At some point in life, even the commoner must uncover her crown and place it royally on her head. This is the missive my imaginary courtier whispered to me during a recent stay in Coronado.
In English, the Spanish word coronado translates to “crowned,” and images of this symbol of glory, authority and honor can be found throughout The Crown City. The beloved resort “island” (technically a peninsula) is a sparkling slice of Southern California that sits just across Glorietta Bay from San Diego.
The San Diego-Coronado Bridge is the quickest way to get to the peninsula, which, since the 1888 opening of the historical landmark Hotel del Coronado , has welcomed U.S. presidents, celebrities and, even, British royalty.
My family and I used our stay as respite from some recent health problems and as a moment to reflect on an upcoming milestone — our son was two weeks from turning 16. We are not part of a cultural legacy where rites-of-passage ceremonies are the tradition, but on the drive from L.A., I tried to convince my son that he needed a “sweet 16” party — a coronation, of sorts. After all, he does share a name with a famous king: King Solomon.
But our young king was resistant. His main argument points: He didn’t want to be so embarrassingly in the spotlight, and it was senseless to spend money on an experience when that money could be spent on more gifts.
We were in a kind of ball-versus-jewels tussle.
On American soil, our “royal families” are celebrities, presidents (debatable) and billionaire moguls. Meanwhile, people along various rungs of the middle class, working-class poor and people who are direly impoverished (more and more without casas) make up the majority. And yet, for each of us, the real regent resides within. Humility is a virtue, yes, but it’s vital to let your light shine, too. To be honored and respected and, as my husband and I are always telling our hunching teenager, to straighten the shoulders and “stand tall.” No matter who you are.
A royal welcome
Night had fallen by the time our car rolled onto the sprawling grounds of the Hotel del Coronado resort. Flanked by the Pacific Ocean and the bay, the majestic hotel — with its Victorian architecture, wedding-cake trim, iconic red roof turrets and grand porch — stands like an all-seeing queen in the middle of the grounds.
As we got out of the car, a Roaring Twenties-themed party for employees was underway on the great lawn. String lights, sequined dresses and feather headbands decorated the night — the 2020s celebrating the 1920s. From the speakers, yet another era emanated: a 1970s Tina Turner belting out her signature rendition of “Proud Mary.” It was mere days before the great Queen of Rock ’n’ Roll died, and I will never for a second believe that she wasn’t reminding all of us in earshot of her life story: We are larger than anyone’s attempt to strip us of our dignity and power and royalty. Turner eventually escaped her abusive marriage, left the U.S. and moved to Europe, where she shaped the kind of life and success she believed she deserved.
I sang along with Turner’s propulsive voice narrating the power in breaking free from conventionality and predictability to embrace risk and new opportunities:
You know that big wheels keep on turning (turning)
Proud Mary keep on burning
And we’re rolling, rolling, rolling yeah (rolling)
Rolling on the river
A changing shore
Speaking of rivers, one of the most intriguing things about large bodies of water, whether calm or surging, is that they transform that which appears to be static. While the original structure of Hotel del Coronado once reigned as the largest resort hotel in the world, over the years that monarch gave way to “queen mother” status as ultra-modern luxury beach accommodations were added: Beach Village, The Cabanas, The Views and Shore House at the Del, which opened last September.
My family and I stayed the family-friendly Shore House, a boutique-like collection of 75 beach house-style residences (including ones that are hearing and mobility accessible) at the southernmost point of the grounds, just steps from Coronado Beach. In stark contrast to the old Victorian’s opulent decor, Shore House is the latest take on a linen summer suit: crisp, nautical, flawless. Our villa’s veranda, replete with a travertine fireplace, overlooked the boat-studded marina, the loopy Coronado Bridge and the San Diego skyline. Other villa views include the Pacific, the zero-edge water pool that appears to flow into the ocean or the great lawn and Victorian.
Our two-bedroom, two-bath was 764 square feet with state-of-the-art appliances (including a washer and dryer), a gourmet kitchen with dishes, pots, wine and cocktail glasses, full-sized fridge, dishwasher, espresso machine and dining table that fits six, a spacious great room with an L-shaped sectional, chairs and two nooks (perfect for reading) flanking an electric fireplace.
Solomon loved the space, especially having his own quarters. “It’s so beautiful!” he said, FaceTiming a friend. So much for not caring for “experiences.”
After dinner, I made a cup of espresso and settled into the sectional with my husband to watch the last episode of Shonda Rhimes’ “Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story” on Netflix. The six-episode historical drama inspired by the real-life monarchs (and unapologetically its own creation) has taken the world by storm with a focus on the young, mixed-race Queen Charlotte’s rise to prominence and power in the late 18th century. It captures her arranged marriage to Kin George III, their passionate love and his mental illness. The flames in the fireplace reflected the heat on the screen as the ornately adorned characters wrestled with secrets, desire, racial discrimination, mental health and the weight and glory of the crown. While the specter of the real Queen Charlotte’s ethnicity is hotly debated, imagery and representation matter. As a Black woman, it was refreshing to watch the elegance, regality’’ and power of the characters, Black, mixed-race, white, as they floated through the grand halls, danced at balls, struggled with each other and themselves and sought resolution.
Walking around the resort and the marina the next day, I saw images of coronas everywhere (chandeliers, paintings, etchings), and I meditated on what it means to “carry the crown” — literally and figuratively, even if one is born into a legacy of subjugation (or worse).
“The crown is internal,” my friend Gerda Govine, a former Altadena poet laureate, said as we chatted about “Queen Charlotte.” “There are so many ways of looking at that word — crown. Think about what happens to the body when you place a crown on top of the head. It forces you to have to stand up straight, walk straight, move with purpose. We are not here by accident, but with purpose dignity, intellectual sharpness while our ancestral village surround and protect us.”
Her talk of the ancestral village resonated as the sky softened to evening and my family and I participated in the s’mores storytelling roast hour on the beach. These private bonfire roasts take place nightly from 6 to 8 and can accommodate up to 10 guests. As I turned my marshmallow over the fire, I watched a pregnant woman wrapped in a sheer and flowing amethyst-colored robe pose for a professional photographer. She wore a garland of roses on her head. A crown. The sight of her smiling, her hand holding her belly, her partner’s hand curling around her hand, transported me to 16 years ago, when Solomon was just about to make his entry into the world. I had not thought to do a special photo shoot, and my lack of photos documenting that time induces some regret.
At least, I thought, turning back to my own family, I have documented every year that he is on this side. I asked them to join me in an age-old tradition that we’d never done as a family: “Let’s make up ghost stories!” The stories that ensued were ridiculous and hilarious. I dug my toes in the softer-than-home sand as we laughed and indulged. How many stories have these grains heard? How many changes have they witnessed and undergone themselves?
Activities of the court
I’ll start with the gastronomical kind.
A special menu and curated bar options are available as part of the bonfire experience, but we had already satiated our growling bellies with fish and seafood topping fresh handmade-style tortillas from the Beach & Taco Shack on the beach.
Casual and elegant beachfront dining abounds. We enjoyed the breakfast buffet at Shore House’s bistro (best fresh-squeezed orange juice I’ve tasted so far), coastal fare at Serẽa, craft cocktails (including a non-alcoholic one for the kid) and flavor-rich dishes (my favorite was the Togarashi Shrimp a la Placha, a kaleidoscope of smashed potatoes, arugula-pea puree, roasted cippolini onion, lemon garlic aioli, pickled shallots, shies and massage crunch) at Sun Deck (over a fire pit facing the Pacific) and gelato from Sundaes. ENO Market & Pizzeria came through with grab-and-go groceries and a wood mushroom pizza. In late June, the Beachside Food Truck program will launch with new food menus and local microbrew beers.
At the 1888 Ice House Museum, we delved into some history, where an oversized photo of Marilyn Monroe on the resort (the film “Some Like It Hot” starring Monroe was filmed at Hotel del Coronado in 1958) stands. We pored over menus dating back to the early 1900s: “Green Turtle en Tasse,” a $2 “Scorpion” cocktail, “Jellied Essence of Chicken” soup.
Other history-learning options include the museum’s “Legendary Tour” of the resort ($40, 90 minutes), the “Haunted Happenings Tour” ($30, 60 minutes) and self-guided audio tours ($25, 60 minutes). You can also explore at your own pace. A step onto the sprawling porch of Hotel del Coronado will take you back in time, and the hotel hosts a swing-dancing party on the wooden porch each week. Inside the Victorian are hotel rooms and gift and clothing shops, but make sure to save some funds for shopping along Coronado’s popular Orange Avenue, lined with more than 50 stores and tons of breakfast and lunch spots.
For pool fun, Solomon immersed himself in the underwater virtual-reality (VR) experience, donning snorkel equipment to go underwater and into the worlds of the deep sea, deep space, the ruins of Atlantis and even a thrilling skydiving adventure.
Michael Tuesca, director of hotel operations at Shore House, says the resort strives to keep kids of all ages happy with movies on the beach, surfing lessons, biking and the Ocean Explorers program, which offers a half- and full-day living classroom, an underwater aquarium with an interactive tide pool where children learn about marine life and ocean preservation.
When my family and I returned to Los Angeles, we were refreshed — at least for a day. Then, it was back to our work and school schedules, summer planning and settling on a way to honor Solomon’s milestone birthday in a way that felt special — according to his comfort level. He gave an adamant “No, thank you” to any semblance of a fancy party where we adults would give our blessings and advice, but he did allow the old regime to attend (as long as we stayed on our own bowling lane).
And while he chose pizza as a main course, at least the neon lights offered some pizazz. As I watched him enjoying his friends, his crown of reddish dreadlocks jiggling as he laughed and carried on, I was proud of him for pushing back against my vision for his celebration.
Shore House at the Del is one material example of expanding beyond the past and its definitions of what and who is regal and proper. When we forget to do this in our own lives, our kids — bursting with their own unique visions and desires — will remind us.
Cassandra Lane is editor in chief of L.A. Parent and author of “We Are Bridges: A Memoir.”