This post was most recently updated on October 26th, 2018
From downtown San Diego, you can look across the harbor and see the island of Coronado and the beautiful arching bridge that connects it to the mainland. Unless you make your way there, you won’t know what you’re missing. But Coronado is one of the best kept secrets of San Diego. It’s name in Spanish means ‘crowned’, and that might begin to give you a hint.
I’ve been to Coronado several times over the years…to visit the beach, to show off the Hotel Del Coronado to out-of-town visitors, to ride bicycles past the multi-million dollar homes, or to attend a play at the Lambs Players Theatre. I even visited once with a friend to find all things related to the Wizard of Oz, but that’s another story.
This time, I came to Coronado with my husband to redeem a Christmas gift from my daughter, who carefully researched and crafted a full day’s itinerary of fun things to do and see. I’d like to share it with you because it was so unique, not very expensive, and easy to duplicate. You might enjoy a day like this as well!
(Click on photos to enlarge; hover over photos for captions)
Free Lawn Bowling Lesson
The Coronado Lawn Bowling Club has been around since 1935. They offer free bowling lessons to all San Diego County residents, but they’re happy to give a lesson to anyone who is genuinely interested. Our instructor was Stan, a very knowledgeable and skillful lawn bowler! For 90 minutes, he demonstrated, corrected, and encouraged my husband and I as we learned the ins and outs of lawn bowling.
We learned that we were bowling “bowls”, not balls. That each bowl is designed to curve, rather than to travel in a straight line. And that it takes a while to get the hang of it! Lawn bowling is similar to Bocce Ball or Petanque, in the sense that you are trying to get the bowl as close as possible to a small ball called a “jack”. Bowls are not perfectly round, but more oblong. We also learned that players usually wear white. I’m not sure why, just tradition I guess. We kind of stood out in our dark clothing. Our lesson was 90 minutes long, and we had a genuinely good time! Thanks, Stan! If you’d like to schedule a lesson, just call 619-319-5509.
Browsing Shops and Boutiques
Orange Avenue is the main drag in Coronado, and it is lined with a plethora of shops and boutique stores. This is a great place to browse and find unique gifts, souvenirs, or collectibles. Stores like The Attic and Forget Me Not, Celtic Corner, Coronado Taste of Oils, and the Villa Nueva Bakery. We found the perfect birthday gift for a friend of ours while we were checking out the great variety of truly unique gifts, crafts, decor, and more!
Lunch at Which Wich
There were plenty of places to stop for lunch, but we chose my daughter’s recommendation of Which Wich, a custom sandwich shop designed to deliver the ideal sandwich. You pick up an empty paper bag, check off all the sandwich fillings you prefer, and hand it to the sandwich maker behind the counter. In just minutes, your sandwich is delivered to your table, lightly toasted and perfectly scrumptious. I had a surf and turf version of crab meat and steak, and it was incredible. And super reasonable, too. Just under $20 for our two sandwiches and drinks. I know I sound like I’m selling Which Wich, but I just really liked their sandwich, and I’ll be going back again. Soon.
So Many Art Galleries
Maybe it’s because Coronado has a high-end clientele among all the multi-million dollar homes. In any case, there are a lot of art galleries on Coronado. Of course, there’s art for sale, but you are also invited and encouraged to come in and browse. My husband and I enjoy a large variety of art, so this was a treat. We saw paintings of many styles, sculptures, and varied mediums like glass, metal, and wood. Some of the themes we noticed included Italian masters, ocean-inspired pieces, and youth-created art. There was also wearable art, miniature pieces, and lots of contemporary art. The Art & Frames Gallery, at 936 Orange Avenue, had a fascinating exhibit of art created with miniature shapes of people.
One of my favorite galleries was the Emerald C Gallery at 1331 Orange Avenue. They have painting classes, workshops, and live sketching. You can come for an evening, enjoy beverages and finish your painting and take it home with you! In fact, they’ll even bring the class to you (more info on their website). While we were there, we really enjoyed a gallery of youth-created works. Not just any youth, but children from refuge families. Each piece of art included the story of the child who created it. Amazing how difficult times can inspire art!
The sister gallery of Emerald C is the Ruby P Gallery with brightly colored double-red doors! They had a wonderful display of Mexican-themed and wearable art, including leather handbags.
The Galleria, at 1345 Orange Avenue, sold original oil paintings by Italian artists only. Scenes of Venice and Rome reminded me of our own visit to Italy a few years back. It would have been fun to bring home one of these masterpieces to hang on our wall.
There are many more galleries in Coronado; we just didn’t get to them all. There are also lots of home decor stores, that sell very unique and beautiful furniture and art for your home. They are not to be missed if you want a thorough tour of all things art.
Time for an Afternoon Gelato
My daughter knows how much we loved gelato when traveling in Europe, and she found this delectable gelato stop for us. The Nado Gelato Cafe, at 1027 C Avenue, has been voted the “best dessert in town.” I believe it’s true! Look at all the flavors–so hard to choose! This was a wonderful way to cool down and put our feet up for a few minutes on a warm and sunny day in Coronado. (Thanks so much, Heather!) I just learned there’s a Nado Gelato at Pike Place Market in Seattle, too, so the next time I’m in town visiting family there, we’ll go check it out.
If you’ve never experienced true gelato, it has 60% less fat and calories than American ice cream, but it tastes creamier and much more refined to me! What a treat!
This wasn’t scheduled by my daughter, but after having a gelato, we had a little time to kill before joining the Hotel Del Coronado tour, so we sat down near a fountain in a sweet little plaza and just watched people. There was the group of women taking a selfie in front of the Hotel Del Coronado hotel and people waiting for the Coronado trolley, a seagull that wanted to get in on the action, and plenty of window browsers. There were also some cute seating areas that just begged for people to sit and relax.
Guided Tour of Hotel Del Coronado
Docents from the Coronado Historical Association provide a 90-minute historical tour of the Hotel Del Coronado, and they are the only ones allowed to bring tours into the hotel. I am a history buff, for sure, and my daughter knew this would probably be one of the highlights of the day for me. The Queen-Anne styled Hotel Del Coronado hotel opened in 1888 when the island was a sand spit full of coyotes and jackrabbits. It quickly became one of the most popular beach resorts in the United States. A complete tent city grew up around the resort and survived until the late 1930’s.
The history tour we took was just fascinating. We got to go into the hotel, use an original wire-cage elevator, sit in the chair that President Taft used, learn which room is haunted, see the Norfolk Pine that was first lit for Christmas in 1904, and learn all kinds of interesting facts about the construction of the hotel, the celebrities who have visited, and how it has survived 129 years of economic ups and downs.
Some fun facts:
- When the hotel opened in 1888, it cost $3.50 a day for room and two meals in the Crown Room. You had to have an escort and be ‘dressed to the nines’ to enter the luxury restaurant.
- To stay in the tent city, the cost was $4.50 a week. The tent city had its own stores, a post office, salt water plunge pool, dance pavilion, and trolley line.
- They originally planted a grove of orange trees, but they were all eaten by jackrabbits.
- Chinese laborers were brought in to speed up the construction of the hotel, but they had only built railroads, not buildings. They first practiced by building the miniature version of the Hotel now known as the Boathouse.
If you’re interested in a timeline of Coronado history, you can find it here.
Reservations for the tour may be made online or by calling 619-437-8788. The tour only costs $20 per person (a real bargain, in my opinion). All proceeds benefit the Coronado Historical Association. The docent does not get paid for providing the tour but is allowed to accept tips. Our guide was Mary Jane, and she knew so much about the Hotel.
Our day was nearly over, but you can’t go to Coronado and not go to the beach, especially since it’s directly behind the Hotel Del Coronado. We saw Bill Pavlacka, known as The Sand Castle Man, who is often crafting intricate sand castles on Coronado beach. We enjoyed the expansive views of the Pacific Ocean, the Coronado Cays, and Cabrillo in the distance. The sky started to cloud up a bit, so we knew there was rain coming, but it had been a beautiful day. And this was in February!
Really cool and awesome Coronado notes:
Coronado is not actually an island, although everyone calls it one. It is actually a peninsula, and you can drive to it over the Coronado Bridge from San Diego, or you can reach it by driving along a spit on the southern end of the “island” from Imperial Beach.
You can see what the Coronado beach looks like right now if you like! See the view from the Hotel Del Coronado’s webcam here.
Ferry between San Diego and Coronado
There’s actually a passenger ferry you can take from downtown San Diego to Coronado Island. It’s a 15-minute ride across the bay, and you can bring your bicycle along, too. It’s $4.75 one-way, but if you board between 5:40 am & 8:40 am, you qualify as a commuter, and it’s free. At the Coronado Ferry Landing, you can take amazing photos of the San Diego skyline, and there are shops, restaurants, and galleries here, too.
Hope you’ve enjoyed this overview of Coronado. Make sure you go!
Exciting news! GPSmyCity has chosen this article to create a GPS-embedded version you can use to help you navigate everywhere I’ve mentioned. If you purchase it for a small fee, I’ll receive a few cents, which offsets my costs for providing fun articles like this to you!
Looking for another fun day’s worth of nearly-free activities in San Diego? Check out my 10 Reasons to Visit Liberty Station post!