Nestled in the heart of San Diego Bay, Coronado Island has won the hearts of locals and tourists for over 100 years. This vibrant community offers a rich history and a fun-packed list perfect for family-friendly vacation activities.
If you’re visiting my city, Coronado Island is well worth a day trip or even an entire vacation. We talk about it the most with people planning San Diego vacations, partially because they’re interested in Hotel del Coronado and because it’s a charming town with many fun activities.
Every guest we book into the hotel (we are the top referrer) receives a departure survey where we ask what things to do on Coronado Island outside of the hotel they liked best. This list is compiled based on their feedback and my extensive time spent exploring and staycationing in the area.
You can save on tickets, tours, and hotels through my affiliations. If you make purchases through some links in this post, I may be compensated. Our editorial guidelines.
1. Visit a Coronado Beach
The pristine white sands of Coronado have seen the city win national awards for best beach, and Coronado’s shoreline should be a priority when visiting the island. The mile-and-a-half stretch of beach at Coronado Central Beach actually sparkles thanks to small pieces of mica embedded in the sand. Overlooked by Point Loma in the distance, this beach enjoys mild waves that are perfect for families and a bit of boogie boarding. This part of the beach is 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 swimming and sunbathing, and it’s 4 miles south of Hotel del Coronado. As the state operates the beach, a parking fee applies. They occasionally have some fun programming, like nature walks. You can also park your RV or put up a tent camp here.
Another 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 dog beaches in San Diego, so you can either bring your own dog or have a fun time simply watching other dogs play.
2. Tour the Historic Hotel del Coronado (or Stay There)
The pride of Coronado is also one of the most iconic buildings in San Diego County, the Hotel del Coronado. The history of this legendary 135-year-old hotel weaves stories of dignitaries, celebrities, and even royalty into its fascinating story — all of which led to its being designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1977. There’s even an 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 umbrella and lounge chair rentals at Del Beach (pictured above). Here, you can order food and cocktails to the sand. And, you can book one of the tours offered by the hotel or stop into its Ice House Museum to learn more about the property.
If you stay overnight, remember you have access to Virtuoso amenities at no extra cost to you through us. At the main resort, they look like this:
- Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
- Daily Breakfast for up to two guests per bedroom at Sheerwater Restaurant
- $100 USD Food & Beverage credit to be utilized during stay (not combinable, not valid on room rate, no cash value if not redeemed in full)
- Early Check-In / Late Check-Out, subject to availability
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
Sign in or create a free Virtuoso account to see the discounted rate! When booking on Virtuoso.com use the number of adults traveling to get the correct rates. Kids may otherwise be priced as adults. We will add them after we follow up to collect your arrival details. If you see multiple rates for the same room type, choose the lowest rate. Check the status of ocean swimming in front of Coronado Lifeguard Tower as it changes. This is the testing station in front of Hotel del Coronado.
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 thing to do on Coronado Island that all ages love.
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 boat’s outline 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 styles of homes throughout the island. From decadent 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 docent-led tours while Coronado Heritage Walks dive into both the history of the island and the famous buildings and residents. The Heritage Walk also includes admission to the Coronado Museum of History & Art.
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 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 boat or water enthusiast completely satisfied. You can walk to Seaforth Boat Rentals, where you can rent kayaks and stand-up paddleboards and 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, but they also have WaveRunner and other tours.
9. Rent a Gondola
For the ultimate relaxing way to enjoy stunning views of Coronado, you can book a personal cruise on a Venetian-style gondola. The Gondola Company offers Gondola cruises throughout day, around sunset, and even after dark.
Prices are for two people, but you can add up to four more for an extra charge. Your driver will weave through the canals and waterways of the Coronado Cays, and if you’re in a romantic mood, you can even hire a professional mandolin player for your boat as an upgrade.
10. Learn Surfing or Stand Up Paddleboarding
Coronado’s gentle waves and bay access provide 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 explore 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.)
11. Bike or Surrey Around the Island
Once you’ve seen the island from the water, it’s time to explore 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.) They rent bikes a street away from the Hotel del Coronado.
12. 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 30 days (or longer) through Coronado Golf Cart Rentals. These golf carts seat from two to eight people.
13. 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.
14. Do Beach Yoga
The Hotel del Coronado offers yoga on the beach, both in the mornings and around sunset. So if you’re looking for a great way to welcome the day or wind down with waves lapping behind you, check out The Del’s beach yoga schedule.
The yoga sessions are complimentary for hotel guests and $25 for non-guests.
15. Discover the Wizard of Oz’s Coronado History
If you’re a Wizard of Oz fan, you may be surprised to know that the book the legendary film was based on was written in Coronado. The author Frank L. Baum rented a quaint yellow cottage in Coronado (1101 Star Park Circle) while penning the three book series: Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz, The Emerald City of Oz, and The Road to Oz. And rumor has it you can glimpse the Wicked Witch’s face peeping out of one of the side windows.
Another fun fact about the Coronado connection was that the Hotel del Coronado, with its fairy-tale exterior, was said to be Baum’s inspiration for the Emerald City. He even designed the four crown-shaped chandeliers in the Grand Crown Room.
16. Explore Coronado Public Library
This magnificent-looking library hosts many music events throughout the year and contains beautiful works of art in addition to its massive book collection, including a huge glass exhibit of all the Wizard of Oz characters.
It’s a great place to peruse (and cool down) on a hot summer’s day while soaking up history, art, and literature.
17. 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 Spreckels 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.
18. Have a Picnic at Centennial Park
This beautiful expanse of pristine lawns at the end of Orange Avenue overlooks the bay and the city. It’s a great place to plonk down a blanket and enjoy a picnic in the sun while enjoying great views. It’s also right by the Coronado Ferry Landing and the surrounding eateries, shops, and art galleries.
The park is also the perfect spot to admire the San Diego skyline after sunset. My daughter and her friends went here last year to take prom pictures because the bay and skyline views make a stunning backdrop.
19. 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. Shopping and eating on Orange Avenue is definitely one of my favorite things to do in Coronado Island.
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. Some great spots to check out include Little Frenchie, Clayton’s, The Henry, and The Islander.
20. 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.
21. 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.
22. Explore Art in the Park
Showcasing the creative brilliance of more than 50 artists, Coronado’s Art in the Park is a true gem of island life. This year-round event takes over Spreckels Park in Coronado Village on 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 etching, this event highlights incredible talent in nearly every art field.
23. Enjoy a Beach Bonfire
After a lovely day soaking up sun rays at the beach, if you’re not quite ready to give in to the night, you can keep festivities alive with a beach bonfire. Coronado has several fire pits that are free to the public and available on a first-come, first-served basis. Add 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 for one hour, complete with s’mores, but you can add additional menu items and even cocktails. I’ve done it and it’s fun.
24. 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 many farms in the region. Make sure to ask for certified organic growers.
25. 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.
26. Enjoy the Coronado Ferry Ride to/from Downtown San Diego
Whether 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 twenty-minute ride showcases the San Diego waterfront and provides breathtaking views of the sweeping Coronado Bridge. For a real treat, plan your journey near sunset. Buy Coronado Ferry tickets.
27. Coronado Ferry Landing
Even if you don’t plan to take the ferry from Coronado Ferry Landing pier, 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.
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 menu at Peohe’s, though, meshes with the water views.
28. Coronado Tidelands Park
Tidelands Park is an excellent free place to relax on Coronado’s bayside and also to capture a picturesque photo of the Coronado Bay 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.
29. The Silver Strand Nature’s Bridge to Discovery
If you want to 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 ends north of Fiddler’s Cove Marina.
There are five discovery points: The Solstice Clock, Wind and Dune Retreat, Eel 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.
30. 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 stops near Hotel del Coronado, in front of McP’s Irish Pub.
You can reach Balboa Park/San Diego Zoo, Old Town San Diego, Little Italy, and some great spots in Downtown with a trolley pass. It’s one of the best San Diego sightseeing tours.
Bonus Activity: Find Coronado in the Sand
One of San Diego’s hidden gems is, no doubt, these sand dunes. Most people walk by them and have no idea they say anything at all. That’s because you really only get a view of them from above. And, because of proximity to the naval base, you can’t fly a drone without permission here. Your plane to and from San Diego won’t fly over them either, so it’s up to people like me to tell you about it.
You can find this sand dune art just south of Beach Village at The Del.
Frequently Asked Questions About Things to Do in Coronado
What makes Coronado Beach special?
Coronado Beach is renowned for its mile-and-a-half stretch of golden sand that sparkles in sunlight due to small pieces of mica. Even on busy days, it doesn’t feel too crowded because there is so much sand. The beach is family-friendly, with lifeguards and mild waves, making it a must-visit when you’re on the island.
Can I tour the Hotel del Coronado?
Yes, the Hotel del Coronado is one of the most iconic buildings in San Diego County, and the public may access the shops, lobby, spa, restaurants, and some onsite activities. Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, you can rent lounge chairs at Del Beach and have food and drinks delivered to you there on the sand.
If you’d like to take a formal tour, the hotel offers them for an additional fee. These include a tour of the hotel’s history, tours of haunted happenings, and more. But you can also visit the Ice House Museum at The Del for free to learn more about the hotel’s history.
How Walkable is Coronado?
You can definitely walk around Coronado Island. End to end, from the ferry terminal to Hotel del Coronado is about 40 minutes on foot if you take Orange Avenue where most of the shops and restaurants are.
That being said, there’s a residential section of the walk in the middle of the walk with not much to do for a tourist. I might enjoy the things to do on Coronado Island at each end of Orange Avenue and take an Uber from one side to the other.
Is it Free to Go to Coronado?
Yes, it is free to go to Coronado. You’ll see a toll plaza on the Coronado side of the bridge if you drive in by car that way, but it’s empty and has not collected tolls for many years.
If you choose to take the ferry to Coronado, you will pay the modest cost of your ferry ticket.
What are some water activities available in Coronado?
Coronado offers a variety of water activities thanks to easy ocean and bay access. You can go tide pooling in front of the Hotel del Coronado, rent kayaks and stand-up paddleboards, or even take a surfing lesson. Companies like Coronado Surfing Academy and SUP Coronado can help you get started. Seaforth Boat rentals also offers the ability to rent all sorts of boats to use in the San Diego Bay in addition to a few tours.
Are there any historical sites to visit?
Coronado plays a pivotal role in San Diego’s history. In addition to visiting the Hotel del Coronado and a few monuments, you can take a walking tour of the island to learn more and see various homes in different styles, from Spanish casas to Mediterranean villas. The Coronado Historical Association on Orange Avenue hosts heritage walks that dive into the island’s history, and you can walk into their museum and shop to learn even more.
What are some unique shopping experiences in Coronado?
Strolling along Orange Avenue, you’ll find a range of boutiques with beachy clothes, jewelry, housewares, art, shoes, and more. Coronado prides itself on celebrating small businesses, so you’ll find one-of-a-kind stores and restaurants and not too many chains. I really like Seaside Papery for gifts.
ARE THERE ANY KID-FRIENDLY PARKS IN CORONADO?
Yes, Spreckels Park is a grassy park with a jungle gym located in the center of the island. The park is located on Orange Avenue, about a 20-minute walk from Hotel del Coronado, so you can make it a stop as you go shopping or eat out in this downtown area.
Can I explore Coronado without a car?
Yes! In fact, going without a car in Coronado is encouraged. It’s a bike-friendly area, and you can also rent golf carts to drive around the island. Companies like Wheel Fun Rentals and Coronado Golf Cart Rentals can set you up for exploration. And Uber works well too. You can also take the Old Town Trolley hop-on, hop-off tour to reach as far as Old Town San Diego.
Plus, if you’re staying at Hotel del Coronado, you’ll avoid the hefty parking fee.
Have you ever explored Coronado? Let me know what your favorite activities were or if I missed any!