Nestled in the heart of the San Diego Bay, Coronado Island has won the hearts of locals and tourists alike for nearly 100 years. This vibrant community offers a rich history combined with a fun-packed list perfect for family-friendly vacation activities.
If you’re visiting my city, Coronado is well worth a day trip, or even an entire vacation in itself.
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1. Visit a Coronado Beach
Winning national awards for best beach, Coronado’s shoreline takes priority when visiting the island and they are free things to do. The mile and a half stretch of golden beach at Coronado Central Beach actually sparkles thanks to small pieces of mica embedded in the sand. With the protective Point Loma off in the distance, this beach enjoys mild waves perfect for families. This is the beach in front of the Hotel del Coronado.
Silver Strand State Beach in front of Loews Coronado Bay Resort is another popular and gorgeous beach for everyday beachgoing that is 4 miles south of Hotel del Coronado. As the state operates the beach, a $10 parking fee applies. On weekends, kids ages 7–12 can earn Junior Ranger badges and they have other programming like nature walks. You can also RV or tent camp here.
One other Coronado beach highlight to check out is Dog Beach or North Beach, just north of Hotel del Coronado. It’s one of the few off-leash beaches in San Diego. So, you can bring your dog or have a good time watching other dogs play.
2. Tour the Hotel del Coronado
While you’re on the beach, make sure to take time to visit one of the most iconic buildings in all of San Diego County, if not all, of California, the Hotel del Coronado. The living legend’s 130-year history weaves stories of dignitaries, celebrities, and even royalty on the path to becoming a National Historic Landmark. There’s even a very intriguing ghost story laced into the saga, making it one of the haunted hotels in San Diego.
Whether you’re a hotel guest or not, it’s possible to take advantage of cabana, cabanette, and lounge chair rentals at Del Beach (pictured above). Here, you can order food and fun drinks like the Del Margarita to the sand.
We love staycationing at this famous San Diego hotel on the beach. Please read my detailed Hotel Del Coronado guide, which stays up-to-date about their renovation and how it might impact your stay.
Reservations: Book Hotel del Coronado with special perks ($100 spa credit, breakfast for two, upgrade on arrival subject to availability, and more) at no extra cost to you through Virtuoso. Alternatively, the Hilton Honors discount typically saves slightly (though my Virtuoso benefits typically outweigh this discount).
*If on a mobile device, scroll to the footer of Virtuoso.com and click “Full Site” to access online rates and booking. When searching rates, only enter in the number of adults (ages 18 and above) traveling as it may price children incorrectly as adults. Add the number of kids traveling in the notes section during booking I’ll adjust the reservation accordingly.
3. Go Tide Pooling
If it’s low tide, tide pools reveal themselves in front of the Hotel del Coronado. Here, you’ll usually spy sea anemones, hermit crabs, small fish, and more in addition to lots of sand dollars tucked into the sand along the shoreline.
I like these tide pools for exploring with small kids. You don’t have to really climb on rocks to see sea creatures and can stay pretty steady on the sand. And, it’s a free activity.
4. Look Out for or Take a Lesson from The Sandcastle Man
When we stay at Hotel del Coronado, it’s fun to stumble upon creations by The Sandcastle Man. It’s sort of mysterious sometimes. You wake up, and out of nowhere, there’s a big new sand sculpture to marvel at.
He also gives lessons. What a fun way to spend time on one of America’s prettiest beaches.
5. Visit a Sunken Ship
The SS Monte Carlo, a ship famous for gambling and prostitution, was anchored off Coronado’s coast. During a storm in 1937, the anchor lost hold, and the boat drifted to shore. Because both activities were illegal onshore, no one claimed ownership of the boat.
During very, very low tides, the outline of the boat becomes visible in the sand. Its location is about a quarter-mile south of the Hotel del Coronado. This is a rare sighting, but it’s an exciting one if you can time a visit accordingly.
6. Take a Walking Tour of Coronado Island
The famous Hotel del Coronado isn’t the only structure worth seeing. In fact, Coronado has a rich architectural history that has resulted in an eclectic display of different style homes throughout the island. From decedent Spanish styled casas to Mediterranean villas to the 100-year-old Sacred Heart Church designed by Irving Gill, it’s fun to take a walk (or a bike ride) through some residential areas, too.
The Coronado Historical Association hosts Coronado Heritage Walks, diving into both the history of the island and the famous building and residents.
7. Give in to Your Sweet Tooth
Going on vacation always gives you a perfect excuse to give in to your sweet tooth, and Coronado gives you a decadent list of different sweets to relish. From eating ice cream at the beloved Moo Time Creamery to biting into something savory at Coronado Cupcakery at the Ferry Landing to exploring the pastries of Europe at Tartine, no matter your indulgence, you’ll find it on the island.
8. Go Boating on the Bay
It’s not only land activities that win Coronado Island constant fame. Their watersports lineup will leave any sailor or water enthusiast completely satisfied. You can walk to Seaforth Boat Rentals from Hotel del Coronado, and that’s who they recommend for boating and other bay water sports.
You can rent kayaks and stand-up paddleboards but also go motorized with a jet ski or Waverunner. They also offer a variety of powerboats and sailboats. But if a power yacht is more your speed, you can rent one of these, too. During normal times, Seaforth also offers tours.
This vibrant line up appeals to everyone from those answering the need for speed to the casual water goers looking for a relaxing day out. I have a little bit of a discount on their kayak and SUP rentals, as well as their Waverunner tours.
9. Learn Surfing or Stand Up Paddleboarding
Coronado’s gentle waves and bay access provides a perfect launching point to learn either sport.
You might be surprised by how you can get up on a wave in one surfing lesson, thanks to excellent instruction and foam boards. Coronado Surfing Academy can help you “hang ten” before you know it. It’s also one of the most iconic Southern Californian sports to partake in and great fun for kids who don’t have waves to surf at home.
Should you be looking for a sport that is a little easier to master, consider tackling stand up paddleboarding (SUP). Even beginners can be exploring the bay on their first day out. SUP Coronado can help you get squared away and out on the water. You can even take a tour with them.
(While sightings are rare, the San Diego Bay is home to a group of sea turtles. A SUP board gives you the perfect vantage point to keep an eye out for these majestic creatures in the wild. The same goes for dolphins and sea lions. Though if you’d like to see the latter from land, check out my guide to La Jolla’s sea lions.)
10. Bike or Surrey Around the Island
Once you’ve seen the island from the water, it’s time to set out exploring from dry land. Enjoying the quintessential southern California town ambiance, few modes of transportation compare to the classic beach cruiser.
The island’s slow pace combined with the flat terrain makes Coronado one of the most bike-friendly areas in the region. Biking versus driving is actually encouraged in Coronado.
You can bike along the coast south to the Silver Strand bike path or meander to all the various parks on the island. Wheel Fun Rentals can help you and your family get set up on various wheel styles. They also offer various surrey bikes that sit up to six people (four people can pedal) when you’d like to tour as a family. (They also usually do a fun holiday lights tour by surrey in the winter.)
TEMPORARY LOCATIONWheel Fun Rentals is normally located at Hotel del Coronado. Due to the hotel’s renovation, they’ve moved just a few blocks north of the hotel.
11. Rent a Golf Cart
Between bikes, car services like Uber and the ferry, it’s possible to go carless in Coronado. Aside from cycling, another best way to explore Coronado is by golf cart.
You can rent one from 2 hours up to or 30 days (or longer) through Coronado Golf Cart Rentals. These golf carts seat from two to eight people.
12. Up Your Golf Game
No matter the time of year, the green is always open. This gives snowbird golfers a big advantage when wanting to keep their golf game fresh over the winter season.
The Coronado Golf Course combines an immaculate course with a challenging design and slips in stunning views of the bay and occasional passing Navy ships for an epic game of golf.
13. Visit Spreckels Park
As crazy as it may sound now, you might find a day that you’re looking for a small reprieve from the beach. Luckily, there’s the charming Spreckles Park located right in the center of the island. This park is perfect for an afternoon out with a big play area for children and large grass areas for picnics. It’s free to visit Coronado parks.
14. Stroll Along Orange Avenue
Filled to the brim with boutique shops, mouthwatering eateries, and one-of-a-kind jewelry shops, strolling along Orange Avenue will showcase the region’s best and most unique shops.
Coronado prides itself on celebrating the small business owner and promoting distinct shops you can’t find elsewhere. While there are a few chains present, pretty much every store you encounter is a one-of-a-kind. That goes for eateries as well.
15. Take in a Show at Lamb’s Players Theatre
Celebrating many decades of show biz, Lamb’s Players Theatre entertains playgoers year-round. Through their plays, they create narratives that celebrate communities’ traditions, question contemporary culture, commend diversity, and more.
As one of Southern California’s leading non-profit performing arts organizations, they work with students throughout the county in addition to their performance lineup.
16. Enjoy the Summer Concert Series
Each summer, an entire series of musical ensembles engulfs Spreckels Park as bands present to an adoring audience every Sunday throughout the summer. Starting in May and wrapping up in September, Coronado’s Free Summer Concert Series is one of the island’s most cherished events. (We look forward to its return in 2021 after being canceled in 2020.)
17. Explore Art in the Park
Showcasing more than 50 artists’ creative brilliance, Coronado’s Art in the Park is a true gem of island life. This year-round event takes over Spreckels Park in Coronado Village the first and third Sunday of every month.
From enjoying the delightful display of stained glass to admiring vibrant oil paintings to appreciating the fine details of an etching, this event highlights incredible talent in nearly every art field.
18. Enjoy a Beach Bonfire
After a lovely day soaking up the sun rays at the beach, you might not be ready to give in to the night quite yet. Keep the festivities alive with a beach bonfire. Coronado has several fire pits free to the public that are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Add in a few marshmallows, chocolate, and graham crackers to add a tasty s’more element to your evening.
However, if you don’t want to risk the fire pits being taken, you can reserve one of Hotel del Coronado’s Daily Roasts. They’ll set up a private fire pit for up to 8 people, complete with s’mores, but you can add additional menu items and even cocktails.
19. Savor Flavors at the Tuesday Farmers Market
When it comes to fresh and bursting with flavor, few eateries can compare to the Coronado Farmers Market’s freshness. This year-round festivity brings baskets upon baskets of fresh produce, local wares, and scrumptious bites to Ferry’s Landing.
As one of the county’s longest-standing markets, this Tuesday marketplace pulls produce from some of the 6,000 farms in the region. Make sure to ask for certified organic growers.
20. Dive into History
Curious about the series of events that led Coronado to become the cherished island it is? From its beginnings under the Spanish flag to the experiments growing barley to its thriving whaling industry to growing into a beloved American military town, Coronado’s rich history can keep you captivated for an entire afternoon at the Coronado Historical Association and Coronado Museum.
21. Enjoy the Coronado Ferry Ride
Whether you are looking for the most scenic transportation to Coronado or taking the afternoon to explore San Diego’s Gaslamp District, you can’t beat the Coronado Ferry.
This short twenty-minute ride showcases the San Diego skyline’s beauty and provides breathtaking views of the sweeping Coronado Bridge. For a real treat, plan your journey near sunset.
22. Coronado Ferry Landing
Even if you don’t plan to take the Coronado Ferry, there are definitely reasons to head over to Coronado Ferry Landing if you’re in Coronado. It’s a fun marketplace with shops, restaurants, activities, spectacular downtown skyline views, and even a little beach.
This is where Coronado Cupcakery is located. It’s hard for me to isolate one place to eat because while there aren’t many restaurants here, they’re all good. Go to Village Pizzeria if you’re craving pizza. I think the Pacific Rim menu at Peohe’s, though, meshes with the water views.
23. Tidelands Park
Tidelands Park is an excellent free place to relax on Coronado’s bayside, but also to capture a picturesque photo of the Coronado Bridge. If you cross the bridge from Downtown to Coronado, it’s just on the right side near Coronado Island Marriott.
This is a great place for kids with its playground areas and a small beach where you can jump in the bay if you like. It’s actually the biggest park area along the San Diego Bay.
24. The Silver Strand Nature’s Bridge to Discovery
If you would like to get some exercise amid panoramic views from a coastal trail, head over to the Silver Strand Nature’s Bridge to Discovery. It starts south of the Naval Amphibious Base and runs to Coronado Cays on the bayside.
There are five discovery points: The Solstice Clock, Wind and Dune Retreat, Ee Tl Grass Deck, California Least Tern Interpretive Panels, and the Wing Deck. If you look closely, you may see other sandcastles and artwork in between. This walk highlights the fragile ecology of this area.
25. Hop on the Old Town Trolley
Again, the question of do I need a rental car in San Diego can be partially addressed by the Old Town Trolley. The hop-on, hop-off trolley has a stop near Hotel del Coronado, in front of Mc P’s Irish Pub.
You can reach San Diego Zoo, Old Town San Diego, Little Italy, and some spots in Downtown with a trolley pass. It’s one of the best San Diego sightseeing tours.
Have you ever explored Coronado? Let me know what your favorite activities were or if I missed any!