PASSPORT TO ISLAND LIFE: Luxuriating in California’s Historic “Crown City”

Lovely Coronado, California, is just moments from downtown San Diego, yet still manages to feel like an exotic island escape for tourists, travelers, and pleasure-seekers.

Home to year-round sunny weather and some of the best beaches you will ever find, this San Diego-adjacent resort town blends luxury with outdoor fun and the historic treasures of Southern California. Coronado is the perfect place to spend the day while vacationing in San Diego.

Your day in Coronado can take many shapes. Choose from pristine beaches, enchanting shopping streets, world-class spas, lively theater scenes, and excellent al fresco dining options. No matter what you do, you’re sure to be charmed by the friendly, laid-back, yet sophisticated way of life.

History

Though spending time in Coronado certainly feels like tasting a slice of island life, it is actually a peninsula, attached to mainland California by a long sandbar. Still, the fastest ways to travel to Coronado from the mainland are by passenger ferryboat (a 15-minute ride) or across the historic Coronado Bridge. Visitors often wonder why the famed bridge was built in the shape of a long parabola. The curved shape actually makes the two-mile drive across the bridge take a bit longer. The reason behind it, though, makes perfect sense. Architect Robert Mosher explains he built the bridge (which first opened in 1969) with a 90-degree curve to allow enough height for the U.S. Navy’s frequent ship-crossings and aircraft carriers to fit underneath.

Although there are many other historic landmarks to learn about in Coronado, the second most-asked-about landmark is the grand Hotel del Coronado, often referred to affectionately as “Hotel Del.” Facing out into the Pacific, this coastal resort was the first one on the west coast and one of the grandest resort hotels the western world had ever seen when it opened its doors in 1888. So many features have contributed to the near-mythic pull of Hotel Del: a grand ballroom, the crown banquet room, state-of-the-art amenities (for the time period), and luxurious guestrooms – many with views of the ocean. Numerous presidents, celebrities, and foreign dignitaries have visited Hotel Del and contributed to its rich history. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 10:30 a.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m., you can take an historic tour of Hotel Del, given by docents from the Coronado Historical Association.

Where to Eat

For an easy, casual breakfast, locals and tourists love Café 1134 or Clayton’s Coffee Shop on famous Orange Avenue. Grab a coffee and pastry, or relax at the espresso bar with some of their classic bistro selections. These cafes are also great spots to pick up sandwiches and more for an outdoor picnic on the beach. If fine dining by the beach is more your style, enjoy a gourmet Mexican-inspired lunch in the relaxing atmosphere of the Sun Deck Bar and Grill at 1500 Orange Ave. Diners with an interest in California history will appreciate Tent City Restaurant, named for an early 20th century Coronado resort made up of tents and thatch-roofed cottages.

Fun and distinctive, Peohe’s is reachable by both land and sea. Gorgeous views and epic seafood have won this restaurant many accolades. For a first-rate take on the classic steak, try Stake Chophouse & Bar. On the other side of Coronado, the bayside neighborhood offers delicious picks like Il Fornaio, a fine-dining, authentic Italian eatery that boasts “the freshest ingredients and traditional cooking techniques.” Come for the food and the views; stay for the impressive collection of Italian and Californian wines. If an Italian food taste test is in order, compare Il Fornaio’s delicious Italian fare to Primavera Ristorante’s classic, Northern-Italian style menu. Don’t miss the world famous house specialty, osso bucco – a classic Milanese dish featuring “a large braised veal shank served over your choice of pasta or risotto.”

Where to Shop

If you’ve heard of Coronado before, it’s likely you’ve also heard about the charming “Main Street USA” atmosphere along the famous Orange Avenue in downtown Coronado. This village-like shopping district is lined with palm trees and dotted with sidewalk cafes. Chain stores are few and far between on this famous avenue, as unique boutiques and local artisans’ wares are encouraged. The Shops at the Ferry Landing offer a delightful ambiance for window- shoppers, souvenir seekers, or art-lovers. Check out places such as the Art for Wildlife Gallery for unique, coastal nature-themed pieces.

Where to Explore

Those who love to spend their vacations getting a bit of exercise while they sightsee will find endless diversions to enchant and invigorate. Bikes & Beyond, at 1201 1st Street, can outfit you and your cohort with all sorts of bicycle configurations (beach cruisers, mountain bikes, four-person surrey bikes, etc.) for exploring the “island” by bike. Or hit the water for a unique “urban kayak tour,” leaving from Coronado Ferry Landing and paddling around the sights for two hours at a time. Visit bikeandkayaktours.com for details.

Where to Luxuriate

Coronado Central Beach has been voted the #1 beach in America by more than one travel outlet. It’s not hard to see why. The grand Hotel Del Coronado sits in the background, and one-and-a-half miles of long, flat surf stretches out in front. The lifeguards on duty and the shallows (perfect for skim-boarding) make this a great choice for families to lie out on the sand and get in some serious sun and splashing. To the north, you will find one of the area’s only dog-friendly beaches, in case you brought your best friend along with you. Travel down the coast a bit to Silver Strand State Beach for a more secluded feel and the best panoramic views.

Where to Shake Things Up

If your wanderlust cannot be appeased by seaside relaxation alone, dial in to one of Coronado’s many spots for outdoor adventure and get your heart pounding. Try Coronado Surfing Academy to book a lesson or two and earn your longboard stripes. Also check out Action Sports on Coronado Avenue to rent a WaveRunner or try your hand at water-skiing the San Diego Bay.

That Club Life

Located on the southern end of Glorietta Bay Park, this municipal club and boathouse offers boat and water equipment rentals, docking space for members, sailing and boating classes, and more. Try your hand at a sunset group paddle or a community s’mores event with live music. Membership is required to use the facilities, but fear not: your concierge is happy to assist you in obtaining a day pass.

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