Day Tripper: Coronado Island

By / Photography By Elaine Masters | May 05, 2018
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The thin band of water between the high rises of downtown San Diego and the Coronado Island ferry landing is a channel between worlds. Windswept ferries and water taxis deposit you at a demure dock in front of galleries, souvenir shops, and popular restaurants. It's the perfect point to meet friends for cocktails on a shoreline patio to witness the sunset glinting off the mainland towers, or for people watching and a picnic in Centennial Park.

Many families hold the small community dear. Children still ride bikes through roundabouts and "born and bred on the island" is a point of pride for locals like Aubrey and Amanda Marks, who work at Clayton's Coffee Shop in the village.

The island is peppered with noble Navy homes and uniformed officers. Their indelible presence, especially when the ships are in, overflows into old school hideaways like the Little Club on Orange Avenue.

Full of architectural, historical, and natural beauty, exploring Coronado can be a spontaneous or planned pleasure. A visit doesn't have to be fancy to be fulfilling.

Great Beginnings 

Fortify yourself with Clayton's Coffee Shop’s "homestyle cooking" for breakfast or lunch and revel in the diner’s retro decor. Transform loose change into tunes from the countertop jukebox or the vintage box at the door.

Sand Castle Man

Looking for something lighter? Cross the street to Cafe 1134 for baked goods, coffee selections, and bistro fare. You can escape the crowds and enjoy a quiet conversation in their pet-friendly patio seating.

Beach Time

Technically, the island is a peninsula. Surfers and sunbathers gather along the wide-open southern strand, while kids splash at the small beach near the ferry landing.

The powdery sand in front of the Hotel del Coronado lured Marilyn Monroe, presidents, and dignitaries into the sea. For a unique photo opp, find the Sand Castle Man, Bill Pavlacka, sculpting custom designs in front of the hotel.

Lunch and a Lick

Grab a quiche at Tent City Cafe or dig into a plateful of fresh noodles at Island Pasta where Brant and Carol Sarber have been rolling it out daily since 1994.

Across the street at Moo Time Creamery, indulge in handmade ice cream, yogurt, and sorbet with a dose of 1950s nostalgia.

Meet the Historic Neighbors

Not much remains of the vast Spreckels family fortune that shaped Coronado, but in the center of the island is Spreckels Park, where a gazebo commemorating the founders hosts concerts in the summer and other events year-round.

John D. Spreckels owned the Hotel del Coronado and overlooked his investment as well as his yacht from the family villa. Today the mansion is open to the public as the Glorietta Bay Inn. A new exhibit about Spreckels opened in March inside the Coronado Historical Association galleries.

While the famous frolicked at the Hotel del Coronado, a quieter resident settled down in the neighborhood: L. Frank Baum was already a well-known author when his family moved into the new hotel. He translated his whimsical talent into designs for the hotel’s Crown Room chandeliers and wrote The Wizard of Oz from the family’s winter home on Star Park Circle. While the home is currently privately owned, a glass patio offers views of Oz memorabilia and a mask of the Wicked Witch stares down from a beam near the door.

Looking for more Oz? The new Coronado Library has a glass wall adorned with Baum’s characters. 

Dinner and Drinks with the Locals

The 100 block of Orange Avenue is home to a row of shops, restaurants, a brewery, and local hangouts.

Planning a picnic at Centennial Park? Gather supplies at Boney's Bayside Market or the deli inside Central Liquor for fresh, affordable subs and sandwiches. Central also hosts the largest wine selection on the island.

The award-winning, family-friendly Coronado Brewpub has been turning out specialty drafts since 1996, well before artisanal brewing was a trend. Try the Orange Avenue Wit or get adventurous with the Coco Chaos, a coconut IPA.

Next door, a jalapeño margarita complements the fresh Latin specialties at Fonda don Diego, while down the block Saiko Sushi is lauded for its sake flights and choice seafood. Certified sake sommelier and chef Anthony Pasquale is a well of wisdom about fish and what to drink with it. 

Go to a Show

Movies have always been a big part of Coronado’s popularity. Spreckels, ever the marketing wizard, set up rows of tents along the beach for sunbathing visitors and filmed the Tent City to advertise island life. Silent movie stars and Hollywood producers took the bait.

The Village Theater opened in 1947 with a lush Art Deco interior, but closed in the 1970s. It stood silently fading for decades, but since a lavish renovation in 2011, the single-screen theater has come back to life, showing matinees daily and films nightly.

The Coronado Film Festival will be celebrating its second year at the theater in the fall of 2018.

In the village, Lamb’s Players Theatre grew out of their street art roots and moved into a renovated performance space in Coronado's historic Spreckels Building, where they’ve been producing plays ever since.

Getting To Coronado Island

Ferries and water taxis shuttle visitors to the island quickly from downtown docks. If you  drive, just after the sweep down to sea level from the towering Coronado Bridge, you will have to choose a route, to the north, you will get to the east side of the island, where you’ll find the restaurant row of Orange Avenue, and if you go left, you’ll find yourself on the western side, home to Hotel Del Coronado.  

Local Tip: Visit on Tuesday for the Farmers Market
Pull into the Il Fornaio parking lot on Tuesday afternoons between 2:30 and 6pm to peruse local produce at one of the oldest farmers' markets in the region. Growers from across the county offer their fresh fruits and vegetables, sauces, vinegars, flowers, and more year-round. (Find out what's in season at

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