Scottsdale: Desert Spa Sensations


Photo by Ann Yungmeyer
Willow Stream. Photo by Ann Yungmeyer

Scottsdale offers more than 50 resort and day spas, but its Sonoran Desert setting has been thought of as an oasis of well-being ever since Native American tribes began using the desert clay and botanicals for therapeutic and restorative powers.

Desert themes run strong throughout all of the city’s attractions – from art and outdoor adventure to healthy cuisine— but I was intrigued by the desert-inspired spas and treatments that feature indigenous elements including river rock, desert clay, herbs and plants.

Mission Fig, Desert Nectar Honey and Papaya Quench are a few of the delectable scrubs, wraps and buffs to be found around town. I narrowed the field based on my sensory and therapeutic needs.

After an uphill trek at Pinnacle Peak, I made my way back to Four Seasons Resort Troon North, and opted for an herb-infused Healing Hiker’s Massage, a full body treatment that uses sage and mountain arnica to ease inflammation and soreness.

Later, I spent time at the new Well & Being Willow Stream Spa at Fairmont Princess, a state-of-the-art spa that takes wellness to a new level, offering fitness classes and integrative health programs in addition to extraordinary spa offerings.


Photo courtesy of Four Seasons
Photo courtesy of Four Seasons

First, I participated in TRX, Hatha yoga and aerial hammock yoga and enjoyed the calming atmosphere of the facility with its native stone, waterfall therapy, garden atrium and rooftop pool.

Then, I indulged in an Aromatherapy Massage, starting with a sniff test of five aromas that included cactus rose, citrus and lavender oils.

Top of the list for next trip are some unique spa experiences including the Havasupai Falls Rejuvenation at Willow Stream, a stress relieving treatment named after a Native American tribe. It includes desert salt exfoliation, herbal bath, jojoba body butter massage with riverbed stones, infused oil and scalp massage.

And, after sampling Prickly Pear tea and margaritas, I’ll be back at Four Seasons to try the Jojoba & Prickly Pear Polish that utilizes deeply penetrating jojoba oil and prickly pear butter, both excellent skin moisturizers.

Also on my must-do list is to check out the labyrinth at the Boulders Waldorf Astoria Spa and try the signature Turquoise Body Wrap which is based on the Native American belief that the color exudes positive energy and provides a sense of self-confidence – well, who doesn’t need a little more of that?

With endless treatment choices, a locally-inspired spa experience in Scottsdale is certainly one way, if not the only way, to chill out in the Sonoran Desert.


Holocaust Memorials Help Us Remember

In the heart of downtown Boston, six glass towers stand in a row; below them a deep pit is alight with glowing embers. Clouds of smoke rise from the pit.

This is the New England Holocaust Memorial, located near Boston’s celebrated Freedom Trail. The towers, representing the six million victims, are each 54 feet high and set on a black granite path. The memorial was designed by Stanley Saitowitz.

Each tower includes an excerpt from the memoirs of a survivor, describing first-hand experiences in the camps.

This is just one of many Holocaust memorials across the nation — a collection that make for especially memorable visits in a month when Holocaust Remembrance Day is observed (April 28).

Miami Beach

In sunny Miami Beach, an equally dramatic sight can be found not far from the celebrated Art Deco District: a giant sculpted hand pointed skyward, with fingers outstretched. But “The Sculpture of Love and Anguish”, designed by Kenneth Triester, is just one part of  an open-air site that blends art, nature and history.

As I walked through a tunnel made of Jerusalem stone, I heard the sweet and distant sound of a choir singing songs that were sung in the death camps. This unusual “concert” makes the overall experience even more poignant.

The tunnel led into a circular open area where Triester’s sculpture dominates. Close-up, visitors can see that  on the wrist, are  the  numbers of a tattoo. And on the arm were small human figures, who seemed to be reaching out in vain.

In San Francisco. George Segal’s sculpture, “Holocaust,” is located on the grounds of the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park, with a backdrop of tall, leafy trees and velvety grass to set off the somber memorial.

It  shows ten emaciated bodies lying on the ground, their limbs entwined. A lone male figure is upright near these bodies, and he seems to stare out blankly from behind a barbed wire fence.

This memorial stirred controversy at the start. Just four days after it was  dedicated in November of l984,  it was desecrated by vandals. “Is this necessary?” they wrote, smearing black paint over the sculpted figures.

An anonymous donor sent fresh flowers every day. That tradition has continued for years.

While Segal’s forms, crafted from his signature white plaster, art quite literal in their presentation, other memorials are more abstract. For instance, a memorial in Baltimore, located not far from the city’s popular Inner Harbor, is stark and symbolic.

In a one-acre park donated by the city, Joseph Sheppard’s cantilevered slab of concrete that’s been slashed evokes how the Holocaust severed the lives of its victims. Six slender, flowering trees, represent the six million victims, but also hope and new life in the future.

monument-to-six-million-jewish-martyrs-philadelphia-600In Philadelphia, Nathan Rapoport has expressed the loss via an 18 foot high bronze sculpture that is one large mass of huddled human shapes at sea on the city’s tree-lined Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Dedicated in l964, “Monument to Six Million Jewish Martyrs” was the first Holocaust memorial in the U.S., and it remains a noteworthy landmark in the City of Brotherly Love.

Nassau: Rum Returns to the Bahamas

Photo courtesy of John Watling's
Photo courtesy of John Watling’s

Five years ago, the rum well ran dry in the Bahamas.

Bacardi’s, which operated a distillery in the capital of Nassau for nearly a half-century, shut down its facility, leaving the Bahamas as the only country in the West Indies that didn’t produce its own rum.

Fortunately, the situation has been remedied with the 2013 launch of John Watling’s, a boutique rum distillery named after a notorious 18th century British buccaneer.

The opening of the family-run distillery, whose five owners are cousins –– including two sets of brothers –– is part of a renewed local focus on the drink. In February, I attended Nassau’s inaugural Rum Festival, where I discovered Watling’s, currently sold only within the Bahamas. Plans are underway for the festival, which featured music, local food and extensive rum tastings, to return for its second edition in 2015.

After sampling the Watling’s products at the festival, I wanted to get a first-hand look at where it’s produced: a more than 200-year-old estate overlooking the city’s downtown harbor.

The Buena Vista estate was built for John Brown, who served as King George III’s counsel for the Bahamas, then changed hands many more times over the next century-and-a-half. By the late 1940s, it had become a hotel and restaurant that proved a popular draw for celebrities from the entertainment and political worlds, notably Joan Crawford, Robert F. Kennedy and Robert Mitchum.

Photo by Nicole Pensiero
Photo by Nicole Pensiero

The property also served as the location for scenes in the 2006 James Bond film, Casino Royale, starring Daniel Craig. By the time Bond left, the estate had fallen into considerable disrepair, necessitating a 16-month restoration to bring it back to its former elegance. The place now sports an Old World vibe, from decorative touches such as vintage World War I recruitment posters for the British forces, to the fact that it lacks Wi-Fi or electrical outlets to charge electronic devices.

I enjoyed perusing a self-guided exhibit on the history of the Bahamas and the property itself, seeing where the hand-crafted rum is bottled and checking out unique touches, like a 74-foot-deep limestone well believed to have been carved by slaves in the late 1700s.

The expansive gift shop of course features the distillery’s three styles of rum –– Pale, Amber and Buena Vista –– along with souvenir items like glassware, tote bags and T-shirts. Even better is to taste the rum in action, whether through various libations at the facility’s Red Turtle Tavern bar, which holds a weekly Friday night happy hour, or paired with a meal in the lunch-only eatery, Crave. (A high-end restaurant is also in the works for the building’s second floor.)

As John Watling’s co-owner Pepin Argamasilla told me, the goal is to get visitors to “slow down, relax and have an actual conversation with each other.”

It worked for me.

9 Hotels We Love

Courtesy Langham Chicago
Courtesy Langham Chicago

Here are some of our favorite hotels from recent travels at home and abroad:

Mies en scene The 2013 transformation of the IBM Building, a late-Mies van der Rohe office tower, into the posh Langham, was a stunning addition to the Chicago hotel scene. With a minimalist but luxe lobby of travertine marble and bronze-beaded curtains, the hotel offers 316 unusually spacious rooms outfitted in soothing greens and aubergines. — J.G.

Tropical grand dame If there can be such a thing as a quiet part of Miami’s South Beach, The Betsy has found it. This 61-room boutique hotel is situated in a sweet spot a few blocks north of the cheesy center of Ocean Drive, and a few blocks south of the shops and restaurants on the see-and-be-seen Lincoln Road pedestrian mall. The beachfront hotel itself is a real looker for its “Florida Georgian” architecture and tropical Colonial vibe, and also does its part for writers and artists –– The Betsy regular hosts poetry readings, art exhibits and jazz concerts, and reserves one guest room for a visiting writer.  R.D.

Nature in the city Perched in the midst of a bamboo forest, Tokyo’s Capitol Hotel Tokyu is at once surrounded by, and immersed in, the past. Walkways that pass through courtyards and along waterfalls suggest temple traditions, as does bamboo trelliswork. In guest rooms, carpets, drapes, and wall-coverings feature swirls and ripples that mimic the patterns of gently lapping water. Sliding fusuma screens divide entryways from bedrooms, and bedrooms from baths, and a calm palette of beige and grey prevails. — J.G.

Courtesy Brewhouse Inn & Suites

Factory chic From a reception desk crafted of beer bottles to the huge,  gleaming copper kettles that hang above the lobby, the Brewhouse Inn & Suites in Milwaukee, Wis., is accented with touches that reference its former use as part of the 150-year-old Pabst complex. Guest rooms include expansive kitchenettes with sparkling mosaic backsplashes and dining surfaces made from wood reclaimed on the property. — J.G.

Mid-century hospitality Mad Men’s Don Draper would feel right at home at The Loden, a mid-century-styled boutique hotel in Vancouver’s West End. The 77 luxe-comfort guest rooms and suites feature handsome built-in cabinetry, wet bars and marble-lined bathrooms. The Loden offers bicycles to access nearby Stanley Park and complimentary downtown car service via a London cab, as well as a fine, contemporary French bistro called Tableau. R.D.

Mama knows best It’s only natural that Philippe Starck would go from designing furniture for boutique properties to creating his own hotel brand. Mama Shelter Marseille, part of a five-hotel mini-chain with other locations in Paris and Istanbul, allows you to experience Starck’s signature minimalist style at rates that average under $200 a night. Rooms are dramatically lit with, pardon the pun, the designer’s Starck-white aesthetic, but form doesn’t triumph over function: There also are generously-sized desks, plenty of outlets to connect your various devices and free wi-fi.  R.D.

Courtesy New Orleans Hotel Collection
Hotel Mazarin courtesy New Orleans Hotel Collection

Classic digs The Dauphine Orleans and its completely new sibling, the Hotel Mazarin, set just the right tone for anyone who wants to stay in the heart of New Orleans’ French Quarter without being disturbed by noisy revelers. The hotels, which are part of the New Orleans Hotel Collection, are situated in renovated historic buildings a short distance, yet a world away, from the action of Bourbon Street. The properties pair luxury features, like marble bathrooms with walk-in showers, with modern amenities, such as free Wi-Fi and iPod docking stations. The complimentary breakfast is a nice touch, too. R.D.

Gotham romance Carved out of a dramatic castle-like seminary, The High Line Hotel in New York City is romantic and character-drenched with mismatched vintage furnishings that are enlivened by tableaus of rotary dial phones, embossers, and desktop terrariums. Add a series of lovely courtyards, an Intelligentsia espresso bar, amenities from Bigelow (the historic Greenwich Village pharmacy), plenty of eclectic books strewn about, and user-friendly policies that welcome dogs, offer free wi-fi, and have set very reasonable prices for mini-bar goodies, and you have the perfect Manhattan retreat. — J.G.

Bangkok: The Grand Palace

DSCN1698Bangkok is reputed to be the hottest city on earth, at least as far as its temperature goes. And the day the Diamond Princess docked at Thailand’s capital — or actually Laem Chabang, more than two hours away — was no exception.

Thankfully, throughout the Princess excursion my husband and I elected to take — very necessary for an overview of this difficult-to-navigate city — we were well supplied with moist towelettes and bottles of water.

The tour included a number of worthwhile stops. Our guide Noina filled the drive time with a lively discourse on Thai history and culture and its royalty, including King Mongkut (Rama IV) of The King and I/Anna and the King of Siam fame.

As we drove, the scenery changed from commercial port to rice paddies, from industrial areas to suburbs to, finally, a major metropolis.

The highlight of the tour was the Grand Palace, begun in 1782 by King Rama I, who moved Thailand’s capital to Bangkok. Expanded upon by succeeding monarchs, today it is a walled complex occupying 2.3 million square feet and divided into outer, middle and inner courts.

Demolition, mostly due to disrepair, and reconstruction have continued under the current monarch, King Bhumibol (Rama IX).

Since 1925, the royal family has lived elsewhere but some of the complex’s buildings are still used for royal ceremonies and state functions. It’s customary for a new king to spend at least one night at the Chakraphat Phiman building, constructed during the reign of King Rama I and used as his sleeping quarters, to signify taking up official residence.

Photos by Ellen Weingart

A covered portico offered temporary respite from the unrelenting sun, but we were soon at its mercy once again.

It was well worth it. Everywhere we looked, we were greeted by buildings covered with sparkling ceramic tiles and gem and precious metals.

In a country that is 95 percent Buddhist (and a city with well over 400 Buddhist temples), the complex’s Emerald Buddha is an important religious/political symbol. Only the king is allowed to touch it; it is he who changes the cloak around the statue three times a year, corresponding to the summer, winter and rainy seasons, ushering in good fortune for each season.

When discovered in 1434 in northern Thailand, the Buddha was covered in plaster. Later, the abbot who found it noticed that some plaster had flaked off the nose, revealing the green stone below. The abbot initially thought the stone was emerald, but the Buddha is actually jade.

The Princess tour provided a wonderful introduction, but time was short and we only had the opportunity to enter two of the several buildings that are open to the public.

A far more leisurely return visit is definitely in order.

Los Angeles: Koreatown Never Stops

koreatown-1Los Angeles, where my sister and her family live, has become like a second home to me. But until recently I never got to explore Koreatown, known for its Galleria mall and hot nightlife. Here’s what I discovered during my first visit to this booming area:

The 411 Koreatown, centrally located just west of downtown L.A., is one of the most densely populated areas of the country. The name “Koreatown” refers to the many Korean-owned businesses in the area, although the vast majority of its residents are Latino.

For anyone who thinks downtown L.A. gets too quiet at night, Koreatown will prove them wrong –– the all-night restaurants, loud karaoke bars and busy food trucks provide continous entertainment.

Shop ’til you drop K-town’s Galleria is one of the neighborhood’s anchors. This multi-level mall (with free parking in an adjacent garage) sells everything from trendy clothing and all the Hello Kitty products you could ever want, to Korean-language books and DVDs and tricked-out car accessories.

The mall’s first floor is occupied by the busy Galleria supermarket, known for its huge selection of meat, fresh seafood and produce and baked goods, as well as kimchi, banchan and other Korean specialty foods. For many locals, this is their go-to Asian market.

Photos courtesy of Discover Los Angeles

Kimchi fried Rice or Brazilian grill? When you are ready for a snack, the mall’s top level has a popular food court with nearly every Korean dish imaginable. This is the place to try clam noodle soup at Chungwa Korean Noodle or Kimchi fried rice at Manneria.

During my visit, I also checked out the newly-renovated M Grill, which offers a Korean-style take on the Brazilian churrascaria.  Modern and upscale, the restaurant serves over 19 kinds of charcoal-grilled premium cuts. M Grill is also vegetarian-friendly, with a robust salad bar.

Meanwhile, its sleek bar pours Brazilian-style cocktails made with fresh juices, including the most authetic caipirinha I have sipped this side of South America.

Secret nightcap Before calling it a night, I checked out a nearby speakeasy-style bar, called the Lock and Key. The owners take this name literally, as guests are greeted by a wall of locks and need to find the right doorknob to enter. A fun gimmick, it certainly encourages patrons to quickly get into the spirit of this “underground” taproom.

Behind the correct doorknob is a larger-than-expected bar with a popular outdoor patio and well-crafted cocktails. A nightcap here offered a fitting end to my Koreatown adventures.



New Orleans: Hanging at the Blue Dog’s House

Photos by Nicole Pensiero
Photos by Nicole Pensiero

Over the past decade, Cajun artist George Rodrigue’s Blue Dog has gone from being a word-of-mouth curiosity to an international pop icon.

His presence is especially felt in New Orleans, where his unflinching gaze can be found everywhere from a massive mural adorning the Sheraton New Orleans on Canal Street, to an array of elegant lithographs in the Ritz-Carlton’s M Bistro, just next to the popular Davenport Lounge.

The Blue Dog has appeared in ad campaigns for Absolut Vodka and Xerox, and a large, yellow version –– yes, he comes in other colors –– adorned a float in the New Orleans Saints’ Super Bowl victory parade a few years back.

But nowhere is Dog Blue, who is modeled after Rodrigue’s beloved terrier, Tiffany, more represented than at the Rodrigue Studio in the French Quarter.

tct-blue dog 1For a Blue Dog aficionado like me, a recent visit to the Rodrigue Studio was like winning a big haul at a casino or having your favorite rock star sit down at the table next to you at lunch: I was ecstatic, but didn’t want to make a fool of myself. (I also was relieved to learn that, despite Rodrigue’s death on Dec. 14 at age 69 from cancer, the studio will continue to operate.)

The studio turned out to be a welcoming place, where the staff encouraged me to take photos of the dozens of original paintings and reproductions –– some valued upwards of $250,000 each -–– and generously shared their time to answer questions.

The nearly 25-year-old gallery’s current location adjacent to St. Louis Cathedral is in a building originally constructed in the 1830s that once housed the legendary Bottom of the Tea Cup, considered the place to go for psychic readings.

A stop on the nightly New Orleans Ghost tours, the new Rodrigue Studio building was also the setting for the only painting Rodrigue ever created of the French Quarter (“A Night Alone,” his 1980s rendering of a famous Louisiana ghost story said to have taken place at the same location).

Rodrigue, who took up painting in the third grade while bedridden with polio, worked for years as an unknown artist before his creation went global. He became a beloved figure in Louisiana, where his George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, raised $2.5 million to benefit post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans via sales of his relief prints.

Earlier this year, Rodrigue held his fourth annual statewide art contest for high school students, which has attracted 1,500 applicants since 2010 and granted over $150,000 in scholarships, art supplies and other forms of help to aspiring artists.

To think, his success and philanthropy are due to that Blue Dog with the unflinching gaze.




5 Great Gift Books for Travelers

9780062231796_p0_v8_s260x420Books do furnish a room — and they do well under a holiday tree, too! These luscious books cover everything to satisfy those who love to travel — parks, food, art, culture. And, for those who prefer to stay home, one offers a peek into places that exist only in our minds.

City Parks: Public Places, Private Thoughts, Harper Collins, $50
A snow covered bridge arches near a turquoise palace, men lounge around a boule court, and native grasses sprout between tracks, framing neighboring glass towers. These urban tableaus — of Gorky Park, Luxembourg Gardens, and the High Line, respectively — give visual impact to the equally gorgeous essays that pair writers with their favorite city parks. Travel writers Jan Morris (Trieste) and Pico Iyer (Kyoto) cover ground they’re intimately familiar with, novelists offer tours of their neighborhood green spaces (John Banville in Dublin, Nicole Krauss in Brooklyn). And in a delightful surprise, President Bill Clinton’s muses on Dumbarton Oaks.

the-food-book.inddThe Food Book: A Journey Through the Great Cuisines of the World,  Lonely Planet, $24.99
Organized by country — starting with France, proceeding to Italy, Spain and Portugal, and moving all the way through to Mozambique and Ghana — this squat little book examines 47 cultures through one purview only, their cuisine. But that’s a big arena, covering everything from feasts to essential eats, from drinks to food prep. Yum!

BookofLegendaryLands_Eco_cover(2)Imaginary Lands, Umberto Eco, Rizzoli, $45
Where exactly is “Utopia,” the ideal state described by Thomas More in 1516? Like all of the imaginary lands that Umberto Eco explores in this gorgeously printed and illustrated book, it’s (literally) a “non-place,” but Eco has fun presenting some physical interpretations of this idea, as well as those associated with biblical lands, flat earths, Atlantis, and the seven wonders.

MostBeautifulOperaUS09616J 2The Most Beautiful Opera Houses in the World, Antoine Pecqueur and Guillaume de Laubier, Abrams, $60.
Painted ceilings in Budapest, swooping modern curves in Valencia, Art Deco grandeur  in Chicago — and of course, the unparalleled opulence of Opera Garnier, La Scala, and The Met. They’re all here, enticing eye-candy for the opera buff on your list.


Murals of New York City, Glenn Palmer-Smith and Joshua McHugh, Rizzoli, $45
The title may be unassuming, but the wonders tucked away inside of the Big Apple’s corporate headquarters, museums and government buildings are anything but. Whimsical and bold, pieces by Roy Lichtenstein, Thomas Hart Benton, Marc Chagall, Keith Haring, and Ludwig Bemelmans (creator of the beloved children’s classic, “Madeline”) dance across these pages, perfect for lovers of New York City.

Philly Getaway: Seeing Grace Kelly, the “Icon,” in New Light

Grace Kelly image from Life magazine; courtesy of James A. Michener Museum

Grace Kelly would have approved.

That thought kept running through my mind as I surveyed the tasteful retrospective of this Hollywood princess turned real-life royal at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pa.

“From Philadelphia to Monaco: Grace Kelly — Beyond the Icon,” which runs through Jan. 26, touches on Kelly’s brief but memorable career in the movies, while focusing on her much longer roles as the wife of Prince Rainier III of Monaco, mother of three children and a champion of arts and culture.

For a Philadelphian like me, the exhibition conjures up plenty of memories of this local girl who made really good.

The daughter of an Olympic gold medalist-rower who owned a construction company, Kelly grew up among the upper-middle class in Philadelphia, before moving to New York and later Hollywood to pursue a career in acting. In less than five years’ time, she reached the pinnacle of big-screen success, winning the 1954 Academy Award for Best Actress for “The Country Girl,” before giving up Hollywood to marry her prince.

During my childhood in the ’70s, Princess Grace regularly adorned the covers of my mom’s magazines and the “People” page of the newspapers. There were sightings of her in the summers at the Kelly family vacation home in Ocean City, N.J., and one final public appearance in her hometown in the spring of 1982 at a film festival in her honor. Later that year, she died at age 52, after suffering a stroke while driving to her vacation home in the south of France.

The exhibition, which was mounted at the Bucks County museum an hour north of Philadelphia in cooperation with the Grimaldi Forum Monaco, traces Kelly’s personal journey, via a collection of some 40 dresses and couture gowns and dozens of letters and other objects. The show maintains the sense of decorum one might expect from a blonde starlet who stood out in 1950s Hollywood for her white gloves, cool reserve and understated sense of style.

Kelly bag; photo by Robert DiGiacomo

As Princess Grace put it, “I’ve been accused of being cold, snobbish, distant,” according to one of a series of quotes adorning the walls of the exhibition space. “Those who know me well know that I’m nothing of the sort. If anything, the opposite is true. But is it too much to ask to want to protect your private life, your inner feelings. Lots of things touch me and I don’t want to be indiscreet.”

The case for Kelly as a style icon is easily made through the main display of her frocks by major designers, like Yves Saint-Laurent, Givenchy and Marc Bohan for Christian Dior, and her signature “Kelly” bag by Hermes. A special room is dedicated to her storybook 1956 wedding, with her shoes, silk-covered “Bride’s Manual” and other items on display. (The wedding dress itself, created by MGM costume designer Helen Rose under “top-secret conditions,” is too fragile to be exhibited.)

At the same time, Princess Grace was known to –– gasp! –– wear dresses a second time, or as Philadelphia Museum of Art curator and Grace Kelly expert Kristina Haugland put it, was “as loyal to old clothes as old friends.”

The real woman behind the fashion plate also comes through, via family photographs and mementos and glimpses of life behind the palace gates. The former Grace Kelly could just as easily dress the part of a mom in scarf and casual blouse and pants and didn’t mind being photographed that way.

Normal life wasn’t quite like yours and mine, however. Video clips show her children mingling with old Hollywood pals like Cary Grant, Bing Crosby and Alfred Hitchcock. Queen Elizabeth II, in one note, expresses her admiration for her “sweet children,” while the princess’s other correspondents included opera diva Maria Callas and legendary cabaret entertainer Josephine Baker.

The overall effect is to create a portrait of a very public woman who valued her privacy and never told all, a rarity in the current climate of ready access to celebrity through Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other media du jour.

San Diego: The Hotel Del Turns 125

photo by Brett Shoaf

The Hotel Del Coronado, at 125, is wearing its years well.

One of the world’s few remaining examples of a wooden Victorian beach resort, the beachfront property in San Diego, Calif., has become a major tourist destination, while still operating as an upscale hotel. The latter consists of 757 rooms and 142 suites, with dozens of beachfront villas and cottages, some with private swimming pools.

During a recent trip to San Diego, a friend and I hopped on the Old Town Trolley, which took us across the sweeping bridge linking the mainland with Coronado Island to the hotel.

We spent part of the day exploring the National and State Historic Landmark, a grande dame that reminded me of The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies, another historic hotel that’s a magnet for visitors to that region. A 90-minute tour of The Del is offered by the Coronado Visitors Center four days a week, but we preferred to explore on our own.

photo by Nicole Pensiero
photo by Nicole Pensiero

The Del features five restaurants, including the stately Crown Room, which is known for its sumptuous Sunday brunch, along with a half-dozen casual eateries; nearly 20 boutiques and gift shops; and a spa with 21 treatment rooms and an infinity-edge pool. The hotel also spans an expansive public beach that’s been rated one of the best in the country.

While The Del still wows with its period charm –– including its meticulously restored lobby –– it’s worth remembering that at its 1888 opening, the public marveled at modern conveniences like electric lights in the guest rooms and elevators.

A beautifully designed coffee-table book that’s sold in several shops on the property commemorates the resort’s beginnings. In 1880, Midwestern speculators Elisha Babcock Jr. and Hampton Story forked over the-then huge sum of $110,000 to purchase the entire Coronado peninsula.

By 1887, the men had raised $1 million by selling off land parcels, and used the funds to build the resort, which opened in February of the next year.

Since then, The Del has enjoyed a mostly fabled history, hosting royalty, U.S. presidents, movie stars, and –– legend has it –– even a ghost or two. Movie buffs will recall its starring role in Billy Wilder’s classic 1959 comedy, Some Like It Hot, for which in stood in as the fictitious “Seminole Ritz” in Florida.

For us, the highlights of our visit proved a chance to get up close with The Del’s trained hawks, which are used to keep seagulls from bothering beach-goers, and a special anniversary exhibition. The latter display –– with images of Some Like It Hot co-star Marilyn Monroe frolicking on The Del’s lawn and original turn-of-the-century room keys and room service menus –– made me want to step back in time and experience the hotel during its first heyday.