Quick, what's the difference between a big resort hotel and the Wizard of Oz's Emerald City?
Answer: A story.
The wizard's creator, L. Frank Baum, was a frequent visitor to Coronado, California, and the town's beating heart, the Hotel del Coronado ("The Del" to the locals). His visits were so frequent, in fact, that his editor arranged for the rental of a separate house—off of "The Del" property—so that he might get away from the perpetual distraction of the hotel and get some writing done. The hotel and his whimsical experiences there clearly influenced his imaginings of Oz; some of Baum's illustrations of the Emerald City even look suspiciously like the iconic Queen Ann-style hotel.
Coronado still retains much of what attracted Baum (not the least of which is its own, amazing story), and it has also developed an even richer offering of experiences, accommodation, dining choices, and activities that (fortunately for his editor) didn't exist in Baum's day. And because families have always been such a part of the Coronado story, much of that new growth is still family-friendly.
The crown jewel of Coronado is, of course, the Hotel Del Coronado.
Before it was completed in 1877 there was little more than dust and scattered tufts of pampas grass. But the dreams and vision that brought forth the grand hotel spread outward, and shortly the whole island was transformed into the lush, green, and (relatively) tranquil community you see today.
A stroll through the exquisite Coronado neighborhoods is a hint of the island's military presence on its north side. Many current and former navy personnel have homes here, and that military precision shows in the beautifully kept homes and immaculate landscaping (you could bounce a quarter off the lawns). But perhaps a better way to stroll the area around the Hotel Del is to tag along with Coronado Touring for a truly fun and fascinating walking tour. The grand and historic feel of the Hotel Del suggests a great story all its own, and a couple of hours with Coronado Touring confirms it.
You'll even see "The Oz House", Mr. Baum's former "off-site" residence. If you can do this early in your Coronado visit, you'll then see the place with a sense of wonder you might otherwise miss (how else would you know about the secret message in the sand dunes?).
The walking tour begins in the Glorietta Bay Inn, which is itself significant in the story, as it's principle building was the home of Coronado's greatest benefactor and "savior" of the Hotel Del dream, John Spreckels. The Glorietta is a terrific option to the Del Coronado, as you are just across the street from the Del but can choose from luxurious and historic rooms in Spreckels's original house or more modern and affordable rooms of various sizes throughout the rest of the hotel. The entire property is immaculately kept and the friendly staff clearly take their cue from, Claudia, the Glorietta's gregarious and hospitable manager.
The vivid and fascinating history of the island lends a richer tone to everything else you experience afterward. Just a few blocks from the Hotel Del, Clayton's Coffee Shop could be just a nifty 50's-themed diner (albeit with great food and sumptuous milkshakes), but now it feels like a time machine and you wouldn't be surprised to see Mr. Baum himself at the counter reading the day's paper over a coffee and apple pie.
Two more blocks along Orange Avenue will find you transported back to that golden age of theatre at the incredibly restored Village Theatre and two blocks back on Orange Avenue from Clayton's will satisfy that old fashioned summer yen for handcrafted ice cream at the Moo Time Creamery.
And of course many of the shops at the Hotel del Coronado itself recapture that historic feel, like at Spreckels Sweets & Treats, where you can get (among loads of other things) the same fudge or saltwater taffy that Frank Baum undoubtedly sampled.
But while Coronado Island certainly honors its rich history, it has grown up nicely with terrific contemporary offerings. Head south along the narrow peninsula (Coronado is technically not an island) where you'll find the contemporary and luxurious Loews Coronado Bay Resort one of Parents Magazine's "10 Best Family Beach Resorts".
The sheer luster in the recently refurbished interior betrays the many family-oriented amenities, including poolside movies (at just one of the three pools!), a dedicated kids' activity desk, and rides in one of their authentic Venetian gondolas. And it's just a short walk or free shuttle to the quiet Silver Strand State Beach, which might seem like your own private beach, relative to crowds at Coronado Beach.
Further along Orange Avenue from the Hotel Del on the north side of the Island you'll find a host of shops, restaurants, and activities surrounding the Ferry Landing. Nearby the Ferry Landing is the sumptuous Coronado Island Marriott Resort, with exquisite views over the bay to the beautiful San Diego skyline, rejuvenating spa treatments, a private water taxi across the bay for guests, and a lush pool and outdoor restaurant that you may find difficult to leave to explore Coronado.
But explore you must, for no matter where you stay, your own Coronado story is waiting to be written.
"Coronado: The Queen of Fairyland"
And every day her loveliness,
Shines pure, without a flaw;
New charms entrance our every glance,
And fill our souls with awe!
- L. Frank Baum
WHEN TO GO:
The locals are spoiled in San Diego, and even during what they call "June Gloom", the weather is pleasant (if not fully sunny till noon). That said, the best months for weather are June through September. You'll find better deals and smaller crowds outside those months.
THINGS TO DO:
You'll find plenty to keep the whole family busy on Coronado, but here are number of things to consider in your itinerary:
- Gooey fun: After dinner S'mores on the beach at Hotel Del Coronado.
- Haute Culture: and evening at the impressive Lamb's Players Theatre
- Discovery: Kayak tour with a state park naturalist at Loew's Coronado Bay Resort.
- Gluttony: The indescribable decadence of the Hotel Del Coronado Crown Room Sunday brunch.
- Toodling: Pedal the family around the island on a 4-person surrey bike, available at your hotel or shops around town.
- Learning: Get the full and fascinating story on the island at the Coronado Museum of History & Art http://coronadohistory.org/.
Coronado Island Marriott Resort & Spa
Glorietta Bay Inn
Hotel del Coronado
Loews Coronado Bay Resort