed in the late 1800s, so it was small by today's standards. As you walk up the stairs and through the hallways, you'll notice the creaky, uneven floors – expected from a building over 130 years old.
Every now and again, we could hear creaking from guests on the floor above us.
As for our room itself at Hotel Del, it was certainly nothing special. That said, it was more than adequate as we didn't spend much time in the room anyway. According to a few of the staff members, each Victorian room is unique: There are really no two rooms that are exactly alike.
The bathroom was also on the small side, but it was perfectly fine. It was just mostly forgettable.
The best and most unique part of the room was the balcony that overlooked the courtyard of the original building. Again, you don't see hotel balconies built like this anymore. It was outfitted with two chairs and it was a great place to enjoy a drink and take in the sunset each night.
Just look at this view from our balcony of the courtyard.
Hotel del Coronado Amenities
The Hotel del Coronado is a fairly massive resort, so there are tons of activities and amenities for guests (and non-guests, too) to enjoy.
Hotel Del Coronado Fitness Center
The fitness center at the Del is easily one of the nicest hotel gyms I have ever seen. It's equipped with tons of strength and cardio equipment and even a group fitness room with a daily schedule of available classes.
The Fitness Center is open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., and classes are open to hotel guests, members, and day visitors. There is also complimentary yoga on the beach for overnight guests over the age of 16.
If you are part of the Peloton craze like I am, there are four Peloton bikes available in the gym for your use.
Salon & Spa
In the same building that houses the fitness center, you'll find the resort's salon and a full-service spa that offers body treatments, facials, massages, and much more. We didn't use either during our stay, but you can find a full-service menu on the hotel's website.
Massages start at $185 for 50-minute sessions. If you hold the Hilton Aspire Card, spa and salon services will count towards the card's $250 annual resort credit.
Directly outside the building housing the spa and fitness center, you'll be able to rent beach cruiser bikes to take up and down Coronado beach for a charge. This was a popular activity for many guests during our stay.
Hotel Del Coronado Pool
The pool at the Hotel Del Coronado has a very vintage feel to it. The pool area just underwent a complete renovation and rejuvenation. And according to one of our servers, all of the cabanas and furniture are new.
It was a great place to relax and order drinks from the poolside bar. But be warned: As you'll find throughout the resort, food and drinks are not cheap – more on this later.
In the pool area, there is also a large hot tub that was a great place to end the afternoon.
The one unfortunate thing about the pool is that because it is surrounded by restaurants and other amenities, there are no direct views of the beach from the pool area.
Hotel Del Coronado Courtyard
Directly in the center of the resort, you'll find a big open courtyard with incredible views of Coronado beach. It was a little on the chilly side during our visit, but during the summer months, you can expect it to be full of sunbathers and many other guests.
On the last day of our stay, work had started to set up the ice skating rink that takes over the courtyard space during the holiday season.
We didn't get to see the rink completed, but the photos on the hotel's website look incredible. The resort calls it “Skating by the Sea” and it runs each year from Nov. 22 to Jan. 2.
Hotel Del Coronado Restaurants
The Del has quite a few restaurant options available on the property. And these restaurants are open to both hotel guests and the general public.
But the Hotel del Coronado is a high-demand spot and the food and drink prices reflect that. As a Hilton Diamond member, my wife and I each received $15 per day in Hilton's food and beverage credits that could be used at any of the restaurants on the property. We used this for an afternoon drink all three days and in most cases, the $30 wasn't even enough to cover the round of beverages.
Because Coronado is so walkable and filled with tons of great restaurants, we didn't eat at the resort other than a happy hour at Babcock and Story the day we arrived, and a quick lunch on the second day before we headed out for an adventure.
I would highly recommend Miguel's Cocina, The Henry, and Clayton's Bakery & Bistro (which was a great breakfast spot). All three spots are a quick 5-10 minute walk from the hotel and much cheaper than the prices you will find on property.
That being said, here are the restaurant options you will find at the Del. If you have the Hilton restaurant credits discussed above, they will work at any of these options.
Serea is the signature restaurant of the resort, and it is described as the ultimate sea-to-table experience with a menu containing fresh seafood, salads, and a raw bar. You can find the full menu here.
The menu also contains a number of fresh ingredients that are grown on the property.
Babcock and Story Bar
Named after the Hotel del Coronado founders, the Babcock and Story bar is the original from when the property was built and is over 50 feet long and made of mahogany.
Legend has it that Babcock and Story secured all the liquor rights in Coronado, which meant no other businesses could serve alcohol. During WWII, the historic bar become such a popular spot for military men and their significant others that it helped sustain the Del during the war's worst years.
On the menu, you'll find beers, wine, craft cocktails, and lots of tasty small plates. We had a 1/2 dozen pacific oysters and the spicy tuna tacos. While not cheap, both were delicious. You can find the full Babcock & Story menu here.
Located just past the pool area, The Sun Deck is another great spot to grab a casual drink, apps, and even a main course with beautiful views of Coronado beach. Each night of our stay, the space got busy during happy hour as many guests came for a drink before dinner.
The Sun Deck even has some fire pit tables which were being used on the chilly November evenings of our stay. They even host a dog-friendly happy hour on Sunday afternoons.
You can find the full Sun Deck menu here.
Beach & Taco Shack
Down on the beachfront of the property, you'll find the Beach & Taco Shack. The taco shack opens at 11 a.m. each day and we had lunch there on our second day.
On the menu, you'll many different tacos, tropical cocktails, beer & wine. While the tacos were good, it was over $60 for two beers and two tacos each.
You can find the full Beach & Taco Shack menu here.
ENO Market & Pizzeria
ENO Market & Pizzeria is a grab-and-go market that also has coffee, pastries, beer, wine, and lots of snacks. It was open at 6 a.m. each morning and was a great place to grab a coffee before walking the beach.
Outside, the space has a full menu of wood-fired pizzas and salads which are available on the patio. You can find the full Eno Market & Pizzaria menu here.
Located just outside Serea, Sheerwater is the property's signature seaside eatery. Tons of gourmet seafood and steak house options are available, plus an extensive breakfast and brunch menu with acai bowls and more.
The Crown Room
The Crown Room is the iconic ballroom at the Hotel del Coronado and in normal times, the property serves a Sunday brunch in the room. However, that's on pause due to the pandemic, and it isn't clear if and when they will resume it.
During our stay, I was able to peak my head in to take a look at the room. It is impressive, and they were getting it set up for the Christmas season.
Hotel del Coronado Beach
The beach at the hotel Del is massive and beautiful. As far as beachfront property goes, it really doesn't get much better. You can walk for miles up and down the coast, and each and every morning, many guests did.
There are also many games and no shortage of things to do. But if you plan on using the property's chairs and umbrellas, it will cost you.
We briefly sat in a set of beach chairs in front of the property before I realized they were an upcharge. A staff member kindly approached us and let us know that if we wanted to sit there, it would be an additional $100 charge for the day. We passed.
Final Thoughts on the Hotel Del Coronado
There's no question that the Hotel del Coronado is a piece of California and American History. It is an iconic property with architecture that you can't find anywhere else these days. It's a miracle that the hotel has survived the test of time and is still standing and operating today.
We enjoyed our stay and found the resort to be wonderful … but it was probably a one-and-done experience for us. It was simply too expensive. Even after redeeming Hilton free night certificates to cover the expensive room rates, the overpriced food, drinks and snacks add up. Heck, even renting a chair on the beach is costly.
If you know that going in, you're sure to have a great experience soaking in a piece of American history. Otherwise, the Hotel del Coronado is probably better for a day trip rather than a long weekend.: A walk around the property, a drink on the beachfront, and maybe even a dinner.
Don't get me wrong, we had a great stay. But for the money, you can simply get much better accommodations elsewhere in San Diego.