Just over the bridge from San Diego, Coronado is a small, quaint, tree-lined retreat characterized by beautiful, rarely crowded white sand beaches, a rich, romantic history and laid-back, small town atmosphere. 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 upon arrival for a recent stay at the lovely Glorietta Bay Inn, we discovered that Coronado truly is a “car-optional” environment and were able to easily navigate the relatively flat paths on foot and by bicycle.
We chose the Glorietta Bay Inn (www.gloriettabayinn.com), a beautiful boutique hotel and historic landmark famous for its grandeur architecture, as “home base” during a recent weekend stay. The former private residence of sugar baron John D. Spreckels, the hotel (which features 11 historic mansion rooms in the main original building circa 1908 and 89 contemporary rooms and suites in structures added to the property in later years) is situated across the street from Coronado Beach and a short walking distance from an array of retail shops and restaurants.
Defined by an artful blend of Old World charm and contemporary southern California comfort, the Inn features 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.
Each of the historic mansion rooms are uniquely styled: the Sugar Baron Room, originally the private bedroom of Mrs. Spreckels, features king-bedded room with a large balcony and a spectacular view of Glorietta Bay; the Spreckels Suite 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 a complimentary continental breakfast, daily afternoon refreshments and the complimentary use of beach chairs, towels, and toys for Coronado Beach.
The best way to learn Coronado Beach is via the Coronado Walking Tour (619-435-5993). 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, I learned everything I now know about the Spreckels Mansion and Coronado Island from our tour guide and Coronado Island resident Nancy Cobb, who provided a thorough and entertaining accounting of the island’s history and famous (and infamous) highlights.
Sugar Baron John Dietrich Spreckels did more than any other individual in San Diego’s history to help the city prosper. His visionary leadership put the port city on the map of national and international commerce. Convinced by local civic boosters that San Diego was ideally located for commerce, Spreckels at the age of 34, began investing in the community. He bought the utility company, street car system, water company and established the San Diego & Arizona Eastern railroad, which opened San Diego to the east.
Spreckels dedicated much of his energy to building San Diego, but his love was Coronado Island. As a part of his many acquisitions, Spreckels invested $500,000 in the Coronado Beach Company which had developed The Hotel del Coronado, and by 1890 he held controlling interest in the hotel. Within the next decade he owned all but five parcels of Coronado Island and North Island. Spreckels gave the city its library, several parks and its largest commercial building - the Spreckels Building on Orange Avenue.
It was on Coronado Island that Spreckels built his dream home on five acres of land overlooking Glorietta Bay across from the Hotel del Coronado. In 1906, Spreckels, 53, contracted Architect Harrison Albright to design and build the Mansion. The building, designed with the simple, classic lines of Italian Renaissance, was complete in 1908 with six bedrooms, three baths, a parlor, dining room and library at the cost of $35,000. 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.
Made famous by Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe in “Some Like it Hot”, the Hotel del Coronado was built by hand (literally … with 300 laborers from China) in the early 1900s in the Queen Anne Revival style. With whimsical turrets and asymmetrical design, “The Del” has evolved into a world-class resort. If you enjoy history, the lower level of the hotel offers a historic overview of the creation of the hotel with its genesis as a tent city with 1,000 tents along the Coronado Strand.
As our family discovered, it doesn’t take much planning to have a perfect day in Coronado.
We rented bicycles from PeDels at the Hotel Del Coronado and started off along Coronado Beach - a picturesque stretch of sand and surf that stretches for over a mile along Ocean Boulevard in front of historic and glamorous houses. Voted in the top 10 beaches in the USA by the Travel Channel, this long and wide beach is great for walks, runs, beach volleyball or sandcastle building. If you bring along a furry friend, there is a leash-free dog zone at the far end of the beach where pups chase each other in the waves.
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.
We spent the better part of an 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.)After returning the bikes, we strolled Orange Avenue, a beautiful commercial boulevard that curves back to the Glorietta Bay Inn, and stopped in Bay Books where staff members leave heartfelt handwritten recommendations under their favorite reads and stumbled upon MooTime Creamery - where locals and tourists alike were lined up for what they all (accurately) claimed was “the best handcrafted ice cream and hand-rolled cones” in town.
We kept the “enjoy the outdoors” theme going through the end of the day by dining at the refined, yet casual Sheerwater restaurant in the Hotel del Coronado (619-522-8490). We were able to watch the sun set while relaxing on the umbrella-dotted patio overlooking a spectacular ocean view. The menu, which showcases California coastal cuisine, offers something for every palate - from fresh local seafood and delicious smoked meats with house made barbecue sauces and slaws to sandwiches, salads and a special kids menu. The sweet pea and Feta salad is not a dish you’ll find on many menus and if you’re a vegetarian or gluten-free, you’re in for a real treat with this salad that arrives with a sweet pea and cashew hummus, shaved heirloom carrots, radish, asparagus, fresh green peas, petite New Zealand spinach and Valbreso feta. Popular entrees include the 12 oz. New York Strip (fire-grilled with the eatery’s signature spiced smoked salt and cracked pepper rub, finished with a red wine demi and accompanied by roasted wild mushrooms and shallots) and the peppercorn and coriander crusted Ahi Tuna with apple fennel slaw.