Inside the San Diego Hotel That's Hosted Marilyn Monroe, Oprah — and a Resident Ghost
As the Hotel del Coronado turns 130, a look back at its intriguing history — and ahead at a year filled with celebrations.
Marilyn Monroe was pursued through its hallways, guestrooms, and seashore by Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in "Some Like it Hot." Frank Sinatra joined its centennial celebration in 1988. Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, Burt Lancaster, and Ronald Reagan were among past visitors, and more recently Ellen DeGeneres, Jack Nicholson, and Oprah Winfrey slept in its storied suites. Presidents, royalty, writers, inventors, and appreciative travelers have enjoyed its unique hospitality. The 130-year-old Hotel del Coronado, lovingly referred to as The Del, has stories and secrets in its rooms, suites, and dining venues, as well as a resident ghost, according to many guests.
While the Hotel del Coronado, with anniversary festivities planned all year, has seen many changes, it has retained its signature elegance. Its all-wood Victorian design speaks of a bygone era, but its amenities have managed to keep up with modern expectations. Named a historical landmark in 1977, the hotel has since restored its lobby to evoke the charm of the original design, renovated guest rooms, and installed a front desk that replicates the original 1888 piece.
Hotel del Coronado's History
Times have changed since the hotel’s opening when the nightly price for a room was $2.50, including all meals. The total cost of the hotel in 1888 was $1 million, 40 percent of which was for the furnishings. It was built of several species of wood, without nails; the builders instead used wooden pegs. In addition to the luminaries who have stayed at the hotel, many stories contribute to its legendary history. Frank Baum, author of "The Wizard of Oz," spent many months at the hotel, writing and reading to children. He designed the chandeliers still hanging in the Crown Room, basing them on the crown worn by the lion in "Oz." Liberace was “discovered” while playing piano for a small group in the lounge.
Is Hotel del Coronado Haunted?
Guests are intrigued by stories of apparitions and strange occurrences on the third floor, in the gift shop, and in other locations within the hotel. Employees and visitors have told of unusual noises, footsteps, temperature changes, and even sightings. The gift shop has seen much of the activity, with items flying off shelves and books rearranged. The story goes that a young woman named Kate Morgan registered under an alias on Thanksgiving in 1892, stayed for a few days, and then killed herself on the steps near the ocean. The reasons for her death are unknown, but there has been speculation that she was ill or heartbroken over an ill-fated romance. The room where she stayed is the most requested, according to the hotel.
Celebrating 130 Years at Hotel del Coronado
This February, the hotel's 130th anniversary festivities will kick off with the Icons + Masters Anniversary Gala, a black tie event with dinner created by five of the country’s French Master Chefs, including the hotel’s own Patrick Ponsaty and Stefan Peroutka, and inspired by The Del’s vintage menus. Guests will also be treated to a gallery of photographs of the world’s most iconic stars taken by celebrity photographer John Russo.
The celebration continues a few days later on the actual birthday, Monday, Feb. 19, when the community of Coronado will join guests and city dignitaries for a complimentary sunset champagne toast followed by a fireworks display set to music by DJ Hevrock. Following the finale, ticketed guests will enjoy an anniversary dinner at 1500 Ocean when Chef Ponsaty serves a special menu based on an original from The Del’s first chef, Frederic Pierre Compagnon.
Hotel del Coronado Events
Events continue throughout the year: From June through August, the hotel will stage their Celebrity Chef Clambake Series, with guest chefs to be announced soon. A Father’s Day concert on the beach with Gary Sinise and Fourth of July Del Beach Bash bring the celebration into summer, and on July 11, the hotel will host a San Diego Pride kickoff event. Beach Polo at The Del is slated for Aug. 25 and 26. The Chef Throwdown to Benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation will be in September, and on Oct. 27, the Hallo-wine & Spirits Party will provide Halloween fun.
The Coronado Island Film Festival from Nov. 8-11 recognizes the hotel’s role in many films through the years. To end the festivities and celebrate the holidays, the hotel hosts special events from Nov. 22 through Dec. 31. All year, guests receive a $130 resort credit with a two-day stay.
Hotel del Coronado Tours
Visitors can enjoy the hotel even without spending the night. The beach is open to the public, and many travelers spend delightful afternoons enjoying lunch at Sheerwater overlooking the ocean, imbibing at Sunset Bar or Babcock & Story, or browsing in the arcade’s shops. Tours of the Hotel del Coronado are presented by the Coronado Historical Association. Lasting about 90 minutes, the tours take place five days a week at a cost of $20.
Hotel del Coronado Deals
You'll find double rooms from $309 at hotels.com.