InDELible memories: Gary Sinise, Baja wine country and the Hotel del Coronado

We finally ticked off something on our bucket list when we enjoyed a stay at the legendary Hotel del Coronado near San Diego recently. I’d read so much about this grand dame, built in 1888 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977, that the thrill of actually staying there fulfilled a longtime dream.

Hotel del Coronado is an American treasure, and now, one of our fav vacation spots. The hotel itself can be seen for miles with its distinctive dark cranberry and white dome rising above everything around it. Coming over the long bridge, our anticipation increased just seeing its inviting and elegant exterior. Happily, the hotel is very, very pet-friendly (as well as kid-friendly) which made this spot perfect for us. (See video here)

The interior is magnificent too with its intricately carved ceilings and columns of California redwood and Illinois oak. They still have the original gilded, filigreed elevators with operators standing by to take you to one of its 4 floors. The activities offered are endless and include an oceanfront spin class, world-class spa, marshmallow roasts, clambakes under the stars, movies on the beach, painting classes by the sea, boat rentals, a MERMAID fitness class complete with colorful tails to wear and so much MORE! The restaurants on the property include Sheerwater, Babcock & Story Bar, Sunset Bar, 1500 Ocean and more.

When we were there, Gary Sinise and his Lt. Dan Band performed an oceanfront concert on Father’s Day (his 3rd annual) to benefit his foundation that supports our nation’s defenders, veterans, first responders and their families. A VIP meet-and-greet before the concert was a thrill! Gary interacted (and took photos) with each and every guest treating us all like we were the only people in the room. The concert, as many of you have witnessed in Chicago and elsewhere, was spectacular from start to finish with each band member displaying an astonishing array of talents. They just “rocked,” pun intended. (See video here)

A tour of the North Island Naval Air Station in Coronado doubled our patriotism. We were awed by the carrier, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, and views from the control tower. A trip to The World Famous I-Bar, where scenes from “Top Gun” were filmed, was too cool for words. Miniature airplanes and personalized beer mugs (pilots only please) filled the ceiling. The squadron memorabilia on the walls go back to pre-World War I and a model of every airplane to ever wear Navy markings hang from the ceiling. (See video here) And, if you entered the bar wearing a “cover” (hat) or touched any of these objects, you had to buy the bar a round of drinks! (Thanks to Navy pilot Lt. Commander Mike Higgins for the heads-up!)

During our stay, we were also privileged to enjoy a tour of the Baja wine country with renowned Chef Flor Franco, the Del’s PR manager Sara Baumann and two new friends from Chicago, Amy and Dan Roesch. We couldn’t have had more game companions than these four as we hit every spot worth visiting in Valle de Guadalupe thanks to the amazing and wide-ranging connections of Chef Flor! She seemed to have friends in every corner of Baja California!

Our first stop was Finca la Carrodilla where the darling owners offered a tasting, tour and lunch at their elegant vineyard. (See video here). Next stop, another lunch and tasting at El Cielo with owner Gustavo Ortega and Chef Marcos Marin. Again, magnificent scenery with warm, gracious hosts. (See video here)

The next stop was my favorite and also, apparently, a favorite of Chef Rick Bayless too. Adobe Guadalupe is a charming inn (only 6 guest rooms), vineyard and horse farm (specializing in Aztecas, a cross between Andalusian and Quarter Horse). The grounds and common areas are quaint and grand all at the same time. Filled with antiques under high, arching ceilings, the rooms were straight out of Architectural Digest. I could happily live in the kitchen!

As if this weren’t enough, Chef Flor had lots of other plans for us! A stop at Deckman’s (a Michelin-starred restaurant seemingly in the middle of nowhere) included open fires with every variety of delectable dish grilling on top. The smells alone sent you to heaven! (See video here)

In Ensenada, we visited its oldest bar/cantina, 125 year-old Hussong’s. The place was packed with smiling, happy faces dancing to the music of two bands of strolling musicians while they enjoyed the cheapest and strongest margaritas on the planet. (See video here) We were on sensory overload at this point and barely even noticed the long wait at the border to cross back into the U.S. (Sort of!)

And, as we learned, a trip to the Del would not be complete without experiencing its world-class Sunday Brunch in the Crown Room. This room is dramatic in its own right with a soaring ceiling resembling an upside down ship’s hull. It was even designed by a ship-builder with NO nails in any of the tiny slats of beautiful wood. And the brunch! Anything you could dream of, was on display. Breakfast, surf, meat, international, garden and dessert (think donut bar) stations offered enough food to satisfy Henry VIII!

We never wanted to leave the Del and all the magical experiences it offered. I also wish we could be there for its Labor Day weekend Beach Polo Cup on September 1 to 3rd as I know it will be yet another inDELible memory-maker!

Special thanks and kudos to Wayne Harth (Hotel Del Coronado’s Director of Catering & Special Events) and Sara Baumann (Del’s Public Relations Manager) for making all of this possible. We have memories that will last a lifetime and can’t wait to go back. (For more info about this fab hotel, click here)

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