Just over the bridge from San Diego is a small, tree-lined beach haven known as Coronado. The "island," as many locals call it, is really a peninsula connected to the mainland by a neck of land named the Silver Strand. Crown City, as it is called (Coronado means "crowned one" in Spanish), regards itself as a friendly, small town of wide leafy streets lined with Victorian homes and Californian bungalows ... and regards San Diego as somewhere else.
Along with the amicable, small-town atmosphere and near-perfect weather, Coronado proudly touts itself as a car-optional environment. The island is small enough to walk almost anywhere - it's only a mile from the San Diego Bay side of the peninsula to the ocean. There are also relatively flat paths fit for both cyclists and skaters and even more miles of bike routes along city streets.
The emblem of Coronado is the Hotel Del Coronado - a Victorian pleasure dome that instantly turned Coronado into a beach resort when it opened on the oceanfront in 1888. Other resorts followed, but today the military, not tourism, represents Coronado's largest industry. The North Island Naval Air Station, site of America's first military flying school, occupies the entire north half of Coronado, and Navy SEALs train at the Naval Amphibious Base on the south end of town.
For well over a century, Coronado's beaches have been its fortune. The main beach, Coronado Central Beach, stretches 1.5 miles behind the great houses along Ocean Boulevard. Swimmers, bodysurfers, boogie boarders, sand sculptors, tide poolers and, from December through February, whale watchers all take to the sand and sea. North Beach attracts surfers in the morning, and at the extreme north is Dog Beach, where leashless canines can frolic in the surf.
Where to Stay
Best Luxurious Hotel
Hotel Del Coronado
Web site: www.hoteldel.com
If you've seen Some Like It Hot, then you know what The Del looks like - it was cast as a luxurious 1920s seaside resort in Florida in the famous movie. Since it opened in 1888 as a luxury fishing and hunting resort, the hotel has also hosted a dozen presidents and (allegedly) served as the prototype for the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz. Today the recently renovated resort has 688 rooms, suites and beachfront cottages. The 31 acres of pearly white California beach upon which the hotel sits are still the main attraction, offering boogie boards, volleyballs, Jet Skis and cabanas for rent. Surfing lessons are also available.
Best Family Hotel
Loews Coronado Bay Resort
Web site: www.loewshotels.com/
Situated on a private peninsula between the ocean and San Diego Bay, Loews Coronado Bay is a 438-room luxury resort with a soft spot for kids. Facility-wise, there are 3 outdoor pools and a private pedestrian underpass to the Silver Strand State Beach. Children can sign up for surfing, tennis and sailing lessons, and bikes, roller blades, wave runners and other watercraft are available for rent. Organized kid's activities include Dive-In Movies on Fridays (families can watch flicks from poolside or in the water). Dogs are also welcome and receive VIP (Very Important Pet) treatment in the form of cookies, room service and directions to the leash-free beach.
Best Budget Accommodations
Crown City Inn
Web site: www.crowncityinn.com
Crown City Inn offers attractive, moderately priced rooms (smoking and non-smoking) midway between the ocean and Old Ferry Landing on San Diego Bay (about five blocks either way). It's an easy walk to both, or an easier ride on one of the hotel's complimentary bikes. Guests can also hang at the heated pool and enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner at the inn's popular Crown Bistro. All rooms have refrigerators, microwaves, coffee makers, ironing boards and irons.
Food & Drink
Where to Eat
McP's Irish Pub & Grill
Where: 1107 Orange Avenue, Coronado, CA 92118
Web site: www.mcpspub.com
McP is Greg McPartlin, a former Navy SEAL who opened his place in 1982 as a hangout for men and women in uniform. Civilians flock to McP's to rub military elbows on the patio during the day and to listen to live music performed every night of the week. Performers are usually local jazz, blues, classical and rock musicians and, on special occasions, Irish folk artists. McP's has a variety of beer on tap including Guinness, Bass, Harp, Honey Wheat Brew and hard cider. The eclectic bar menu has an Irish flair with dishes like Mulligan stew and corned beef and cabbage but includes standbys such as PBJ and Spaghetti-Os for new recruits.
Best Waterfront Atmosphere
Bay Beach Cafe
Where: Ferry Landing Marketplace, 1201 First Street, Coronado, CA 92118
Web site: www.baybeachcafe.com
Friendly and crowded, Bay Beach Cafe is a casual and inexpensive eatery in the Ferry Landing Marketplace - a complex of dockside boutiques, specialty shops and galleries on the bay side of Coronado. Guests can eat either indoors or out on the sundeck and enjoy views of the glimmering San Diego skyline and ferryboats docking at the old wooden pier. Happy hours lure crowds for bargain-priced drinks and sunset views. A pub menu features burgers, sandwiches and salads. Dinner entrees emphasize fresh seafood and traditional California-style cuisine. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner; reservations recommended for weekend dinners.
Best Local Seafood
Where: Loews Coronado Bay Resort, 4800 Coronado Bay Road, Coronado, CA 92118
Web site: Click here!
Azzura Point is Coronado's big-occasion restaurant, acclaimed for its dramatic views of San Diego Bay, Coronado-San Diego Bridge and the San Diego skyline as well as for its California-French cuisine. Serious seafood junkies come here for local (and non-local) specialties such as oysters marinated in sake and ginger, pan-seared John Dory, Pacific salmon with black truffle sauce, mesquite-grilled swordfish and the 10-spice ahi tuna. Meat dishes are equally as fancy and the vegetarian menu features dishes that incorporate herbs grown in the hotel's garden. A pricey wine list emphasizes California but includes unusual offerings from near and far. Five-course tasting menus fall into the $55 to $70 range with entrees priced from $18 to $30. Reservations are recommended. Try to get there in time for the sunset.
Best Family Restaurant
Where: 1351 Orange Avenue, Coronado, CA 92118
Web site: www.brigantine.com/miguels/cormiguels.html
Miguel's is a colorful and noisy Mexican restaurant where diners can enjoy outside dining throughout the year - heat lamps warm the lush tropical patio when the temperature falls. The menu features usual Mexican suspects - tacos, tostados, burritos, chile relleno in various permutations plus unusual items such as calamari relleno and shrimp in jalapeno cream sauce. A modest "Gringo Food" section offers burgers. Along with various Mexican brews on tap and in bottles, grown-ups can order The Really Mexican Margarita and four other varieties of frozen drinks while children guzzle virgin margaritas and pina coladas.
What to Do
Best Kid Stuff
North Island Naval Station Tour
Coronado's North Island Naval Air Station was the site of the first military seaplane flight - a five-second spin by aviation pioneer Glen Curtis in 1911. It's also where Charles Lindbergh took off for the transcontinental flight that preceded his monumental Atlantic solo crossing. Occupying the entire north end of Coronado, the base is the homeport for the Navy's largest aircraft carriers. Civilians can see it all - or at least everything that isn't classified - on Friday mornings during Old Town Trolley Tours' 2-hour excursions. It's a rare opportunity to visit a working US military installation in action, with narration providing colorful insight into North Island history and Coronado's role in US naval aviation.
Best Day Trip
Web site: www.tijuana.com
Ever since Prohibition, folks have been flocking to "TJ" to get what they can't get in the United States. These days, shopping is the main attraction. Tijuana is a duty-free zone with import shops that offer deep discounts on items such as Russian caviar, Swiss watches and French perfume. Exotic sports are also within reach. Tijuana has jai alai at the Fronton Palacio, greyhound racing at the Hipodromo Agua Caliente Racetrack and bullfights at either El Toreo de Tijuana or Plaza de Toros Monumental on Sundays from May through September.
Tijuana is only a 40-minute drive from Coronado. Park on the US side and walk across the bridge over the Tijuana River into Mexico. Many shops are located near the river and cabs are readily available. Or take the San Diego Bay Ferry over to the mainland and ride the San Diego Trolley all the way to the border - about a half-hour ride.
Best Romantic Interlude
The Gondola Company
Web site: www.gondolacompany.com
Gondola Company cruises ply the placid canal and waterways of the Coronado Cays along the isthmus connecting Coronado to the mainland. The modern homes alongside the private canals won't pass for Venice, but the gondolas have been crafted according to Venetian specifications. And gondoliers are clad in traditional striped shirts and beribboned hats. Serenading is not mandatory, but gondoliers may croon a romantic aria. All cruises last about an hour and include hors d'oeuvres or dessert. Blankets, ice buckets and glassware are provided and guests can bring a beverage of choice.
Best Public Golf Course
Coronado Municipal Golf Course
Web site: www.golfsd.com/coronado.html
Coronado's 18-hole public golf course is fit for the president - at least for Bill Clinton who broke 80 for the first time in his life when he played here. The scenery is beautiful too. Views of The Del, Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado-San Diego Bay Bridge and Glorietta Bay are enough to inspire a hole-in-one out of any golfer. Championship-quality fairways are lined with palms and oleanders and kept in superb condition.