Any San Diego visitor can ride the ferry to Coronado Island and stroll the grounds of the Hotel del Coronado, a beachfront bastion of Victorian grandeur. You can also spend the night in one of 400 rooms beneath its red-shingled roof and towering cupolas, or dine in one of its eight restaurants.
But if you want to dive deeply into why presidents, princes and celebrities have fawned over this Queen Anne beauty since 1888, you’ll want to chat with guest services manager Corey Menotti.
Menotti, 54, has patrolled the Hotel del Coronado’s stately lobby and sparkling white sand beaches for nearly two decades. He knows the property’s nooks, crannies, and secret spots, including the main turret’s circular staircase and the basement steam tunnels. He’s even seen the much-rumored side tunnel extending to Glorietta Bay.
“All kinds of things came up through that tunnel, including Cooper's barrels full of beer from the breweries down in Tijuana and whiskey from Canada,” he says. “During Prohibition, when guests in the Crown Room wanted a libation, they would ring a buzzer and the boys would shimmy up the liquor on a pully system. The Hotel Del was known as the ‘wettest’ resort on the West Coast.”
Prohibition ended in 1920, but the Crown Room retains its allure. Its 33-foot-high domed ceiling and crown-shaped chandeliers make it a coveted wedding and event venue.
Menotti’s office is in the hotel lobby, a lofty space graced by white-oak columns, stained glass windows, ornate woodwork, and a drooping chandelier.
“We play jazz and swing music from the 1930s and 1940s,” Menotti says. “Walking through the lobby is like stepping into old California, a place that doesn't exist hardly anywhere anymore. People feel like they’ve been transported in time.”
Despite the interior elegance of this National Historic Landmark building, Menotti says the best way to get to know the Hotel Del is to walk the beach.
“I can't say enough about beautiful Del Beach,” he says. “It fits that vision that you have of Southern California, that vision of a perfect beach moment. You can dip your toes in the sand, or get a cocktail and fish tacos at the beach bar, which looks like a little grass hut. You can listen to one of our guys strumming on the ukulele and singing.”
Menotti also recommends meandering in the hotel’s gardens. “When I walk around the grounds, I get mesmerized. There are so many beautiful features that are holdovers from the old days—the coral trees, the silk tree that has beautiful pink blossoms in the spring, and a 130-year-old dragon tree that Marilyn Monroe wiggled in front of during the 1958 filming of ‘Some Like It Hot.’”
The property is rich with bird life, Menotti says, from hummingbirds zipping among the flowers to egrets nesting in the Norfolk pines and pelicans soaring above the surf. “It’s amazing how 28 acres of open space yields so much diversity,” he says.
Visitors also enjoy visiting Coronado Island’s idyllic downtown. “Coronado is where Mayberry meets Malibu,” Menotti says. “It’s a beach town with swank, great style and an old-time flavor that can’t be beat. When you walk into town and get a cup of coffee at the diner, Clayton's Coffee Shop, everybody will either know you or make friends with you right away.”
Coronado has more than 50 eateries, most clustered around palm- and citrus-lined Orange Avenue. Menotti’s favorites include European bakery Tartine, Mexican restaurant Serrano’s, French bistro Chez Loma, and brunch hotspot The Henry.
For thirst-quenching, he recommends Coronado Brewing Company. “I’m very partial to their stouts, porters and darker beers, and my partner really likes their pilsners. San Diego is the land of beer—every neighborhood has its own brewery—but Coronado Brewing is our favorite.”
Another way to immerse yourself in Coronado’s charm, Menotti says, is to walk or pedal the Bayshore Bikeway to the Coronado Bridge Viewpoint in Tidelands Park. From the island side, the bridge’s curved steel ribbon frames a San Diego skyline vista.
It’s also Menotti’s commuting route. “Every day when I drive over that bridge to go to work, I see that gorgeous sandcastle poking up out of the surf, I think, wow, I'm the luckiest man on the planet. I get to go to Hotel del Coronado every day.”
FIVE MORE FAVORITES
Menotti recommends these Coronado activities and attractions:
Play in the water: Most people don’t have the ocean and the bay right in their backyard, so when they come to Coronado, they should get out on the water in some way. Go to Seaforth Boat Rentals and rent a boat, Jet Ski, or kayak, or find a chartered tour that’s right for you. Go to the Ferry Landing and ride the ferry back and forth to San Diego. Rent a surfboard and go out surfing—or just go look for mermaids.
Shopping: Orange Avenue is a great place for browsing and strolling. There are all kinds of little shops that sell everything from beautiful one-of-a-kind dresses to trinkets. For women’s fashion, there’s a fabulous place called La Mer Boutique. There’s also Bay Books, which I love because I’m an avid reader. For pet owners, there’s a cute pet-supply store called Wag’N Tails that sells dog treats and toys. There’s even an olive oil shop called Coronado Taste of Oils. I got a beautiful bottle of oil that I just finished up about two days ago, so I need to go back in there. You can pick up a new swimsuit or a pair of sunglasses at Blue Jeans and Bikinis. And if you want to pick up Coronado souvenirs, La Camisa is at the Ferry Landing.
Date-night dinner: There’s a French restaurant right next to us called Chez Loma. It’s always a wonderful place to go. It’s inside a beautiful old Victorian house, so the setting is romantic and lovely. You step inside and you walk from the kitchen to the back room to the parlor. You can sit in the main dining room or be seated in a side room with a group of friends or someone special. If you want to sit down with a nice glass of Chardonnay and some escargot, what better place than in an old Victorian with tablecloths and candles and a lovely ambiance.
Bakery: All the way at the end of the island is a wonderful bakery, Tartine. I’m always partial to a good croissant, and theirs are perfect. I usually get the plain ones, but every once in a while, I can’t say no to a chocolate or almond one. The bakery has both sweet and savory items. It’s European in style but it's got that Southern California flip to it—there’s always something made with pears or something else that’s fresh from a local orchard.
Outdoor murals: If people are interested in art and a little adventurous, I send them to Barrio Logan at the base of the Coronado Bridge, where they’ll find Chicano Park. The park has the largest concentration of Mexican-American murals in the world, more than 100 paintings. It's the most beautiful representation of San Diego. The murals show scenes of Aztec warriors and Chicano leaders and artists, people like Cesar Chavez, Frida Kahlo, Che Guevara, and Pancho Villa. There’s an incredible story behind this park and its art, about how it was created by people who were trying to save their Barrio Logan neighborhood when the Coronado Bridge was being built in the late 1960s.