BIG AIR Fireworks burst over the Coronado Bay Bridge. Over 200 feet in height and two miles long, the bridge was an instant engineering classic when it opened in 1969.
Let Egypt have its pyramids and Rome the Colosseum, San Diego has the Coronado Bay Bridge, the Hotel del Coronado and the amazing beach with bling.
It looks like a part of a gigantic roller coaster from below, and if fact once you are on this 2.2-mile ribbon of concrete, with 200 feet of air below, and you start rounding the curve, cutting through sweeping views of downtown San Diego, the bay, and the islands in the bay, it feels like flying when crossing over the Coronado Bay Bridge from downtown San Diego. It makes for an exhilarating start to a weekend on Coronado Island, only eight minutes from the city but a world apart in its laid-back beach vibe among stately mansions, historic sites and a teeming village of upscale shops and gourmet (but kid-friendly) dining.
The U.S. Navy required the extreme height and distinctive curve of the Bay Bridge so that aircraft carriers and battleships could pass beneath to access the shipyards. It’s one of the three engineering wonders of Coronado, along with the epic, sparkling beach (consistently named either “Best Beach” or “Best Family Beach” in America) and the massive and fanciful Hotel del Coronado (one of the largest surviving all-wood structures built in the U.S. before the 20th century).
MIRACLE SAND: The mineral mica adds bling to the castles built in front of the Hotel Del (left). Before dredging of San Diego Bay there was no beach on Coronado, but as the massive currents of sand pushed against the Pacific side of the isthmus and island, one of America’s best beaches was formed.
The beach at Coronado wasn’t intentionally engineered. Rather, like the design of the bridge, it’s a happy side effect of a U.S. Naval necessity. In this case, dredging out passage in San Diego Bay to accommodate the naval behemoths that dock at N.A.S. North Island, the northern part of Coronado. Originally, “dredging started in 1885,” says San Diego historian Nancy Cobb, who guides a waking tour on Coronado. “There was no intent to create a beach, and there was no sign of a beach until the early 1930s,” she adds. Dredging continues in earnest today mostly to deepen the bay bottom for naval hulls. The displacement of all that sand creates a big, beautiful beach on the Pacific side of the peninsula and island—and it’s a beach with bling. The silver sparkle is courtesy of the mineral mica whose glitter gives name to the sand bar that connects Coronado Island to the mainland: Silver Strand. With its sugary consistency and natural adhesion, it may be the best possible stuff for sculpting sandcastles, forming nature’s beach chairs and burying Dad (only up to the neck, please, kids!) Former plasterer Bill Pavlacka, also known as “The Sandcastle Man,” said the sand at Coronado “is easy to work with because it holds lots of water.” Pavlacka makes a living sculpting mica-flecked masterpieces in front of the Hotel Del, and he has been doing so for over 30 years.
The beach has grown so large from the dredging, says Cobb “that it is one of the widest beaches, if not the widest, in Southern California.” Despite it’s location in front of the busy Hotel Del, it’s easy for Mom and Dad to find solitude, especially if you settle into a half-moon cabana with a queen-size mattress from the Hotel Del Beach Club. Grandma and Grandpa can enjoy the kids while you get cozy under the canopy, serenaded by the soft rhythm of the surf and the occasional passing of military aircraft. They say time spent cuddling with your loved one in a cabana on Coronado Beach does not deduct from your total Earthly days.
The legendary Hotel del Coronado—a national treasure and historic landmark which celebrated its 125th anniversary last year—is the most wondrous of Coronado’s three wonders, and no visit to the island would be complete without a walk through the majestic interiors and the grounds of the grand dame to appreciate its architecture. Located on 28 acres, it was a dream made true, conceived by founders Elisha Babcock and H.L. Story, designed by an architect who specialized in train depots and built by Chinese laborers. The massive amount of wood (it’s mostly made of rot-and pest-resistant redwood) was shipped in on barges from the Bay Area. It served as the inspiration to Coronado resident author Frank L. Baum for the Emerald City in his Oz books, and it was the setting for “Some Like It Hot,” starring Marilyn Monroe. Through the years, The Del has had a series of owners who were meticulous in their maintenance and renovation. More recently, in 2007, the spectacular Spa at The Del opened, and it was named one of the “20 Best Hotel Spas in the World” by Travel + Leisure Magazine. Taking advantage of the beachfront setting, the spa spills out to a private terrace and an adults-only infinity pool. There are also teen spa packages for anyone 13 and up.
MOONLIT MASTERPIECE Hotel Del Coronado was the largest resort in the world when it opened in 1888. Today, it remains the second largest wooden structure in the United States (after the Tillamook air Museum in Tillamook, Ore.).
If you actually want to move around rather than lie around, The Del offers biking tours and surfing lessons, along with surfboard, boogie board and volleyball rentals. For the avid shoppers, boutiques line the hallways. For teens, a club called Vibz with karaoke, billiards and foosball offers a place to hang out and socialize for those aged 13 to 17. For the 4 to 12-year-olds, Kidtopia is a colorful center with fun-house mirrors and beach-themed rooms for games and fun.
Choices for dining at The Del include three beachfront restaurants: the casual Eno Pizzeria & Wine Bar, the bistro-style Sheerwater and 1500 Ocean, where acclaimed Chef Robert Hohmann offers a seasonal menu, incorporating ingredients from The Del’s herb garden.
This summer, The Del is offering a three-night weekend stay, including breakfast, s’mores and bike rental for four starting at $539 a night. www.hoteldel.com.
By Randall Tierney
Loews Coronado Bay Resort, recently spent $4.2 million to renovate its rooms.
Suggested San Diego family lodging, activities and attractions.
Loews Coronado Bay Resort—Many resorts in San Diego have their own marinas so guests can indulge in watersports without leaving the property. Among these, Loews Coronado Bay Resort, situated on the south end of Coronado Island and surrounded by spectacular oceanfront, offers the ultimate combination of luxury lodging and dining with family fun, and perhaps the best kids programs of any resort in the area. Guests can sail, kayak or stand-up paddle at the edge of the hotel, and a short stroll away is Silver Strand State Beach. Loews recently completed a $4.2 million renovation of its guest rooms, following the transformation of it’s lobbies and dining areas. Named one of the “10 Best Pet Friendly Resorts” by USA Today in 2013, Loews spent $12 million in upgrades in 2012. Rates start at $239 a night. www.loewshotels.com.
Aquatica Waterpark—While SeaWorld continues to re-invent itself as a place for marine edutainment rather than trained marine animal shows, Aquatica, SeaWorld’s new lush waterpark with close-up animal experiences, is making a splash as it enters its second summer season with the opening of a new, high-speed water-racing slide called Taumata Racer. Aquatica is located near SeaWorld, in Chula Vista. www.seaworldparks.com. Adjacent to SeaWorld, known for its family activities and its splash-happy pools and water sports, the Hyatt Regency Mission Bay Spa & Marina also offers Water Taxi excursions to SeaWorld. Room rates start at $259 a night. www.missionbay.hyatt.com
Kids Free San Diego is to take place again this October. The event features free and discounted offers to San Diego amenities and attractions. With last year’s deals ranging from free San Diego Zoo admission to complimentary hot fudge sundaes and milkshakes at the Hard Rock Café, you’ll be sure to keep your kids and wallet smiling. For more information on the event check out the website: www.sandiego.org/KidsFree.
More Fun Around San Diego
- Balboa Park & Museums, www.balboapark.org
- San Diego Zoo, zoo.sandiegozoo.org
- Safari Park, www.sdzsafaripark.org
- Old Town Historic Park, www.oldtownsandiego.org
- USS Midway Carrier Museum, www.midway.org
- Gaslamp Quarters, www.gaslamp.org
- U.S. Olympic Training Center, www.teamusa.org
- Belmont Park, www.belmontpark.com
- Petco Park & the Padres, www.petcoparkevents.com
- LEGOLAND, california.legoland.com
For more, go to www.sandiego.org