Not Just A Summer Resort!
By Ann Nelson



 A picturesque island just across the bay from San Diego is reached by a bridge that seems to float, especially during the holiday season. The fairy-tale seaside setting shimmers with lights and Christmas trees everywhere. Decorations adorn the streets, light poles and windows. Kids whirl through the island on surrey-sleigh rides.

My favorite joy during the holiday is seeing the lights of the Hotel Del and the  Christmas tree inside. Feelings of excitement and amazement wash over me when I step inside the lobby making me feel like a four year old. The 25-foot tree soaring towards the wrap-around balcony is decorated with 700 yards of ribbon and strung with 15,000 lights.

Brass horns burst in every direction, angels the size of Madame-Alexander dolls dangle next to old-fashioned Santa ornaments. Outside, the wooden- framed hotel is laced with 50,000 white lights. The annual ‘Lighting of the Del’ celebration kicks off the Christmas season on December 1st. This event commemorates the very first outdoor lighting at the resort  100 years ago.

The Hotel del Coronado open-ed in 1888 and was the largest resort hotel in the world. The guests were treated to every luxury imaginable. In 1891 Benjamin Harrison was the first of ten presidents to visit Coronado, joining the list of celebrities including the Prince of Wales, Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and many more entertainment, sports and political greats. Room rates at the time were $2.00 to $3.00 a night. To help put the cost of a room into perspective, the average salaries in the late 1800’s were $.22 an hour, or $12.74 a week.

Upstairs rooms were less costly because  elevators were a rarity in the late 1800’s, and carrying luggage up the steps was no easy task. Even though the hotel did have elevators, the lower level rooms were larger, more expensive and more desirable. According to Chris Donovan, the hotel historian, it was standard practice to include three meals a day with the room rate.

When The Del was built, only the very wealthy could afford to stay in the hotel itself. The mid-dle class (consisting mostly of doctors, lawyers, and small  business owners) stayed in tents close to the hotel. Several hundred tents and cottages covered with palm leafs were set up each year on June 1st and taken down after Labor Day. Coronado Tent City lasted through 1941 and was considered one of the premier vacation spots on the west coast.

Other wonderful places to stay in Coronado include the Crown City Inn & Bistro and the El Cordova Hotel. The Crown City Inn is a quaint, family-owned establishment built in the 1940’s. Complimentary bicycles and beach cruisers are offered to the guests. My husband and I rode for miles through the neighborhood streets and bicycle paths.

The Inn is centrally located, only three blocks from the downtown business district. Breakfast  at the bistro is excellent. The Inn was voted “Best Budget Accommodation” in Coronado by the Travel Channel. The El Cordova Hotel is located across the street from the Hotel Del. This 1930’s beauty is a picturesque complex of Spanish architecture. The hotel features unique suites, wood floors and Mexican, handcrafted tile. The courtyard includes a garden area and Miguel’s, a popular Mexican restaurant.

The island itself was a barren peninsula with jackrabbits being the major population until it was purchased for $110,000 in 1885 by Elisha S. Babcock, Jr. and Hampton L. Story. They often rowed over to the island from  San Diego to hunt rabbits and decided it would be the ideal setting for a luxurious resort hotel.

Coronado is a city of charm and relaxation. Average temperatures range from 55 degrees in January to 70 degrees in July, with an average rainfall of about ten inches. Miles of white sandy ocean beaches stretch along the southwest edge of the city, providing good surfing and swimming. The Coronado Golf Course, with its panoramic view of ships at anchor in the harbor, lies with-in easy walking distance from many hotels.
Coronado is a year-round outdoor paradise for everyone, offering fishing, swimming, picnicking, golfing, bicycling, tennis, lawn bowling and community concerts. A dedicated bicycle path runs along the Silver Strand for miles to Imperial Beach. There is also a path from Tidelands Park under the bridge and along the edge of the golf course.

Visiting Coronado is reminiscent of visiting a small town in America, before we became ‘Walmartized’ and before the mom and pop stores slowly disappeared. People came into town with the expectation of seeing friends, shopping and having a soda at the local drug store. Sometimes I long for the days of feeling community pride, where each person really mattered and supported their local community. There was a certain simplicity and easiness. I should point out that there are no shopping malls in Coronado.

Though often referred to as the Enchanted Island, Coronado is actually situated on a peninsula attached to San Diego by a thin strip of sand, the Silver Strand. Within the five square mile radius of Coronado, there is lots to see and do. So I will mention a few ideas:

Coronado  Beach Historical Museum — This three-story Victorian house dates back to 1898 and is home to one of the most unique histories of early California. Visitors have the opportunity to learn about the island’s aviation history: the old ferryboats which connected Coronado to San Diego, and Coronado’s early history with photos dating back to 1887. Open Wed.-Sun., 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free. (619) 435-7242.

Walking Tour — Features 90 minutes of highlights about Coronado history. Starts at the Glorietta Bay Inn (across from the Hotel Del). Includes historical mansions. 11 a.m. on Tues., Thurs., and Sat. $8.00  (619) 435-5993.

Coronado Golf Course — Public 18 hole course with gorgeous backdrop of Glorietta Bay Marina. Must book two days in advance. Fee: $25.00 (walk), $40.00 (ride). Located at 2000 Visalia Row, south of bridge. (619) 435-3121.

The Old Ferry Landing — Delightful collection of shops, galleries and restaurants on Coronado’s waterfront. Rent bicycles, troll along the walkways on the edge of the San Diego Bay. Located on First Street at B Avenue.
San Diego Bay Ferry — Sails to Seaport Village where you can catch harbor excursions, dine with a view, or shop in boutiques. Enjoy live music, clowns, mime and street performers. Hop on a horsedrawn carriage and tour the embarcadero. The trip is 15 minutes. The ferry leaves on the half hour from The Old Ferry Landing and on the hour from the B Street Pier in San Diego. $2.25 each way. (619) 234-4111.

Boating — South Bay, Coronado  off of Loews Marina. Rent  paddleboats, sailboats, yachts, or go deep sea fishing in Glorietta Bay. Paddleboards - $20.00/hr., kyack - $18.00/hr. (619) 435-5203.
Crown City Inn & Bistro
— (800) 422-1173. Weekday rates  $94.50, weekend rates  $109.50.
El Cordova Hotel — (800) 367-6467. $99.00 a night.
Hotel Del Coronado — (800) HOTEL-DEL. $290.00 a night.

Ann Nelson is a freelance writer, presently residing in San Diego, CA.

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