Connected to the California mainland by a sandy isthmus and (since 1969) a road bridge, Coronado is a sunny island resort nestled in the heart of San Diego Bay, just across the water from downtown. There’s stacks to do here, especially for families, from tide-pooling on the beach to touring the island by bike or on the Old Town Trolley. Hop aboard for our guide to the 10 best things to do in Coronado San Diego.
Spend a Night at the Hotel del Coronado
Perched right on the beachfront overlooking Point Loma, ‘The Del’ is a Coronado institution that has been welcoming presidents, celebrities and royalty since Victorian times. Former guests include Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable and Madonna; the hotel’s distinctive conical turrets are said to have inspired the Emerald City in L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; it’s even rumored that Prince Edward first met Coronado resident Wallis Simpson here at a 1920 banquet. And, naturally, a hotel of this vintage also has its very own ghost story. Rooms start north of $700 but a visit to the adjacent Ice House Museum for a walk through the hotel’s rich history is gratis.
Hit the Beach
The long stretch of golden beach in front of The Del is great for families, thanks to its gentle waves, tide pools crammed with anemones, hermit crabs and sand dollars, and mineral-rich sand that actually glitters in the sun. Kids will love having a go at building their very own sparkling Emerald City sandcastles. Also look out for the legendary Sandcastle Man, who can often be found here on Coronado Central Beach building his extravagant and highly artistic sand sculptures. In the evening, use one of the public firepits to barbecue your own burgers and toast marshmallows as the sun sets over the Pacific.
Get on Your Bike
Dedicated cycle paths snake around much of Coronado, making bike hire a great idea for family days out. The Bayshore Bikeway runs down the Silver Strand sand spit, and all the way back up into downtown San Diego, from where you can catch the Coronado Ferry back to your starting point. Expect swaying palms, wildlife reserves and sweeping views of the Pacific on this epic 24-mile ride. A shorter version that turns back before you hit the mainland may be the smarter option if you’re with kids, and there’s another more urban route around Coronado itself.
Visit Spreckels Park
Named for Victorian entrepreneur John D. Spreckels, this park in the middle of Coronado is a beautiful green oasis amid the city streets. Families stop by to picnic beneath the trees, while kids live their best lives in the large playground. In summer, the gazebo bandstand bursts into life every Sunday as part of a series of free concerts that run the gamut from marching bands to high-energy pop acts. Local artists showcase their work at the Art in the Park event on alternate Sundays while the Coronado Flower Show brings thousands of colorful fragrant blooms to the park every April.
Ride the Old Town Trolley
Hop aboard one of San Diego’s brightly colored trolley buses for a whistle-stop narrated tour of the top attractions in Coronado and Downtown. Taking in Coronado Beach and the Hotel del Coronado, the bus then cruises over the bay to visit several more locations on the mainland, including the historic Gaslamp Quarter and sprawling Balboa Park, home to San Diego Zoo and many of the city’s top museums. You can hop on and off the trolley at your leisure along the route.
Discover the Local History
Take a deep dive into Coronado’s past at the Coronado Museum, where a huge collection of art, photographs and other exhibits tell the story of island life since the 1880s. The museum also runs a weekly walking tour of some of Coronado’s most important locations, including Orange Avenue and, of course, the Hotel del Coronado. The leisurely tour, in which a knowledgeable local historian will point out interesting architecture and wow you with fascinating anecdotes, lasts around 90 minutes and covers approximately two miles.
Shop the Farmers’ Market
Hit up the weekly farmers’ market at Coronado Ferry Landing for your fix of all things fresh and wholesome. Here’s your chance to taste sweet organic tomatoes fresh from the vine, and crisp, zingy apples that have ripened on the branch. The whole operation is certified farm-fresh, so you just know there’s going to be more flavor packed into that single strawberry than in any number of mass-produced punnets at the mall. You’ll also find beautiful fresh blooms and countless homemade oils, pickles, condiments and jams. Delicious.
Take to the Water
The relatively tranquil waters off Coronado make it ideal for trying out some of those watersports you’ve always fancied having a go at. Grab a kayak and paddle your way around the island’s scenic shores. Or get to grips with a stand-up paddleboard. Like surfing, but gentler, this increasingly popular activity can be surprisingly relaxing once you’ve got the hang of it. Try not to be put off your stride by pelicans dive-bombing the water for their lunch!
Treat Yourself on Orange Avenue
Saunter along flower-filled Orange Avenue, a broad street packed with bougie boutiques, cute cafés, local artisan jewelers and more. There’s plenty to see and do along this mile-long stretch that runs all the way from Bayside to the Hotel del Coronado. Pick up a unique souvenir at the Coronado Museum Store, take in a show at the intimate Lamb’s Players Theatre and sample some of San Diego’s famous craft beers at the Coronado Brewpub.
Take the Ferry Downtown
Hands down the most romantic way to reach downtown San Diego from Coronado is on the quaint old ferry that chugs back and forth throughout the day. Time your trip for around sunset to get the most magical views as you pull in to dock by the legendary USS Midway aircraft carrier. From here, it’s just a short stroll into the Gaslamp Quarter or Little Italy to enjoy some of the best nightlife (and pizza!) in town.