I realize it’s been some time since I’ve posted. But like most of you, our family has radically limited our travel since the pandemic began. However, to wrap up our summer before taking our boys to college, we planned a 5-night trip out to the San Diego area and stayed at the historic Hotel Del Coronado. Also known as "The Hotel Del" or just "The Del," it sits across the San Diego Bay from San Diego in the town of Coronado, on a strip of shoreline that's part of a narrow peninsula, easily accessible from San Diego by bridge or ferry.
While I typically expect that resorts of this caliber will have plenty of gluten free options on the menus (and have them well labeled), that isn’t always the case based on our travel experiences. However, we were beyond impressed with how the Hotel Del goes the extra mile to make dining a relaxed and low-stress experience for anyone needing or opting for a gluten free diet.
Gluten Free Notations on the Menus Make Dining Easy.
From the first night, when we dined al fresco at Serea, right in the heart of the resort, we were greeted with an impressive selection of menu items denoted with a gluten free symbol. Our son Ryan, diagnosed with Celiac before he was even two years old, opted to get the Grilled Calamari appetizer, followed by the Seared Tuna main course. Now an 18-year-old young man, he is an adventurous eater and loved both. But alas, we forgot to take photos of the beautiful presentations of food! But trust me when I say it was as beautiful as it was delicious, according to Ryan!
The following day we discovered that both the poolside Breezes menu offered at the Beach Village pool and the Taco Shack had gluten free options marked on the menus. In fact, we were told that everything at the Taco Shack was gluten free, as they use soft corn tortillas, not flour. So we opted for that as a quick poolside lunch.
Dining Nearby the Resort in the heart of Coronado
Should you desire a change of scenery for any of your meals, you’ll find plenty of options along Orange Avenue, right outside the main entrance of the hotel. There are coffee shops, smoothie bars, and plenty of restaurants and cafes, no matter what you are craving. We dined at The Henry on our second evening. This large traditional French bistro had plenty of open air dining and a great atmosphere. Again, all gluten free options were clearly noted on the menu. Our son ordered the Korean Prime Skirt Steak served atop fried rice, snap peas, bok choy, mint, cilantro, and ginger.
My husband ordered the Rotisserie Chicken with potatoes and asparagus, while I chose the Short Rib served with polenta and mushrooms. Both were also gluten free, as was the dessert our son wisely ordered: a gluten free flourless chocolate brownie covered with a caramel, coconut, and peanut butter topping and topped with vanilla bean gelato -- yum! Needless to say, we all had a bite!
So Many Options for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner
We found plenty of ways to satisfy our breakfast and lunch cravings at the resort, including a lovely breakfast buffet offered at Windsor Cottage. They had all the basic gluten free breakfast items like bacon, scrambled eggs, breakfast potatoes, and fruit -- as well as absolutely divine gluten free muffins. During our stay we got to enjoy both wonderful cranberry muffins and chocolate chocolate chip muffins.
In fact, all menus we encountered at the Hotel Del made note of the gluten free options. This included the Sheerwater restaurant (open for breakfast and brunch) and the large Sun Deck restaurant near the main pool, with stunning views of the entire shoreline in front of the hotel. At the Sun Deck restaurant, Ryan opted for another skirt steak meal, which was beautifully presented atop rice, snap peas, edamame, and colorful watermelon radishes. Not bad for a meal at what was considered one of the more "casual" restaurants at the resort!
Don’t miss the gelato shop Sundaes near the beautiful Babcock and Story bar. Most flavors of gelato are gluten free (except for the obvious no-nos like cookies and cream), as are most of their gelato and sorbet popsicles. While not cheap, these are worth the splurge! In Eno Market and Pizzeria, the cafe/coffee shop next to Sundaes, you can pick up a gluten free muffin or any one of a number of unique pre-packaged snacks, juices, and candy. Unfortunately, their artisan pizza offerings didn't include a gluten free option, nor were there any gluten free sandwich choices.
More Off-Property Options
Another off-site location for dining that’s relatively close (but best accessed by car) is Il Fornaio, the California-based Italian chain with homemade pasta. The location near our home in Virginia closed a couple years ago, so we were thrilled to have the opportunity to dine at one in California. They have a delicious gluten free penne pasta that can be substituted for their regular house-made pasta in any pasta dish except the lasagna. Our son ordered the Pasta Mare Estate with a light tomato and garlic sauce and loaded with scallops, clams, mussels, and shrimp.
Even though there are no gluten free notations on the menu, Il Fornaio can prepare many, if not all, of their grilled meat entrees gluten free as well, so you won’t be lacking for choices here, even if you don't want pasta! Best of all, this restaurant is right near the ferry building on Coronado and has a perfect view of the San Diego skyline across the Bay.
While our stay in Coronado was meant as a well-deserved relaxing vacation for all of us and therefore not intentioned as a sight-seeing trip, I wanted to see the famed Gaslamp Quarter, which is a pedestrian area of restaurants and bars with traditional gas lamps flanking the streets. On that night, we chose to dine at Fogo de Chao. While this is a nationwide chain we could have dined at anywhere, we knew it would be a home run for our family, making everyone happy with all the various grilled meat offerings and huge buffet of salads and Brazilian side dishes. It’s also a rather good value as compared to some of the other very pricey steakhouses and resort dining.
Our final night we opted to dine at Windsor Cottage, where we'd had a couple breakfasts. Their Dinner Menu wasn’t terribly extensive but did still have some nice gluten free options. Ryan ordered the Baja California Sea Bass served with braised shallot polenta and lemon vegetable piccata. My husband opted for the gluten free Glazed Organic Chicken Breast with chive lemon smashed potatoes and tomato confit. Both were a hit.
An Important Note about Gluten Free Dining at the Resort
It's important to note that you should always ask questions about things like dedicated gluten free fryers (here or anywhere you dine). Ryan remembered to ask about whether the fries, listed with an item marked "gluten free" on one of the menus, were cooked in a shared fryer. They were. As Ryan noted -- and maybe not such a generalization -- there are probably a lot of people in California that are gluten free by choice, not necessarily because they have Celiac. So it's a good idea to be especially vigilant about potential cross contamination issues. With that said, the servers always knew when a dedicated fryer was or wasn't used and seemed knowledgeable about the reason for the question. They always made a note of Ryan's gluten free status when taking his order. He never got sick during our stay.
Options for Staying at the Hotel Del Coronado
There are several options for accommodations at this resort. Of course, there is the famed historic Victorian hotel, built in 1888 and currently undergoing some renovations. There is a newer section built in 2007 -- apartment style rooms with kitchens and living areas in the lovely Beach Village section. These are comprised of 3-story cottage-style structures designed to echo the architecture of the main Victorian building. On the other side of the Victorian hotel are the Cabanas, rooms adjacent to the main pool, which is perfect for families with kids. The ones on the main level even have verandas with fire pits facing the pool or beach. And finally there’s the newest structure at the southern tip of the resort called The Views. Of course, you can opt to dine at most of the Hotel Del's restaurants even if you aren't staying at the resort. I'd just recommend making a reservation well in advance.
The grounds are lovely throughout the resort, and we had a particularly fun time watching the landscapers scale the palm trees to trim the fronds. The only caveat about this resort is that it’s not exactly peaceful. The setting is idyllic, with tons of outdoor space and a wide beach leading to the ocean. However, it’s a bit Disney-esque this time of year (summer), with young kids everywhere and constant activity. Work begins early the resort, with landscapers and constant hotel renovations causing distraction from the crashing waves. Helicopters from the Naval Air Station next to the resort were also a constant source of noise, especially in the evenings.
A Lively Setting
Nightly events -- whether weddings or dinners for convention groups staying on the property -- occur either on the beach or on the central Windsor Lawn (shown being set up for a dinner for hundreds in the photo below). It was fascinating to watch the operation of setting up and taking down, and I suppose it all adds to the character of the resort. It’s just not exactly the place I’d recommend if you’re really looking to “get away from it all.” Otherwise, for an indulgent family getaway with plenty to do, whether you spend all your time on the property or take in the sights San Diego has to offer, you can’t go wrong.
Our only two planned activities -- other than venturing to the Gaslamp Quarter -- were renting wave runners (right across the street from the Hotel Del) for some fun in San Diego Bay and doing a 90-minute tour of the Hotel Del Coronado and its history and architecture. (Photo of the main reception area in the Victorian building that was being renovated is shown below.)
Other than that, we were content to sit on our balcony, on the beach, or by one of the many pools soaking in the California sunshine. Don’t forget your sunscreen!