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March 20, 2013 • Autos, Events, Travel

Hyundai Takes Social Bloggers to Coronado for the New Santa Fe!

New Santa Fe

The New Santa Fe in front of the Coronado marina

As I had written previously, the folks at Hyundai took a group of ‘social bloggers’ to Park City, UT last August to introduce the new 2013 Santa Fe Sport. My review was highly favorable, but what was missing for me was the full-sized Santa Fe 6/7 passenger model – Hyundai teased that model, but we weren’t allowed to take pictures, get in or even touch the pre-production model they brought. However, they told us that once it was ready to launch we would be able to get a hands-on look. This weekend the made good on that promise, as Hyundai took a bunch of social bloggers to Coronado to test drive the new Santa Fe.

I will have a full drive experience report coming soon, but for now I wanted to give a quick overview of a few things that shaped the experience including the Hotel Del Coronado, Coronado itself, the food, and of course our first glimpse at the new Santa Fe.

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The view from my room once the clouds cleared in the early afternoon. Gorgeous

Coronado is a peninsula that is separated from San Diego by water, and was bought by two men Buford & Story in 1886 for $110,000. The two men had made their fortunes helping to shape the rail system, and had taken to going to Coronado for hunting trips. At the time it was populated mostly by small game, but the two men had thoughts of transforming it into a destination for other like-minded people. To do this they decided to build a hotel and later engage in planning the design of a community, and the Hotel Del Coronado opened for business in 1888. They are marking 125 years of continuous operation, and it remains a luxurious destination that continues to attract presidents and other dignitaries and offers an amazing vacation spot for couples and families.

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Looking back up at the hotel from the beach walk

As someone who grew up — and lived until recently — in the Boston area, I have always loved places rich in history and distinctive styling – the famous Colonial Inn in Concord is one of my favorite places to stay. The Hotel Del Coronado was built on a tight schedule without a proper architect or blueprints, working only from a rough work up of an exterior model. As a result, the interior design is best described as erratic or charming, depending on how you view such things. Another bit of history is that there is a mysterious ghost who purportedly haunts the hotel … her name is Kate Morgan, and she supposedly inhabits a room at the hotel where she is a benevolent spirit. A few folks in our group had issues with lights turning off and on, things getting unplugged and even with items going missing and later reappearing in random places; a few of the ladies had a sleepover because of this!

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The main entry way into the hotel

Much of the hotel is original, from the redwood in the foyer to the tongue & groove crown room, to the uneven floors and winding halls and more. There is still an elevator operator on the formerly steam-powered bird-cage elevator! But it has also been modernized with all of the things you would expect from a 5 star resort, and all of the additions have been streamlined to match the original styling. The grounds are impeccable, and they were designed so that European visitors accustomed to lush gardens would be impressed … I know I certainly was!

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From the second floor including the main chandelier

How do I know so much about the hotel and Coronado? Hyundai arranged a history tour of the hotel with the local chamber of commerce, giving us insights into our base of operations for the weekend. But it was more than that – they provided a view of the culture of the island, the people who built and grew the community, and the path from a small seasonal resort for the wealthy to a year round destination.

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The crown room – all tongue & groove construction, no nails, and crown lighting purportedly designed by Frank L. Baum.

As I mentioned in my recent Monday Mile ‘Your Workout Is Where You Find It’, when I am going to be someplace other than home one of the first things I do is check out the map to figure out a running route. And when I am going to a place like Coronado, I am even more excited by the prospects. I mentioned finding tons of potential running routes in my post about preparing for the trip, but as I was being driven from the airport to the hotel I noticed that the traffic and pedestrian volume and curbside dining along many streets would make most of those routes tricky in the afternoon. Instead, once I got myself checked in and chatted with my wife quickly, I headed down the Silver Strand.

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My return running route – there is marina on the right, beach on the left, and the Hotel Del Coronado in the distance

The Silver Strand is the small strip of land that makes Coronado a peninsula rather than an island. It is wide enough for a 2-lane road in both directions along with a bike trail and beach, and narrow enough that you can see both sides at once. The weather was gorgeous – still mostly cloudy, only around 60 degrees … just wonderful. I ran down the beachfront (there is a wide walkway) until I ended up on the Silver Strand road, eventually getting across and onto the bike path. As I got onto the narrow part of the Silver Strand I discovered unpaved paths along the side that went through the garden areas, so I kept to those. I kept going until the GPS chimed 4 miles and then turned around, mirroring the path back to the hotel to end up just under 8 miles; it was glorious.

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The Hotel Del Coronado is gorgeous at 5AM as well!

For Saturday and Sunday morning, I was able to get out of the hotel before 5AM to take my planned ‘tour of the island’ route that went along the shore near the marina to near the base of the bridge to the gates of the Naval Air Station to the beach and along the beach path to where it hit the Silver Strand and then back to the hotel. It was right around 7.5 miles and the streets were almost completely clear, allowing me to enjoy only the sounds of birds, waves, my own breathing and footfalls, and the waking up of the Naval Air Station. Finishing with 1.5 mile right along the coast with the crashing waves drowning out the chiming of my Garmin was incredible.

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Hard to see, but this is the gate of the Naval Air Station, coming to life at 5AM.

One thing we learned in Park City was that the Hyundai folks would be sure to keep us stylishly fed for the weekend. The Hotel Del Coronado boasts four main restaurants as well as an ice cream shop and pizza shop. That means if you are looking for formal dining, somewhat less formal dining, casual take-out fare, or just some quicker simple food you are covered.

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I walked to the water, turned around and … this.

Because the media were arriving all day, Hyundai gave us vouchers for lunch and an ice cream. I really wanted to be outdoors somewhere and found the outdoor restaurant too crowded and closed-in, so I grabbed a to-go turkey & brie sandwich lunch from Babcock & Story. I also grabbed a chocolate mousse dessert in a chocolate cup with fruit inside – I had planned on getting an ice cream but this changed my mind:

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Seriously …

After lunch, the tour, and after spending some time wandering around the area, it was time to kick things off for real! Of course, this meant a reception with appetizers and drinks at a reserved area in the formal dining area. This was fun for several reasons – we were outdoors, sampling fresh local seafood and other great ingredients, and meeting old and new friends. Many attendees were also present at Park City, some I knew by name and others by appearance. All of whom it was great to see and catch up. Also, many of the Hyundai folks were the same, from Jim to Rob to Laurie to Linda – and they are all really great folks.

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At dinner, Jim laid out the order of events for the next day, and each table had someone from Hyundai to go over things and make sure we were all prepared. But naturally much of the event was about socialization – both in-person and virtual. Hyundai refers to us as the ‘social wave’ and therefore it wasn’t just acceptable for us to be on our phones broadcasting on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/etc all the time – it was expected. Somewhere in between the time on our phones and the great talk with Liza from AddictedtoSaving and Scott from ChipChick and Laura from BetterinBulk and Laurie from Hyundai, we managed to have a great dinner. I went straight for the steak with asparagus and Creme Brûlée for dessert, with absolutely no regrets!

There were two orders of business before getting out on the road with the New Santa Fe: breakfast and product presentations. Breakfast was memorable not just for more great social interaction – pretty much everyone shifted seats from dinner to interact with a new set of people (except for one person and her minion who strangely remained aloof and mostly separated from the proceedings the whole weekend) – but also due to the presence of Harris’s Hawks. We learned that the hotel brought a pair of these on the grounds for the morning four days a week to deal with seagulls – just the screeching and presence eliminates the gulls for a day or so.

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Harris Hawks apparently scare gulls away

And naturally we all wanted to pose with the hawks, as they are well-trained and used to dealing with people.

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I wrote about it here but it is hard for me to look at a picture of myself without judging harshly.

After breakfast and fun with the hawks we went through the presentation. I continue to hear about automotive events where there are hours upon hours of presentations and precious little driving, and I was once again glad that with Hyundai that is NOT the case! Jim, Jon Shon and another product manager presented business aspects, competitive insight and technical details of Hyundai and the new Santa Fe. The Santa Fe Sport has gotten a great reception and has sold very well since introduction last summer (as I can attest from how many I have seen around my area), and Hyundai is very well positioned in terms of sales turnover and resale value.

As for the product specifics, I will cover those in the technical minutia of my drive experience, but basically what you are looking at is more than just a 3-row version of the Santa Fe Sport but less than a completely different model. The Santa Fe is longer, taller and has more space, and the back seat (middle row) has been modified to make it very comfortable for passengers but still allow access to the third row.

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Hyundai Santa Fes in a row

Once the presentation and hands-on views (and assorted silliness such as seeing how many folks could comfortably sit in the cargo area at once (we did four but could have done five – but it wouldn’t make for such a fun picture!), it was time to hit the road.

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Laura, Kas, Becca and Jasmine having fun in the back of the Santa Fe!

The way Hyundai does their drives is using a trip book: there is a lunch destination with a driver-change checkpoint half-way. The route is mapped turn-by-turn in a booklet that ensures you will get to do all types of driving: highway, city, up hill, down hill, narrow and wide roads, twists and turns, and so on. My driving partner was Louise from MomStart – she was fun to chat with, sharing my values of marriage, family and kids. We had a good time throughout the trip, learning about the Santa Fe and fumbling with some of the controls as we explored functionality.

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The mid-way point was an off-road overlook area that was a great place for a break and change of drivers, and to find out how others did following directions. Louise mentioned that I was a really good navigator (I am an engineer, so linear mapping is something that comes naturally), but others were not so lucky. Some entered the location into the GPS and were sent mostly along the highway (boring!), others missed turns and ended up nearly crossing the Mexican border, and still others just got lost and ended up using the GPS to get back on track.

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The first leg was ~40 miles, and the second part was just under 30 miles to the town of Julian, where at the Julian Grille we were encouraged to make sure to leave room for their famous pie! Both the lunch (veggie sandwich and fruit) and pie (multi-berry with ice cream) were excellent, as I wrote about on Yelp.

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If you are in the area, this pie is worth the trip!

After lunch we headed off for the afternoon activity – which would mean another 60 or so miles. Louise was exhausted and asked me to drive, which allowed me to test out the Santa Fe on a mostly highway trip we took to the zoo. I was originally scheduled to go para-gliding and Louise hang-gliding, but she had switched to the San Diego Zoo and since no one had been able to para-glide all week (and since I love the zoo!), we headed to the world-famous San Diego Zoo!

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Sadly the line for tours was too long so we didn’t get to ride these

Due to time constraints we knew we would only have about 90 minutes, so we hopped in line for the bus tour of the zoo along with Becca from MommaB Blog and Kas from SouthernBellasWaystoSave. The line was long and slow, but the bus tour was an excellent way to see the majority of the expansive park in as time efficient a way as possible.

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Total show-off, doing backflips for the crowd!

My only regret was that we didn’t get to see the panda bears, but as the tour guide noted, pandas are stressed by noise, so the loud bus and tour announcers would pretty well freak them out running by a couple hundred times a day. Jim from Hyundai noted that he needed two trips to get a real feel for the zoo, so maybe I will need a return trip!

Oh … and apparently some of the animals made their way back to the hotel! That is James Hills of ManTripping and Jason Sasaki of SasakiTime.

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After a long day with loads of opportunity to drive the new Santa Fe, we headed out for our last dinner. The Hyundai folks had arranged a dinner outing a couple of blocks away at Chez Loma. We had the entire upper floor to ourselves, which was a good thing since the restaurant seemed very intimate and a table for two having to deal with our crew would be sorely disappointed.

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The cute little Chez Loma … I bet for a couple it would be nice, which almost makes me feel bad for my Yelp review … almost.

Sometimes a restaurant mistakes the ability to seat a certain number of people with the ability to host a function for a group of that size. For example, a group of 30 people (25 bloggers plus some Hyundai folks) would be ordering around the same time and expect their salads to arrive promptly and pretty much one table after the next. What you wouldn’t expect would be to have ordered salad when it was light as in the picture of the exterior and still have the entire room waiting until it was dark outside:

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Coronado has cute views everywhere!

In fact, it was an hour before the first salads appeared (nothing particularly elaborate) … and another 30 minutes before the last table got theirs! So we got bored and took pictures of a tiny baby figurine on a rose. Why? Sit for 90 minutes before getting a salad and ask me again!

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As for the food itself, the taste and presentation for MY dinner was very good … unlike anyone who ordered the cold/dry/tough/tasteless/etc scallops. My complaint was that a big reason I chose the duck was because it had sweet potato listed as the side dish – and as you can see there is about a tablespoon of sweet potato on the side almost as a presentation enhancer! Apparently a couple of the other entrees were pretty solid. One fun thing I learned at Chez Loma – when people are waiting for a course while others have already finished, you don’t need worry about over-aggressive wine refills! That makes tracking your intake easier. Sadly, Linda from Hyundai was wearing the stress on her face, so I told her to relax – everything was showing up, we weren’t on a deadline, and she would simply never come here again. She relaxed while chatting, but given the level of perfection she managed throughout the Park City and rest of the Coronado trips, I know she was very upset. Naturally I shared on Yelp.

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I am STILL craving sweet potato!

After dinner we headed back to the bar at the Hotel Del Coronado, where a set of tables were reserved – but we were so much later than estimated that there were attempts to take over the seats! Fortunately everything was set up for us when we returned.

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It was a great time of chatting and comparing notes and pictures and families and locations and blogs … but eventually it had to end. One thing about being on the fifth floor clear across the hotel was that it allowed me plenty of stair exercise! But I had to take a trip on the bird-cage elevator that still has an operator and was apparently once steam-powered!

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The weekend was excellent fun and highly productive, and I will soon post about the featured event for the weekend: the new Santa Fe driving experience. Until then here is a shot of me behind the wheel!

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Full disclosure: Hyundai paid for the entire trip including travel, food and lodging, but the opinions expressed are my own.

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Sad to leave … but happy to be home!

3 Responses to " Hyundai Takes Social Bloggers to Coronado for the New Santa Fe! "

  1. Jasmine says:

    YES!!! My socks went missing. So crazy!

  2. Bryan Eley says:

    Sounds like you had a wonderful time, Mike. You were only a couple miles from my birthplace. 🙂 My wife has a 2006 Tucson and it’s been very reliable for us. To my eye, the Santa Fe lines seem more angular than before, much like how Cadillac began changing their vehicle shapes.

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