Whether you’re from San Diego or just visiting, Coronado Island is one part of the city that must be seen. While many choose to head over the magnificent Coronado Bridge by car, an intimate way to experience this small town is by bike. So, grab a few friends or head over by yourself and enjoy the peacefulness of the island. You’ll have a day full of people watching and sight “sea”-ing. It’ll be a day you won’t forget!
Start your day by heading to the cruise terminal on Harbor Drive in downtown San Diego to catch a ferry to Coronado Island. But, arrive a bit early and enjoy breakfast at the Bay Café. With a bike rack right outside, you can stop in before the 20 minute ferry ride and then head out in time to catch your ride. Make sure to try the coffee. For a simple starter, it’s quite a treat. The breakfast sandwiches are quite satisfying–and filling–too. Make sure to ask for a side of salsa if you want to eat it like the locals.
After breakfast, look for a little black awning in the middle of where large tour ships and even larger Carnival cruise boats are docked. The Harbor Excursion tent will give you tickets either roundtrip or one way to your island escape.
Once onboard the San Diego Bay Ferry to Coronado, sit back and enjoy the sights. If you get on one of the earlier trips – the boat leaves every hour on the hour from San Diego – there will be plenty of seats to choose from. If you venture over later in the day, you’ll wait with a long line of patrons. Packed or sparse, make sure to watch the boats as they cruise along the Big Bay, or San Diego Bay; follow the water fowl in flight; and see the naval ships up close and personal.
Once you’ve docked at Coronado, grab your bike and disembark. You have arrived! Peddle through the shops and restaurants of Ferry Landing. (Don’t worry; you’ll experience this cute, little waterfront center again on your return to the city.) Head to the right on 1st Avenue, and take the perimeter view of the island. Cruise along – taking in how the other half lives – until you hit the North Island Naval Air Station. Without permission, this area is off limits, so turn left onto Alameda Boulevard to see more majestic residences, or head to Palm Avenue to shoot straight through to the heart of Coronado at Orange Avenue.
If you’ve decided to meander a bit more along the neighborhood, you’ll end up at Coronado’s Center Beach. This wide stretch of sand gives a great view not only of the Pacific, but also of the Mexican mountains off into the distance as well as the cliffs of Point Loma. Take off your shoes and walk along the beach. If you are a dog lover head west to see Dog Beach where the canines play freely off-leash. This is also a great place to stop and use the public restrooms, get some water, and relax. This is life on Coronado Island.
If you shoot down Orange Avenue, be wary of the traffic. The road is a bit bendy at points and it’s hard to see cars coming at you. This is the main street of the Island, though, so be sure to stop along the way and visit the different boutiques and tourist shops. Stop into Bay Books, an independent bookstore that often has local authors’ signings. The recommendations are sure to please and the adjoining coffee shop is delicious.
The lunch options on Orange Avenue are endless. One great option is the Beach-n-Diner right down the street from the bookstore. The price is right and the line is perpetual. It’s a local hangout. If you don’t want to wait for a table outside on the sidewalk, head down to Costa Azul. The complementary chips and chipotle salsa alone will give you reason to visit this Mexican restaurant. Try the lunch specials for a seafood taco or jalapeno coconut shrimp. If you get the timing right, you might get to watch them freshly make the tortilla shells. Afterwards, try MooTime Creamery for a made-to-order dessert.
Hop back on your bike and head towards the extravagant red-roofed hotel at the southeastern end of the Island. The Hotel del Coronado, or ‘the Del’ to locals, is rich in history and beauty. The rooms are pricey, but the view is free. Stop at one of the many restaurants for a drink or dessert. Babcock & Story Bar has an extensive list of wines, unique drinks, and appetizers. If your sweet tooth is getting to you, Sprekels Sweets & Treats should be your haven for chocolates or candy. The Del is its own neighborhood; don’t get lost, unless you want to!
Be sure to head back to the Ferry Landing in plenty of time not only to look around the shops, but to make your ferry! They depart Coronado every hour on the half hour, and they don’t dally. If you miss the boat, sit in the grass, people watch, and take advantage of the photo ops or shop. Get back in line on dock with a few minutes to spare and you’ll be all set for another great view of the San Diego skyline.
If you’re still perky after a long day of riding and exploring, head to Harbor Island for drinks at Tom Ham’s Lighthouse. The happy hour – Drinkin’ with Lincoln – is a steal and the view is breath-taking. Even if you can’t make it out for twilight, you’ve had one busy day on Coronado Island. With tired legs and a full belly, you might even need a vacation from your day away!
What & Where:
Bay Café (1050 North Harbor Dr, San Diego; 619-595-1083)
San Diego Bay Ferry* (1050 North Harbor Dr; 619-234-4111 or 1-800-44-CRUISE
Bay Books (1029 Orange Ave; Coronado; 619-435-0070)
Beach-n-Diner (1015 Orange Ave, Coronado; 619-437-6087)
MooTime Creamery (1025 Orange Ave, Coronado; 619-435-2422)
Costa Azul (1031 Orange Ave, Coronado; 619-435-3525)
Hotel del Coronado (Spreckels and Babcock & Story Bar) 1500 Orange Ave, Coronado, CA, 1-800-468-3533
Tom Ham’s Lighthouse (2150 Harbor Island Dr, San Diego; 619-291-9110)
*The San Diego Bay Ferry departs the Broadway Pier daily for Coronado, beginning at 9:00 a.m. and crossings continue every hour on the hour until 9:00 p.m. Departures from Coronado begin at 9:30 a.m. and continue every hour on the half hour until 9:30 p.m.
If you don’t own a bike or would rather try something new, check out Wheel Fun Rentals. As a country-wide franchise, they offer a variety of bikes to choose from: Chopper, Slingshot, Surrey. They have a few stores in the downtown area as well as one on the other side on Coronado Island. Unless you’re renting the Beach Cruiser, be aware that most of these bikes are too big to ride the ferry. You’ll have to get the three- and four-wheelers on the other side. With five San Diego locations you are sure to find a convenient spot to pick up a rental such as, Del Coronado Hotel (1500 Orange Ave; 619-342-7244) or Holiday Inn on the Bay (1355 N. Harbor Blvd; 619-342-7244) or Marriott Hotel & Marina (333 Harbor Dr; 619-342-7244).
Stephanie Marie Chizik, a transplant to San Diego, brings a background in newspaper, magazine and literary writing from the East Coast. She graduated from Chatham College with her Masters in Fine Arts and has been published in various publications, including Pittsburgh Magazine, Conte Online Journal and Bay Weekly. She currently works as an Associate Editor for a trade publication.