Like many of California’s coveted beach destinations, Coronado provides an escape into summer warmth almost any time of year, but without the corresponding crowds and traffic. The “island” resort town near downtown San Diego is largely residential, with a laid-back vibe that makes even visitors feel at home.
Shell mounds and arrowheads found during excavations in Coronado suggest the land was once used by Native Americans for hunting and gathering long before the Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino spotted the island off the coast of San Diego in 1602. Once you sink your toes into the soft sand that runs the length of its now world-famous Central Beach, you’ll see understand why Coronado earned the moniker “Las Yslas Coronadas,” meaning “the crowned islands” in Spanish.
In fact, the historic Victorian resort Hotel Del Coronado has lured American “royalty” since it opened in 1888–from Hollywood stars, including Charley Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe, to a long line-up of U.S. Presidents. Much more than a hotel, the Del and its ability to evolve with the times, has helped Coronado weather the economic ups and downs for over a century. As has the area’s long-standing relationship with the U.S. Navy, which dates back to the early 1900s, when the U.S. Naval Airstation North Island was created. The “Birthplace of Naval Aviation” is also home to the Navy Seals headquarters, but you probably won’t realize if you’ve crossed paths or even clinked glasses with them: these special forces are known to be as humble and secretive as they are brave.
Though Coronado is often referred to as an “island,” it’s actually a peninsula, connected to San Diego by the iconic Coronado Bridge and the Silver Strand, a ten-mile sandy strip of land that boasts a popular beach and bike/pedestrian paths that make for a long, leisurely ride, walk or run. Reaching Coronado is an event in itself: whether you enjoy a scenic 15-minute ferry ride from downtown San Diego or cross the bridge, have your cameras ready for an awe-inspiring view of the San Diego Bay and the downtown skyline.
By ferry, from Broadway Pier (1000 N. Harbor Dr., San Diego) or the San Diego Convention Center (111 Harbor Dr., San Diego), you’ll arrive at Coronado Ferry Landing (1201 1st St.), from where you can easily hop aboard the Free Summer Shuttle (Memorial Day through early September), grab a cab or walk to Coronado’s historic downtown.
But there’s no need to hurry. Ferry Landing is home to souvenir shops, boutiques and restaurants with gorgeous waterfront views. Why not start you vacay with a little indulgence? Pop into the local favorite Coronado Cupcakery (1201 1st St., #104) for a sweet treat, like the famed Black Bottom Betty (chocolate cake mixed with chocolate chip cheesecake, topped with cream cheese frosting) or the Valerie (red) Velvet.
Be sure to bring your sunscreen along with your beach toys (or relaxing reads) to enjoy a leisurely day on one of Coronado’s many beaches. Central Beach is lauded as one of the country’s best. Its sparkling, soft sand stretches over a mile along Ocean Boulevard (where there’s free parking…if you can snag a spot!), from the Del on the south end to the dog-friendly park and beach on the north end. Near the dog beach you’ll find eight first-come, first-serve fire pits. Bring bonfire supplies and s’more fixings to stretch your beach day long after sunset.
If you’re looking for a mix of picnicking and play along with beach time, check out Glorietta Bay Park (1975 Strand Way), where youngsters can bounce between building sand castles and rides on the slides at the small playground. The flat water here is perfect for swimming, kayaking and standup paddle boarding. Rentals and lessons are available at the Coronado Clubroom and Boathouse.
A stroll along Orange Avenue, through the historic downtown, proves there’s more to Coronado than the sand and sea. Dotted with boutiques, cafes and restaurants, this charming main street is where you’ll find most of the action. Here you can also catch a movie at the vintage Village Theatres (820 Orange Ave.) or a show at the Lamb’s Player Theater (1142 Orange Ave.), located in the historic Spreckels Building.
The key to enjoying your stay here is to give in to the slower pace of “island” life and take your time. Drivers, take note that the citywide speed limit is 25 miles per hour–perfect for cruising. Parking (free and metered) is available on and around Orange Avenue, but it can be tricky to find a spot on weekends.
Leave the car behind instead and leisurely wander through the tree-lined neighborhoods and along Ocean Boulevard (ogling the oceanfront mansions) on foot or by bike. Chances are that your hotel offers bike rentals. If not, no worries: bike rental shops abound. Popular picks include Holland Bicycles (977 Orange Ave.) and Pedego Electric Bikes Coronado (1132 1st St.).
Hotel del Coronado (1500 Orange Ave.) is worth visiting whether you come to watch the sunset at the beach bar or settle in for a night (or few). The National Historic Landmark continues to enchant guests with its seaside elegance. Slip back in time and stay in the original late 19th century Victorian building or opt for more modern additions, like the Ocean Towers or poolside California Cabanas. Family fun is made easy with options ranging from mermaid fitness classes (pool aerobics complete with shimmering tails) to surf camps, bike and water sport rentals to seaside painting classes paired with wine. Parents, looking for a little alone time? Reserve an afternoon activity or evening adventure for the kiddos at the DelAdventure activity center.
Across the street from the Del, and a few-minute walk from the beach, awaits the Coronado Beach Resort (1415 Orange Ave.). The resort’s cozy studios and suites are designed to make you feel at home. Don’t miss a soak in the rooftop hot tub, made all the more enticing by its dazzling ocean view. Another local relic, the Glorietta Bay Inn (1630 Glorietta Blvd.), is nearby. For a taste of the early 20th century, book one of the 11 rooms in the Edwardian mansion. Other perks here include the complimentary breakfast and an outdoor pool and spa.
Eat & Drink
One could easily ditch the sand and eat, drink and shop the day away along Orange Avenue. For a coffee or a quick, delicious meal, Café 1134 (1134 Orange Ave.) is a local go-to. Despite the variety of seating options (a front alcove, small bar, loft, and al fresco seating areas out front and in back), you may have trouble claiming a table during rush hours—a testament to their tasty fare. Fortunately, if you can’t rub elbows with locals reading their morning papers, portable options like the Cortez breakfast burrito (eggs, sautéed shrimp, mushrooms, jack cheese, avocado and sour cream) and the Coronado Club wrap make it easy to take your order to go and picnic on the beach.
For brunch, lunch, dinner or “Social Hour” (specials daily, from 3 – 6 p.m.), head to Leroy’s Kitchen + Lounge (1015 Orange Ave.). From the paintings on the walls to the farm-fresh ingredients to the beers on tap, everything about Leroy’s links to their locavore spirit. Whatever meal, or even cocktail, you choose, expect creative flavor combinations that shift with the seasons. The summer ceviche, for example, mixes in unexpected players like nectarines and mint. The “Wise Decision” cocktail shimmies California vodka infused with Be Wise Ranch strawberries with Grand Poppy liqueur, house-made rhubarb bitters and fresh lemon juice. Beer flights mean you can take a tour of the San Diego’s legendary microbrewery scene without leaving your table.
Another Orange Avenue favorite is Primavera Ristorante (932 Orange Ave.), an award-winning restaurant known for its innovative fusions of Northern Italian cuisine with local ingredients and flavors. While the signature dishes are the osso buco alla Milanese and house-made tiramisu, you may be tempted by other classic renditions, like pappardelle al ragu and spaghetti alla carbonara, with pasta made in-house daily. The intimate setting combines polished service with a familial vibe. Guests have returned for decades, craving their favorite dishes and the feeling of being welcomed home.
For a bit of glamour in the heart of the village, book a reservation at Stake Chophouse + Bar (1309 Orange Ave.). This indoor-outdoor rooftop venue aims to redefine the “classic steakhouse,” with its swanky digs and assortment of finely sharpened Japanese, French and German steak knives to ensure diners enjoy the feel of each slice as much as the meat melting in their mouths. Look forward to such enviable cuts as the 35-day dry-aged bone-in New York Strip, Japanese Wagyu or the very-shareable 50oz Tomahawk Rib Chop. Or savor a bit of the sea with seared diver scallops or ahi, which work equally well with their wood-fired sides and vast selection of wines from across the globe.
If you’re more in the mood for a pint than a mixologized martini, you’ll feel at home at McP’s Irish Pub (1107 Orange Ave.). The popular military hangout sports memorabilia from the owner’s tenure as a Navy Seal. House favorites range from Irish fries with gravy to fish tacos to the sampler platter, packed with fried goodness.
No stop in San Diego would be complete without fare from south of the border. At Miguel’s Cocina (1351 Orange Ave.), find what you fancy wrapped up, folded or fried in a warm tortilla, complemented by tangy margaritas served on the rocks with or without salt. Choose from house favorites like sizzling fajitas, homemade tamales and chile rellanos. Be forewarned: you may be too full to take a bite of your entrée after tasting the creamy white sauce that is served gratis along with the requisite chips and salsa that show up at your table moments after you sit down.
There’s no such thing as window shopping along Orange Avenue. Be it a craving for a candy apple or Milk Duds when you pass the classic candy shop or that hilarious quote on a tote or tile, what lies behind the glass you pass will likely tempt even the most disciplined to come inside for a closer look.
Known for having shelves filled with “the unique and unexpected,” both locations of The Attic (1011 Orange Ave. and 1112 Tenth St.) are perfect for scoring jewelry handcrafted by local artists, fashion accessories and home accent pieces that will easily fit in your suitcase. These small boutiques also save room for the guys, with barware, travel bags, and grooming goods and accessories. For those without fear of shipping (or who traveled by way of a large vehicle), the Tenth Street location remains the only place in Coronado to find vintage and antique furniture.
For stylish beach apparel and all things surf and skate, hit up Emerald City Surf Shop (1118 Orange Ave.). Here you’ll find both classic brands, like Vans and Volcom, and what’s on trend, like the comfy, funky designed socks from Stance. Owned and operated by surfers for surfers, the shop also offers rentals for surfboards, skimboards, bodyboards, stand-up paddle boards and more.
Amongst the shops awaiting visitors who hop off the ferry at the Landing, Miss Match (1201 First St., Suite 217) stands out as a boutique catering to women of all ages and sizes. The owner and mother of three found herself, in her early 40s, struggling to find clothes that were affordable, fashionable and yet still age appropriate. So, she opened her San Diego-based shops with the mission to create a shopping experience where a mother, daughter and grandmother can easily find something special. Think eye-catching prints on blouses and dresses that fit and flow in all the right places. Feel free to tell the store clerk to hold the bag—you’d like to wear your new ensemble out on the town.