My dentist, of all people, recently convinced me to take some time off with a relaxing vacation—thinking I was in need of a root canal; the actual cause of the tooth pain was grinding and clinching. So we booked a hassle-free trip that was exactly what we wanted: an easy, one-way flight to San Diego for a 5-night stay at the Hotel del Coronado Resort, then north to the central coast for another 4 nights, infused in between with an air of adventure and romance through travel by rail.

The "Hotel Del,” part Victorian elegance, part old-Hollywood glamour, is a full-service resort built in 1888. The beauty of the iconic landmark, paired with the designation as one of America’s top 10 beaches, makes this property a worldwide draw.

We experienced the really good and the not so good during our stay. At its best, the Del wows on almost every count: ocean-view rooms, resort amenities, dramatic lobby, public spaces and customer service. However, the hotel seems to be a victim of its own success in entertaining guests, so much so that it becomes a struggle to accommodate the crush at peak capacity. A popular wedding and event venue and also accessible to the general public who make regular pilgrimage to enjoy the Del’s excellent amenities without the expense of an overnight stay, it seemed to be bursting at its seams.

Lines materialize for just about everything, and the property takes on a Disneyland-esque vibe, where you wished you'd planned your day around peak times for the main attractions. These include the property’s two pools, shops, spa, bars and restaurants and the popular Sun Deck, where local bands get patrons out of their chairs to bust a move with tunes that range from The Alan Parson’s Project to Zeppelin. The restaurants and bars are open-air with views of the ocean; and for retail therapy, there are two floors of top-notch shops to peruse. It’s worth the price of a treatment to hang out in quiet luxury in the hotel’s spa that, along with upscale steam, whirlpool and relaxation rooms (separated for men and women), houses an infinity pool overlooking the ocean.

Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner took us to Pismo Beach, where we mostly explored, ate and walked on the pier and along the beach. Our elegant oceanfront condo had spectacular views and plenty of space. It’s quite a luxury to be able to read for uninterrupted hours on end, and practice the art of doing nothing. We loved that Pismo has retained its funky, California beach town atmosphere. No chain stores, but still plenty to explore. We returned, restored, on the Coast Starlight, not caring that the train was several hours late—for a small fee we upgraded to a sleeper car and after a great meal in the dining car, slept in quiet comfort until our arrival in Martinez.

Del Coronado:
Pismo Beach:
Pismo Beach Condo: