San Diego: We like it hot

In the Southern Californian heat, Shandelle Battersby finds much to like.

Legendary 1959 film Some Like it Hot stars two huge icons and both are stunning, eye-catching and linger long in your memory — screen siren Marilyn Monroe, who plays voluptuous ukulele player Sugar “Kane” Kowalczyk, and San Diego’s famous Hotel del Coronado.

The sprawling red and white property, known fondly as the Del, stands in for Florida’s “Seminole-Ritz” in the gangster spoof film, which sees two male musicians, played by Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, impersonate a couple of gals in an all-female jazz band in order to hide out from the Mafia after witnessing a murder in Chicago in the late 1920s.

Only a couple of hours from Hollywood and with the advantage of consistently great weather, the Del has been used as a set — and hangout — for film-makers, actors and celebrities almost since it opened its doors in 1888, The guest list is long and ridiculous: think Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Walt Disney, Liberace, Ellen DeGeneres, Brad Pitt, Oprah Winfrey and at least eight US presidents to name just a tiny portion of the famous names who have have passed through its opulent lobby.

Celebrating its 130th birthday this year, the Del is on Coronado Island (actually a peninsula) reached via ferry or a very tall 3.4km long-span bridge (so high because of the naval ships that regularly pass underneath it). Driving over it or sailing under the bridge is a unique experience and, if you can, you should do both — it’s just across the bay from downtown San Diego and only 15 minutes from the airport.

The Some Like it Hot film shoot took place in the Southern California city over a week in the late 50s. Despite it being shot in black and white, there is no mistaking the historic hotel’s Victorian facade and turret in many scenes.

As well as anecdotes about Monroe’s time on set (she was reportedly so bombed on pills and booze it was hard for her to get her lines straight), there are little gems from the past hiding around every corridor.

The hotel served as a base for celebrity day trips to Mexico for horse racing and drinking during the Prohibition era (1920-1933), and for actresses recovering from facelifts during World War II. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz developed their “Ricky and Lucy” personas from I Love Lucy while on a retreat there and Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum often stayed at the hotel for months at a time during the early 1900s to write his books.

In fact, Baum is responsible for one of the Del’s most extraordinary design features — the giant crown chandeliers hanging in its Crown Room. Many auspicious events have been held in this beautiful room, which is made entirely of interlocking pieces of wood with no pillars or nails, including a banquet for England’s future King Edward VIII in 1920 — where he may, or may not have met Wallis Simpson, and a reception for aviator Charles Lindbergh in 1927 celebrating his successful solo transatlantic flight.

With 757 guest rooms including the 78 luxurious private cottages and villas of its Beach Village, the Del these days merges the modern conveniences demanded by patrons of contemporary times with its storied past.

There are several eateries and bars onsite, and you can enjoy an extravagant Sunday brunch in the Crown Room complete with a chilled seafood bar, gourmet Bloody Mary bar and housemade charcuterie. The oceanfront Babcock & Story Bar, named after the hotel’s founders, houses the original handmade mahogany bar where only “gentlemen” were permitted to imbibe for many years; in times past, unmarried women were required to enter the hotel through a different doorway.

On the private beachfront is Windsor Cottage, the Craftsman bungalow once owned by the future Duchess of Windsor, which was moved on to the property from its original site up the street. These days the home is used as a private, members-only lounge for guests of Beach Village.

There are also 17 boutiques heaving with various items including keepsakes (yes, there is plenty of Marilyn memorabilia) and lots of extracurricular activities for curious guests including Beach Spin — 50-minute outdoor stationary cycle classes where the participants wear Beats by Dr Dre headphones — and Mermaid Fitness — a cardio and pool aerobics class where you can exercise wearing a mermaid tail.

It’s hard to imagine Monroe on an exercycle but you can imagine her spirit lives on during the mermaid classes as its participants frolic around one of the Del’s pools, or during its 130th anniversary celebrations.

After all, we all know how much she loved to sing Happy Birthday.

Hawaiian Airlines flies daily from Honolulu into three Southern California destinations: Los Angeles, San Diego and Long Beach. Fares start from $829 one way.

New Zealand rental car company Jucy operates out of California and delivers cars — or its excellent campers — to any destinations within an 80km radius of their branches at Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Francisco or Vancouver.

Hotel del Coronado is at 1500 Orange Ave, Coronado.


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