Just across the big blue bay from Southern California’s most laid back city, Coronado Island is San Diego’s best kept secret. Fun for family outings, or a mid-week escape from busy Los Angeles or Orange Counties, the island boasts a rich, romantic history and charming small town atmosphere that I’m certain proves to be a particularly welcome respite for those looking for a relaxing retreat from their work-a-day worlds. Such was the case for my husband and I on a recent weekend getaway, but that isn’t to imply there is any shortage of activities. We brought the kids along and discovered that there is truly something for everyone, at every speed.
Although locals refer to it as “the island,” Coronado is really a peninsula connected to the mainland by a finger of land called the Silver Strand. With wide leafy streets lined with Victorian homes and Southern California beach bungalows, 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 Pacific Ocean). Once we parked the car at our “home base” upon arrival at the ideally situated and idyllic Glorietta Bay Inn (more on that in a minute), we literally left it in the lot the entire stay and tooled around town on foot or on two wheels.
Our weekend away was defined by unparalleled accommodation, scenic splendor, family bonding and even a bit of history. A visit to the Coronado Museum offers a glimpse into the life on the island dating back to the 1880s. For an active afternoon endeavor, there are plenty of places to rent a kayak or paddleboard to cruise under the bay bridge. For our part, we opted to take a two-wheeled tour to explore the environs at a leisurely pace.
We rented bicycles from Wheel Fun Rentals (wheelfunrentals.com) and started off along Coronado Beach before spending the better part of the afternoon tooling around town, along the Bayshore Bikeway, past Glorietta Bay and the Coronado Golf Course and under the Coronado Bridge (if you continue following the well-marked bike path, you’ll end up at the Coronado Ferry Landing, where a ten-minute ride would bring you to downtown San Diego.) Fans of author L. Frank Baum’s iconic classic “The Wizard of Oz” will enjoy pedaling past the quaint yellow Cape Cod-style home (located right across from Star Park) that he rented during his stays and the place where he penned three of the books in the Oz series.
When we travel with the kids, we always try to incorporate an activity or educational opportunity to learn something “remarkable” or interesting about each locale. Sometimes we happen to stumble upon a unique aspect of the area and other times, it’s an endeavor best left in the hands of the professionals - in this case, local knowledge in the form of Nancy Cobb, Coronado Island resident and owner of the Coronado Walking Tour (coronadowalkingtour.com). The 90-minute guided stroll starts in the Music Room of the The Glorietta Bay Inn and offers walk-bys of castles and cottages, along with a legendary tale or two about movie stars who’ve spent time basking and relaxing on the eternally sunny Coronado Island. I have to say, our family learned everything we now know about the Spreckels Mansion and Coronado Island from Nancy, who provided a thorough and entertaining accounting of the island’s history and famous (and infamous) highlights.
If all you want to do is sit back and let someone else play tour guide, the Old Town Trolley is just the fit. Looking for an even more tranquil experience? Sit back and take in the surf, sand and spectacular sunsets at any of Coronado’s five gorgeous, rarely crowded white sand beaches. At dusk both days during our weekend stay, my husband and I strolled the picturesque stretch of sand and surf that meanders for over a mile along Ocean Boulevard in front of historic and glamorous houses. Voted among the top 10 beaches in the USA by the Travel Channel, this long and wide coastline is great for walks, runs, beach volleyball or sandcastle building. If you’re traveling with a furry friend, there’s even a leash-free dog zone at the far end of the beach where pups can frolic in the waves.
Situated across the street from Coronado Beach, the Glorietta Bay Inn (gloriettabayinn.com) leans into the legendary reputation of island relaxation.
Originally built as the private residence of sugar baron John D. Spreckels, this beautiful boutique hotel features 11 mansion rooms (in the original building circa 1908) and 89 contemporary rooms and suites added in later years. Easy strolling distance from an array restaurants and retail shops, this landmark attraction famous for its grandeur architecture combines Old World charm with incredible California comfort. The Inn showcases a scenic outdoor verandah, a storied music room complete with a baby grand piano and a sun-warmed lobby that once served as the grand foyer to Spreckels’ home.
The structure was originally designed with the simple, classic lines of Italian Renaissance to showcase its six bedrooms, three baths, a parlor, dining room and library. At that time, Spreckels’ Mansion featured a brass cage elevator, a marble staircase with leather-padded handrails, skylights, marble floors and some of the Island’s most spectacular gardens. The home was built with reinforced steel and concrete, an earthquake precaution Spreckels insisted upon after living through the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
In 1913, Spreckels, a dedicated musician and pipe organist, added a spectacular 800-square-foot Music Room with an enormous 41-rank Aeolian Pipe Organ. The horseshoe-shaped Music Room, which can be enjoyed today with its player piano and as the starting point of the aforementioned historic tour of Coronado, boasts nine French doors which lead out to the breakfast patio overlooking Glorietta Bay and the Hotel del Coronado.
Each of the historic mansion rooms are uniquely styled: the Sugar Baron Room, originally the private bedroom of Mrs. Spreckels, features a king-bedded room with a large balcony and a spectacular view of Glorietta Bay; the Spreckels Suite (once the private bedroom of John D. Spreckels), this beautiful room has a living room area with a convenient kitchenette, and a separate bedroom with a king size bed. French doors off the living room open up to a spacious balcony with an equally gorgeous view of Glorietta Bay. Amenities for all accommodations include access to a heated pool, complimentary continental breakfast and daily afternoon refreshments. And bonus! Glorietta Bay Inn offers its guests complimentary beach chairs, towels, and toys - so there’s no excuse not to stake out your own spot to soak up the sun. And with year round Vitamin D, you’ll never run out of reasons to visit.