America’s finest city–San Diego–has wonderful beaches stretching up and down the coast. But one beach tops them all–Coronado Beach! Of all the things to do on Coronado Island, the beach is an absolute must!
If there is one beach that we frequent the most and will ALWAYS recommend to visitors, it’s Coronado Beach. From the vacation vibes that permeate the island, to the soft warm beach sand between your toes, to the delicious eateries around town, there are so many incredible things to do on Coronado Island!
If you are planning a trip to San Diego, Coronado Island should be at the top of your list of places to visit. It’s loaded with fun for the whole family…as long as you don’t mind getting a little sandy.
About Coronado Island
Where is Coronado Island?
Coronado is just across the San Diego Bay from downtown San Diego. As a matter of fact, you can get a great view of the downtown skyline from the east side of the island.
Pro Tip: I recommend going to the east side of Coronado just before dusk for the best view of the downtown skyline. Golden hour makes the buildings glisten with a soft sky blue tone that screams coastal city luxury!
It’s super easy to get to, so you can complete all your favorite things to do on Coronado Island in no time! You can grab the exit for the 75, which is the huge 200 ft high bridge that crosses over the bay from downtown onto the island.
Actually, Coronado is a peninsula connected by the Silver Strand isthmus, but everyone still refers to it as Coronado Island or simply, Coronado.
The view on the bridge as you are driving is gorgeous (just don’t look down if you’re afraid of heights). You can see sailboats out on the San Diego Bay and check out all the Naval ships docked at Naval Base San Diego. If you look off in the distance to the south, you can catch a glimpse of Tijuana, Mexico.
What is on Coronado Island?
The north half of the island is the Naval Air Station North Island. As such, you will likely see some Navy Seals or Marines walking around the island in their military uniforms from time to time.
There are a number of civilians who also call this island home. The locals try to avoid driving if they can, so many people will get around the island by foot or bike. You will even see some cruising around the island in their personal golf carts.
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Also, the houses and condos in the charming neighborhoods on the island are a joy to look at. Driving or walking up and down the streets while looking at the pretty houses is one of our favorite things to do on Coronado Island.
Fun fact — no two homes on Coronado are the same! It’s actually a law on the island that each house has to be unique. Because of this, each house has its own distinct style! I love it!
Back in 1886, the island was intended as a bit of a vacation destination. The Hotel Del Coronado has been around since 1888 and has hosted many of our nation’s presidents, celebrities, and other elites.
To this day, the Hotel Del Coronado is a lovely place to stay for a nostalgic vacation complete with modern comfort. There are a number of eateries and activities to enjoy, including Shops at the Del.
PRO TIP: The Shops at the Del are the perfect place to enjoy a stroll on a hot day. You can enjoy a little reprieve from the hot sun with some window shopping without having to spend money. (Once you actually enter the stores, all bets are off as to whether or not you won’t spend a dime.)
Even if you are not staying at the Hotel Del Coronado, it’s a fun place to walk around or even eat at. More on that later. Oh…if you do walk around the hotel, make sure to check out the antique, caged elevator in part of the lobby that still functions with a human operator.
Our Favorite Things to Do on Coronado Island
When we head out to the island, our first stop is almost always the BEACH! It’s one of the best (if not THE BEST) things to do on Coronado Island.
There is no designated beach parking lot, so the first goal of the day is to find a parking spot on the side of the neighborhood streets.
PRO TIP: We like to park along Isabella Ave as close to the beach as possible. It gives us a straight shot up to the crosswalk and main access point to the beach by the lifeguard tower.
The actual walk to the beach is always enjoyable for us. We love to look at all the pretty houses as we stroll by (remember–every single one is different!).
Make sure you limit your beach supplies to only what you are willing to carry. While the walk is not strenuous, it could still be a little ways if you end up parking closer to Orange Avenue than the ocean. You do not want to develop a backache from carrying all of your crap (I mean…crucial beach toys).
Bo and I will typically carry our beach chairs on our backs along with one beach bag with snacks, sunscreen, towel, and other necessities. Austin carries his own beach toys to play with, and maybe we will have our beach mat or volleyball under another arm.
We try to limit what we are bringing along. Remember…less is more!
Once you arrive at the lovely beach, you will see that it is one of the widest and deepest beaches in all of San Diego. There is so much sand real estate that you will not have to worry about finding a spot to set up camp.
Even on busy holidays or summer weekends, it never feels overly crowded because there’s SO MUCH SPACE! (This place invented social distancing.) This is one of the things that we love about it! We are never thrilled about going to a beach where the sunscreen spray from the party next to us blows all over our faces every time they reapply. No, sir.
The beach has a nice gradual entry into the ocean, so there is plenty of space for little ones to play in water that is less than a foot deep. Austin and I tend to stick around the shallower water and enjoy splashing and jumping around.
While the entry is gradual, there are still big waves out a little further. Bo has enjoyed body surfing them on many occasions. In a couple of years, I’m sure Austin will be joining him!
Whether you are the type of family who likes to play IN the water or BY the water (aka on the sand), there is plenty of room to play! On the beach you can build sand castles, dig out rivers, construct bridges and whatever other sand structures float your boat.
Even with everyone on the beach, there is still ample sand space available behind everybody. It’s the perfect spot to play paddle ball, spike ball, or pepper with a volleyball. Full sized volleyball nets are available too if you like to get your Kerri Walsh on and channel your beach volleyball skills!
Just in case all of these activities aren’t enough fun, there is even MORE SPACE behind the open sand for beach goers to enjoy. At the back of the beach near the road, there are mini sand dunes with ground cover bushes.
Bo and Austin love to go exploring, and the sand dunes are the perfect opportunity for that! They will run up and down and over and around all the dunes. Austin never wants to stop!
PRO TIP: Put your shoes on before you head into the dunes because in the summer the sand gets HOT. This actually applies to the entire beach, but especially to the dunes.
Throughout your entire beach day, you can watch the F18s and helicopters fly over you as they are about to land at Naval Air Station North Island. It’s every boy’s dream!
It was a little tricky when Austin was a baby because the loud noise of the F18s would wake him up. Those jets aren’t always flying around though, so you may not have to worry about the disruption for your babes.
What beach trip is complete without refreshing, cold, delicious gelato?! One of our top things to do on Coronado Island is to stop at Nado Gelato by Bottega Italiana and top off our trip with a treat. It’s the perfect end to a long day in the sun.
Their traditional flavors are super yummy! Plus they have a few unique flavors. Their charcoal vanilla looks like black ice cream, but tastes like regular vanilla. It’s the activated charcoal that gives it its color. If you prefer fruity flavors, then opt for their watermelon or passionfruit sorbet–it’s Bo’s favorite!
Try out more delicious ice cream novelties at MooTime Creamery. Mootacos, moopies, and bon bons are a few of the delicious treats they offer alongside their old fashioned ice cream.
If you are in the mood for a creamier ice cream with a classic waffle cone, then head to Sundae’s at the Del. While you will pay significantly higher than market value for an ice cream cone, you do get to savor the creamy flavors while you walk around the beautiful hotel.
While you are at the Del, check out their other restaurants, cafes and snack bars. This summer they had most of them open while enforcing their cleanliness and social distancing policies.
Tent City is a scrumptious little restaurant that offers the option of ordering their food to go. They have some delicious wraps and crunchy kettle chips that make for a perfect picnic meal on the beach.
Our favorite restaurant on the bay side of the island is Il Fornaio. It’s an italian restaurant with a beautiful view of the San Diego Bay and skyline.
They serve made-in-house pasta, delicious entrees, delightful wines, and it’s all topped off by their complimentary bread and dipping oils. Just don’t fill yourself up on their bread before your entree comes…it has definitely been a problem for us in the past.
PRO TIP: For those of you who eat gluten free, they offer gluten free noodles for any dish. Plus they have some entrees that are gluten free like their free range chicken and veggies.
If none of these dining locations tickle your fancy, simply stroll up and down Orange Ave. You will find all sorts of food options from chain restaurants like Burger Lounge and Panera to more local niche restaurants like McP’s Irish Pub and Leroy’s Kitchen and Lounge.
Visit Coronado Island
We are always discovering more and more things to do on Coronado Island, but these have remained some of our favorites. If we ever get a chance for a beach day, it will be unanimous in our family to go to Coronado Beach!
As San Diegans, we cannot recommend it enough! Schedule your trip to San Diego and make sure that Coronado Island is at the TOP of your list of things to do! Just trust us!