Christmas at the Hotel Del Coronado

Ice skating in San Diego? “Skating by the Sea” ice rink at The Del!

Few people think of San Diego as a winter holiday destination. But, for me, there is no place more magical during the holidays than San Diego’s Coronado Island. 

Coronado sits directly across San Diego Bay from Downtown San Diego. As my local friend and I drive across iconic blue Coronado Bay Bridge, we find the views of Coronado and Downtown San Diego to be spectacular. From this vantage point, the majestic Hotel Del Coronado attracts the eye. 

Hotel Del Coronado Sign
Entrance at Hotel Del Coronado

The Hotel Del Coronado is the epicenter of Coronado. The founders Elisha Babcock, Jr., and Hampton L. Story purchased the island, mapped out the town, and started selling lots in 1887, sales ultimately reached $2.25 million. Their dream was to make a grand hotel that would be “the talk of the western world.”  It opened in 1888 at a cost of $600,000 with furnishings costing $400,000. It contained many new technologies for the time including a state-of-the-art fire sprinkler system, steam-powered hydraulic elevator, artificial ice machine, and a telephone service. It was one of the largest “electrified” buildings in the country at a time when electricity was still a novelty. The electrical system was not installed by Thomas Edison, though, as a popular local legend contends. Since its opening, presidents, royalty, and movie stars have visited frequently, proving that Babcock and Story delivered on their dream. 

The beautiful beach walk and The Del’s beach cottages.

The hotel is best known for the film “Some Like It Hot” starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon. The film showcases the spectacular architecture and sun-drenched beach-life for which San Diego is known in summer. And, the film was named the #1 comedy of all-time by the American Film Institute. 

What does all this have to do with Christmas? In 1904, The Del (as it is locally known) was home to the world’s first electrically lit outdoor living Christmas tree. Back then Christmas tree lights were a rarity and candles were commonplace. This is often referred to as the first “Modern Outdoor Christmas Tree”. 

Celebrating the holidays in grand style here continues to this day. Once we arrived in the back of the Hotel Del Coronado, a winter wonderland, of a San Diego kind, unfolded before us. 

Coronado’s expansive white sand beach stretched out until it met the beautiful Pacific Ocean and a spectacular sunset. 

My friend, who had confided in me earlier that Coronado Beach is his favorite in summer place,  let out a gasp as this scene revealed itself to us. “I had no idea there was this much going on here during the holidays.” 

What is the hotel’s pool in summer is turned into an ice rink in winter to allow “Skating by the Sea” from November 17th until January 1st. The skating rink is aptly named and there are beautiful views of the ocean, especially during the day. It is so popular that it is best to reserve your spot ahead of time on-line, since it frequently sells out. Rink hours depend on the day. So, check the hotel’s website. The $40 price tag for up to 90-minutes includes skates and may seem a little pricey until you learn that the proceeds benefit the children’s charity Make-A-Wish San Diego. 

Kickback at the informal Taco Shack

Rather relax by a cozy fire to enjoy some festive food and drink? The Del has you covered at their Frostbite Lounge, which sits between the ice rink and the beach with beautiful views of both. One of the newest, and most unique, additions is the Beach Side Igloos. You can get cozy inside the clear plastic geodesic dome igloo or gather around a private bonfire just outside to cook up hot dogs and s’mores. There are food and drink options on all sides of the ice rink including the fun Taco Shack, upscale Sheerwater, casual Babcock and Story Bar, and even a food truck like option, the Frostbite is “a place to chill.” 

Frostbite Lounge and Beach Side Igloos

The holiday possibilities at The Del are almost as long as Santa’s list. There is Jingle Roast, a private bonfire to make s’mores, weekly holiday movies on the beach, photos with Santa, Gingerbread House decorating, Victorian Tea, Elf Deliveries to surprise your family and friends, or just relax on the recently restored front porch with a festive cocktail at the aptly named Jingle Bar. There are also special celebrations on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and even a New Year’s Eve Masquerade Gala festival. Everyone is welcome here and you can also celebrate Chanukah with a nightly menorah lighting. 

Unique beach dining at The Del

There are fun and festive shops to find holiday gifts and souvenirs in the hotel as well as fascinating wall displays with historic picture and placards that chronicle The Del’s story.  

Escape the hustle and bustle in the subdued outdoor inner courtyard where a huge Christmas tree is spectacularly lit with the hotel bedazzled in holiday lights as a backdrop. 

Each year The Del picks a theme for their celebrations. This year’s theme is “Frosted by the Sea” heralding the return of the two-story high Christmas tree in the hotel lobby after a coronavirus hiatus. Each year ornaments are made for this tree for that year’s theme. The most controversial theme to date “Winter of Whimsy” in 2017, had this huge tree in the lobby upside down. This garnered national attention and somewhat comically was dubbed a “War on Christmas” by Fox and Friends. 

The whole town of Coronado is alive and welcoming during the holidays. There are numerous unique local restaurants as well as a Chipotle. Downtown features a string of boutique shops to explore for that perfect holiday gift that you can then wrap in novelty paper featuring surfboards, mermaids, Chihuahuas, and more from Seaside Papery. Finally, reward yourself with some saltwater taffy from Fuzziwigs Candy Factory. 

Lamb’s Players Theatre presents “A Christmas Carol.” Photo courtesy of Lamb’s Players.

Ready to sit down for a while? Enjoy a new take on Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” at the Lamb’s Players Theatre in the middle of downtown or listen to a Holiday Cabaret at the nearby Coronado Playhouse. 

As my friend and I head back to my car, we stop under the towering Norfolk Island Pines lit with huge strings of dancing lights on the front lawn of The Del to experience the spectacular “First Light” holiday lightshow set to orchestrated music that repeats every half hour from 5pm to 9pm. These spectacularly lit trees include the same Christmas tree made famous in 1904. As my friend and I looked up, mesmerized at the dazzling light display, I felt transported to a world of holiday wonder. Then, it occurred to me that L. Frank Baum had long stays at the Del and wrote the “Wizard of Oz” books here. You can’t really get more magical than that! 

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