Family · Travel

Day Trip to Coronado Island

“It might be a Tuesday, but it is August. Parking at each of these places is going to be tricky, at best,” said the woman behind the desk at the Coronado Visitor Center.

The seasoned attendant pulled out a map for us and began highlighting a route in yellow marker across the island’s main corridor, starting at downtown Orange Avenue. She had just given us a short history on the area’s settlement and growth, its enormous bridge that crosses the San Diego bay, and even a short lesson on the Naval Base, for nothing more than the price of our undivided attention. She told us to look for the impressive aircraft carriers that were docked on the other side of the island, the USS Ronald Reagan among them.

“There wasn’t even a bridge connecting San Diego and the island when I first lived here fifty years ago,” she told us. “Just the ferries.” My kids’ mouths gaped open, trying to guess her age inside their heads. She smiled politely.

“So, honey, the shuttle will take you from any of these stops here, down to see the Hotel Del and City Hall, over to the Ferry Landing, and back. Leave your car parked anywhere along here.” She pointed to some side streets on the map. “That way, you can sit back and relax.”

I glanced at my mother, (who was visiting for several weeks from Pennsylvania), my eleven-year-old daughter, and my eight-year-old son, to see if the Coronado Island shuttle sounded like a good plan to them.

“Sure. Let’s do it,” my mom said. The kids nodded.

Coronado Island, the crown jewel of California as its visitors guide boasts, consists of some of the best beaches, views, shopping, restaurants, people watching, and weather in southern California. It’s a relatively short drive from most of San Diego’s tourist attractions, so it’s a popular destination for out-of-towners to hang their hats. But it still feels like just enough of a well-kept secret.

We wanted to take in as many of the highlights as we could and spend an hour or two at the beach. Then, we’d grab dinner from one of the many restaurants, avoiding rush hour on the freeways, and leave around 6 or 7pm.

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I’d already driven us along Ocean Boulevard, where we’d spotted some action at the leash-free Dog Beach. We’d ogled at the magnificent historic homes, stared at the stunning blue water, and ambled down Orange Avenue, with its shops, eateries, galleries, and movie house, among other things. The rest of what we wanted to see would be easily available by way of said public transportation.

Plus, gazing at the scenery sounded like a treat compared to keeping my eyes on the road or fighting for parking spaces. I did want to sit back and relax.

Free shuttle it is!” I said. “Let’s go.”

Forty minutes later, as the shuttle bus pulled up against the sidewalk and parked next to a nondescript high rise building too far from anything we wanted to see or do, my enthusiasm waned.

“We take a twenty minute layover here everyday to stay on schedule, folks” the bus driver explained apologetically to a handful of sour-faced tourists still left on the bus, who hadn’t read the fine print, including ourselves. “It’s marked on the schedule.”

It was still relatively early. But already the day was becoming a game of Fortunately, Unfortunately.

We hadn’t read the schedule – just the map. We’d pretty much just hopped on the bus at the first stop we saw.

There was nothing else to do. So we sat and waited. They relaxed, while I fumed.

Fortunately, we’d just strolled through the Hotel Del Coronado anyway, before catching the next shuttle that we were now sitting on. We’d walked through its promenade of shops and restaurants, down to the boardwalk and sand, and breathed in the clean and salty ocean air. We’d marveled at its historic beauty and snapped plenty of pictures. So fortunately a rest, even an unplanned one, wasn’t totally unwelcome.

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Twenty more minutes and several rounds of Twenty Questions later, the wait was over. The bus driver sat back down in his seat. The kids’ moods were surprisingly unaffected by the layover, as mine had been. I suspected it was due to their grandmother’s promise of ice cream cones if they behaved well.

Personally, I’d been having a hard time heeding my mother’s patient, optimistic advice just to chill out. Instead, I mulled over my lack of control of the situation. I should’ve just driven the car! If I had, we wouldn’t be sitting here wasting all this time!

At the very least, I could’ve read the schedule more closely. Oh well, live and learn.

Fortunately, the bus’ engine rumbled once more. I rolled my eyes and mustered a smile. Finally…

Next stop was the Ferry Landing. The Landing, containing galleries, shops, and restaurants, is part of the greater region called the Coronado Bayside. It includes, among other accommodations, the well-known Coronado Island Marriott Resort and Spa, and the Loews Coronado Bay Resort, both with spacious, well-manicured grounds, and both great for families.

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The Bayside also contains some fabulous parks. Centennial Park, with its amazing views of the San Diego city skyline, is only a short walk from the Ferry Landing.

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Another outdoor and free attraction, Tidelands Park, is the largest of Coronado’s parks, and houses sports fields, roller blade and walking paths, picnic tables, and a jungle gym. It even has a skate park for families whose kids never leave their skateboards at home. (Remember, this is California. It happens.)

From our view at the Ferry Landing pier, we watched some kayakers making the most of the day.

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The Ferry Landing is the perfect place to start a bicycle ride around the island and offers a few bicycle rental shops. I’d bicycled this island several times in my single years, before children entered my life. I promised myself I’d bring my husband and kids back to do the six-mile route when the kids were just a bit older. It was still my favorite way to see the island. However, while a good deal of the bicycle path runs along the boardwalk, far from motorist traffic, there are too many portions of it that run street-side for my liking. With my eight-year-old in mind, I’d decided a few months back to stick to sidewalks and quiet bicycle paths for the next few years.

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It was here at the Ferry Landing that we planned to take our well-deserved ice cream break. (We’d packed light lunches and devoured them long ago.) My mother was determined to try Coronado’s own MooTime Creamery, famous on the island for premium ice cream deliciousness. She loves anything local that you can’t find anywhere else. We were all in agreement.

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Unfortunately, both of MooTimes’ locations were on the opposite side of the island, (one of which we had just seen at the Hotel Del about an hour before, and the other on Orange Avenue, no less) and we were hungry now. We weren’t about to get back on the shuttle and ride all the way over there again on empty stomachs when there was plenty to eat right where we were.

Fortunately, the Cold Stone at the Ferry Landing did not disappoint.

It was about 2pm and my son, who’s been going through an American Ninja Warrior phase, was tired of walking and viewing and “oohing” and “awing”. He needed to climb and jump and grab a set of monkey bars if this day were going to turn out all right for him.

“Can we go to that playground we saw from the bus, Mom?” he asked.

“Sure, as soon as we get back to the car.” (I was ready to get back in the driver’s seat again.)

Spreckels Park filled the bill. With numerous shade trees and easy, free street parking right in the middle of town, the park’s multiple play sets were exactly what we were looking for.

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After that, the kids still wanted to go to the beach. (Had the sugar in the ice cream not worn off yet? Where do they get their energy?) My mother and I would’ve gladly taken a nap by that time, and called it a day. But we’d made the effort to pack the boogie boards, the beach umbrella (the mallet to hammer it down into the sand), two beach chairs, four towels, our swim suits, more snacks, four water bottles, the sun block, (and the kitchen sink).

So we decided to rustle up a second wind and rocket on over to the sand. My mom was visiting from western Pennsylvania after all. The beach is a long drive from there. Of course I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to let her and the kids enjoy the ocean.

Fortunately, as it turned out, 3:30pm was the perfect time to start a day at the beach.

“There are so many empty parking spots!” I exclaimed in shock. We’d chosen a beach not far from the Hotel Del that was close but usually crowded.

That was all it took to bring back my excitement. Most beach-goers were finishing their day of play by this time. What luck, since we were just starting ours!

A very short walk from the parking lot and there it was – the sand and surf. Beautiful.

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The kids were in their glory riding the waves. The beach here stays shallow for a long distance out into the water, and the waves break gently, so it was perfect for my kids.

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I had to shoo away the sea gulls more than once for my mother, as she sat next to me under our umbrella. She didn’t care for their brazen forwardness as they looked for bits and pieces of food to eat.

Later on, after a casual dinner of fish tacos and guacamole, we settled into our seat belts and began the hour-drive home.

On the drive back over the Coronado Bay Bridge, as we all took in the gorgeous scenery, I sighed my usual note of appreciation for this world of blue skies and waters and mild temperatures. Ohhhhhh, San Diego.

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