Like much of the American Southwest, the story of the landscape begins with the first exploration by the Native Americans, and the eventual colonization of the Spanish. For Coronado, this chapter of the story began in the seventeenth century with the explorer Sebastian Vizcaino, who charted the island for Spain and named it and the surrounding islands Las Yslas Coronadas. It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that Europeans really started to use the area, and it wasn’t until after the independence of Mexico that anyone other than whalers took advantage of the beauty and natural resources of Coronado. However, for several decades the island was bought and sold on more than one occasion, apparently by people who were somewhat short-sighted, until the island ended up in the hands of E.S. Babcock Jr., H.L. Story, and J. Gruendike in 1885. These three visionaries organized the Coronado Beach Company, and began to gather investors and buyers in order to develop a resort town between San Diego and the open ocean. In 1888, the historic Hotel del Coronado was opened, and between 1900 to 1939 Coronado became one of the major tourist draws in the area. People flocked to Tent City at the base of the Del to swim and partake in the fair-like atmosphere of the area. Movies were made there, and Hollywood stars graced the halls of the Del. After 1939, the fickle demands of tourism shifted, but the value and beauty of this area ultimately continued to draw visitors to the island, and helped maintain some of San Diego’s unique landmarks. (Source).
As with its history, the atmosphere of Coronado is unique, even for the generally sublime nature of San Diego and the warm, ocean environment of Southern California. The massive Coronado bridge, which arches over San Diego’s bay waters, serves as a portal to this beautiful place in the mind of the imaginative. Drivers need to keep their eyes on the road here, as California traffic isn’t forgiving, but for passengers the bridge can inspire a feeling of flying, and at the very least, offers views of San Diego and Coronado that are impossible to capture from the ground. Once across the water, the roads get smaller and I always immediately get the feeling of a small town. The houses here are manicured, and varied, but have a standard of beauty that suggests the wealth of anyone who can afford property on the island. The bridge dumps its passengers into the neighborhoods, which most people navigate through to the main street of Orange Avenue. Anyone spending a day or more in Coronado would be missing out if they didn’t spend some time strolling the lesser traveled streets, however, as the houses themselves are lovely, but there are also a couple small churches tucked away in the more residential areas that merit a visit.
Orange Avenue is where most visitors spend their time, when not basking on the beach or exploring the Del Coronado. Here, shops and restaurants line the street and display a variety of historical and modern architectural types. The mix of buildings is appealing in themselves, and while the wares of most of the shops are fairly tourist-oriented, the restaurants are tempting. Anyone who enjoys a sweet crepe should visit Fabrison’s French Creperie Café. I have never had a disappointing crepe here, but they are only open in the morning and afternoon, so be sure to drop by before they close up. For dinner, seafood lovers should check out Brigantine’s Seafood, and Village Pizzeria has tasty pizza and a casual atmosphere; they will also deliver to your hotel room. MooTime Creamery.
Of course, the crown jewel of Coronado is the Del Coronado Hotel or the Hotel Del. I personally haven’t stayed there, but just visiting and taking advantage of the beach in front of the hotel has inspired my appreciation for this place. The design of the hotel was drawn up a few years after the Coronado Beach Company was founded in 1886, and building began a year later. By 1888, the Hotel Del opened its doors to the public, was the center of the bustling tourist town of Coronado, and claimed the title of being the largest resort in the world at that time. Prominent Hollywood and government figures passed through the halls of the Hotel Del, and even the casual visitor today would be hard pressed to miss the hotel’s proud display of photos of the Del’s historic heyday. By World War II, the hotel was no longer sought after
by Hollywood stars, and by the 1960s the buildings were aging, neglected, and slated for demolishment. Luckily, however, ideas of destroying the old hotel gave way to a desire to see it restored to its historical grandeur when M.L. Lawrence invested heavily in expanding the Hotel Del and adding modern resort amenities to the property. As for myself, I enjoyed taking in the hotel’s unique architecture and historical interior design. Downstairs there are a variety of expensive shops, but also an interesting display of historic photos and plaques that tell the story of the Hotel Del Coronado. I have heard that getting tea at the Hotel is something of a visitor must, but I have never had the opportunity myself. Besides exploring the public areas of the hotel, I have spent most of my time there on the beaches outside, which are cared for daily and seemed to be fairly quiet in terms of crowds.
And if you have any questions about my experience in Coronado or my travels feel free to leave me a comment. 🙂
My next update will be on February 1st, and I will be writing about Coronado’s neighbor, San Diego.