If there is one place where Southern California charm, history, style, beaches and sun all converge, it has to be on the 7.4 square miles of ground you'll find at the west end of the sweeping, skyscraper-high Coronado Bridge. The makers of the movie "Some like it Hot" were certainly onto something when Coronado Island was selected for that movie's locale.
Just 2.3 miles across the bay from downtown San Diego, Coronado Island is an island retreat in every sense you can imagine - it's still relatively quiet, studded with swaying palm trees, blessed with some of the best beaches in California, and adorned by some of the most magnificent and historic buildings in San Diego County.
But lest you think this sounds like a great place to live as well, be assured that the price of admission will keep out all but the most well-heeled - unless of course you're willing to live on bread and water while you make mortgage payments so high they each could buy a late-model car.
But that's why it's so fun to visit Coronado. It's like appearing in your own episode of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," if only for a few days at a time. Stroll through the famous Hotel del Coronado and marvel at fine jewelry and designer clothing, or visit the fashionable downtown boutiques and trendy restaurants. Sit at an outdoor café and people-watch to your heart's content, carefully distinguishing between the everyday tourists and the tony CEO's, families in tow, everybody stylized to the hilt. (Tip: Dress in a $200 tee-shirt, then rest a folded pastel sweater on your shoulders while you tie the arms together on your chest. The tourists then will think YOU are a CEO.)
No question, the grand dame of Coronado is the Hotel del Coronado and this island's life simply revolves around that property. No one comes to the island without paying homage to the hotel, meandering through its bars and lobbies and garden pathways and then stepping out onto one of the broadest beaches in all of California. There are constant reminders that, yes, this was the filming location for "Some like it Hot" and, yes, Marilyn Monroe once stood right where you are standing. Even some of Ms. Monroe's more tasteful pin-up photos are displayed at the hotel's entrance.
But surprisingly, the "Hotel del" as locals call it, is not the only game in town and, whether because of price or a desire not to be staying smack in the middle of all the activity, many visitors opt for one of several other lodging options on the island. Our stay at the Glorietta Bay Inn was quite a different experience from the Hotel del, even though the grand dame is located right across the street.
Staying at the Glorietta Bay Inn was an opportunity to experience a historic San Diego mansion - the one that was built by John Dietrich Spreckels, a figure well-known in the city as someone who played a key role in developing San Diego during the late 1800's and after the turn of the century. He bought the utility company, street car system, water company and eventually he controlled even the Hotel del Coronado. Visitors to San Diego's Balboa Park will recognize the name from the famous Spreckels Pavilion, where visitors attend concerts given on the very organ Spreckels gave to the park when it was opened during the 1915 Pan-American Exposition.
The mansion itself is an impressive piece of architecture - Italian Renaissance style, all white, multi-story with dramatic lines. Inside, the wide marble staircase was our pathway to Room 126 - the Albright Room, a spacious second-floor with an open, airy feel and views to the yacht harbor, the Coronado Bridge and, in the distance, the mountains east of San Diego. Decorated in a French Country motif, the room featured flowers, tasteful paintings and floral bed quilts with matching drapes. Almost the size of a suite, this room was furnished with classic furniture reproductions befitting the era in which the house was built.
Downstairs, the Glorietta Bay Inn features a music room, with grand piano, in which guests can enjoy their complimentary breakfast of pastries, cereal, breads and juices. There are other areas, as well, that are quiet pleasant to sit in and enjoy the inn's colorful surroundings. The inn is quick to put a visitor in just the right mood to enjoy the island's many amenities and natural attractions.
The beach is just across the street from the Glorietta Bay Inn and it's easy to see that tourists consider this one of the best places anywhere to enjoy those famous California beach vacations. If you follow Orange Avenue just a few steps east, there is the downtown business area. The road curves ever-so-gently through the business district, never seeming too urban or commercial because the avenue is bisected by a wide lawn. Mature palm trees grace both sides of the thoroughfare giving a natural feeling to what otherwise might be just an ordinary business district. Of course there's nothing ordinary about the many historic buildings along meandering Orange Avenue.
The visitor notices an interesting mix of businesses downtown - exclusive upscale boutiques and fine jewelry stores are side-by-side with surf shops and tourist tee-shirt stores. Over at Beach Grill and Deli, local island style is conveyed through porcelain statue-like creation that has the menu on a surfboard, and a 50's roller-skating carhop pointing the way. Next door, the Moo-Time Creamery has the same sort of curiosities, in this case fashioned after Elvis and a cow. But just across the street is a store with a zillion-dollar assortment of jewels even Robin Leach would be hard-pressed to afford.
Restaurants are plentiful, although a word to the wise about a place we visited called Miguel's. Apparently the word is out that this is good Mexican food because we showed up at 7 p.m Thursday to find a one-hour wait time before we could even be seated. We toughed it out and the food was good - but we're not sure it was that good. ">restaurant jobs.
If you're driving to the island - and most people do, whether they have a rental car or they drove in from someplace in California - it's well worth exploring the entire island. The Silver Strand beach area goes on for miles. The east side of the island is the ferry landing area where there is a shopping center, restaurants and a quick boat ride to downtown San Diego. In fact, many people choose to stay in one of many San Diego hotels in the downtown area and then hop the ferry for daytrips to the island.
It's also fun to look at the beautiful homes. Truth be told, many of the homes are nothing special - except in price. Ordinary, average, no-view two- and three-bedroom homes sell easily in the millions. There may be nice condos for under a million dollars but the really good ones with the views are well above that. Folks could sell sprawling estates back in the Midwest and be able to afford only a tiny fixer-upper on this island.
Even if you don't have a car, there are many other ways to explore Coronado. For example, Coronado Pedicab Tours offers 30 and 60-minute tours to view all of the island sights. Another option is a "vintage motor tour" that takes guests around Coronado in a 1965 Volkswagen Microbus. Of, if you want some exercise, there are several walking tours including one that leaves right from the Glorietta Bay Inn and focuses on all of the local historic areas.
The island includes many attractions. For example, the Museum of History and Art showcases the island's early history, with special attention given to the military bases that have called the island home. Theater is a big part of the local entertainment scene and visitors can enjoy performances at the Coronado Community Theater and the Lamb's Player's Theatre. Art-lovers will enjoy the Art-in-the-park exhibition put on the first and third Sundays of each month.
Art, theater, history, beaches and sunshine, Coronado Island offers a great recipe for enjoying the finest that California has to offer — even if you can only afford to live this lifestyle a few days at a time.
AT A GLANCE
WHERE: Coronado Island is part of San Diego and is easily reached by taking a toll-free bridge just south of downtown. Many people consider a stay on the island the ultimate Southern California vacation.
WHAT: An island retreat that has the best that California has to offer.
WHEN: San Diego weather is the best in the country and you can expect moderate temperatures year-round.
WHY: A great opportunity to enjoy another way of life for a few days while soaking up Southern California sunshine and culture. Those looking for the ultimate in California beach vacations will find that the beach near Hotel del is rated the best in all of California.
HOW: For more information on Coronado, go to Coronado Visitor Center or phone (619) 437-8788. To learn more about the Glorietta Bay Inn, visit www.gloriettabayinn.com or phone (619) 435-3101. The Albright Room is approximately $300 per night. Be sure to ask about travel packages and last minute travel deals. For a recommended list of island lodgings, please click here. For information on San Diego hotels, click here.
(Editor's note: CaliforniaWeekend.com is California's leading source of information on getaway travel in the Golden State. Visit the site often to find the latest getaway specials, a comprehensive list of resorts and lodgings and to use the Getaway Machine travel calculator to match up your needs and preferences with exactly the right lodgings and location.)
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