flying off to a relaxing tropical island. Realistically, though, that isn’t always possible. Fortunately, I don’t have to spend a fortune to find places that come close to fulfilling my vacation fantasy. The “island” of Coronado is one such option. Located just two miles off the southern California coast, Coronado is a great option for an American island getaway.
Just across the bay from downtown San Diego, the island is a well-kept secret — and I’m glad. The quiet seaside community is uncrowded and clean. The population of 28,000 residents includes 9,000 military personnel, so the culture is a cozy marriage of military and tourism. Parts of the island are off-limits to non-military personnel and you have to drive past training grounds to get to some of the beaches. Still, it makes for a unique angle to the typical beachside vacation.
As far as islands go, Coronado isn’t really the genuine thing – anymore. At one time, Coronado had two parts: North and South Island. While North Island was set off on its own, South Island was connected to the mainland by the Silver Strand, a tiny strip of land that reaches to the south end of San Diego Bay, where the city of Imperial Beach is located.
When the Navy and Army took over North Island prior to WWII, this area was filled in to make Coronado one piece of land. So in truth, the island is now a peninsula. But that’s no matter. To folks who have lived in the area for years, Coronado is still “Coronado Island”, and an island village mentality still exists in the seaside community.
Surrounded by water on three sides, Coronado offers many of the benefits of a tropical island — miles of white sand beaches, waving palm trees, a relaxed atmosphere, and upscale hotels — without all the hassle of getting there. It’s just twenty minutes from San Diego’s airport. This means you can enjoy all the benefits of San Diego — the great Mexican restaurants in San Diego’s Old Town and attractions like Sea World — and then escape over the San Diego-Coronado Bridge to the quiet atmosphere on Coronado. If you feel like traveling the open seas, you can also reach Coronado by ferry or water taxi.
Although the island’s tourism industry has grown slowly over the years (it’s now the second largest industry on the island after the military), the seaside village really got its start over a hundred years ago with the building of Hotel Del Coronado.
Affectionately called “the Del” by locals, the classic hotel is a must-see. Walking into the 112-year-old historic resort is like stepping back into time. Royalty and numerous celebrities, like Marilyn Monroe and Charles Lindbergh, have called the hotel their home away from home. And it’s easy to see why. With beautiful woodwork and architecture, the famous hotel exudes class. Even if you don’t stay there, it’s well worth the visit to one of the Del’s top-notch restaurants. We couldn’t resist having breakfast on the outside patio overlooking the beach, eating while we watched the waves roll in.
The white-sand coastline behind the Del is one of Coronado’s three fine beaches and 18 parks. Since the island boasts a mild climate (average temperatures hover around 70 degrees), most locals and visitors spend a great deal of time outside.
Coronado claims to be a “year-round” playground, and that’s an accurate boast. Sailboats surround the island (several resorts are right next to the docks), and fishing is a popular activity. The Municipal Golf course is open to all, but you must have a military I.D. to play at the Sea ‘N Air Gold Course at the Naval Air Station. Cyclists can make use of the 15 miles of bike paths, while others (like me) simply relax on the sand and watch it all going on.
Downtown Coronado is small but upscale. Shops line the main streets and are easily accessible by trolley or shuttles from major shopping areas. Town merchants cooperate several times a year to put on community events, such as the “Motorcars and Music on MainStreet” in April and “Downtown Goes Ghostly” on Halloween.
Coronado’s community enjoys small-town events. On the Fourth of July, the town hosts a parade that includes fireworks and a Navy sea, air, and land demonstration. Last April, Coronado celebrated the 77th anniversary of their annual Flower Show, the largest flower show under tents west of the Mississippi. And in October, there is an annual Chrysler Classic Speed Festival where antique roadsters race on a 1.6-mile course.
Christmas is a big deal on the island. The month-long celebration is both traditional and festive. On the 1st Friday in December, a Christmas parade winds its way through town and Santa arrives via ferry. The hotels and main street are lit up with lights, and several tree-lightings are held.
The locals enjoy more than 65 restaurants on the 13.5-mile peninsula. From crowded local diners to top-notch gourmet restaurants, there are options to suit anyone’s taste. (The diners are a great place for tasty inexpensive food and interesting local culture.)
If you’re into the historical aspect of the area, check out the Museum of History and Art at the corner of Orange and Park. The Historical Association has taken great pains to preserve their heritage, and have designed a walking-tour of the town to show it off.
Not to be outdone by neighborhood arts offerings in San Diego, Coronado boasts California’s only year-round professional repertory company. The Lamb’s Player’s Theatre is a non-profit performing arts organization located on Orange Avenue. You can call for an updated listing of shows.
With its temperate climate and year-round activities, Coronado is a destination for all seasons. And although it’s not the tropical paradise of some Caribbean locales, I couldn’t resist the charm of this “would-be” island. Best of all, all I had to do was cross a two-mile bridge from the mainland to get there.
If You Go
For more information: Contact the Coronado Visitor Center at: www.coronadovisitors.com or call (619) 437-8788.