By Duane Wells
Fantastical sunsets. Gondola rides along spectacular canals. Picture-perfect beaches. Old-fashioned ice cream parlors. Bacon Bloody Marys. No I’m not musing about the offerings of some far-off, exotic location, but instead about a few of the treasures I discovered just a little over two hours south of Los Angeles on the island of Coronado.
There is a reason this idyllic town located just across that famously long, eponymously named bridge from San Diego is referred to as the “Crown City” and it has everything to do with the idea that Coronado in many ways feels like the sparkling gem in the crown that is life in Southern California. In fact, all that is good and celebrated about living in the southernmost part of the Golden State can be found perfectly, pristinely ordered on the isle of Coronado where time has seemingly stood still in the best possible ways, while simultaneously lurching effortlessly forward where absolutely necessary.
Rather than make the short drive to San Diego, I opted to add a bit of adventure to my Coronado excursion by hopping on the Amtrak Surfliner at Union Station in downtown LA and winding along the coastline to downtown San Diego. It was a choice that I was so glad that I made in the final analysis because the laidback journey set tone for the rest of the trip. Rather than being frustrated by driving and traffic, I left my car and my cares in the parking garage of that historic old train station in downtown, checked out of life in Los Angeles and plugged into the retro-vibe of the business class coach to San Diego. It is an exercise I highly recommend.
Enterprise scooped me up at the train station in San Diego and within half an hour, I was in my rental car and speeding towards Coronado, which is one of the best parts of a visit to these parts because crossing the bridge into Coronado is a sort of magical sight that only becomes even more surreal as you land on the Palm tree laden island and ultimately end up on Orange Avenue, the town’s main thoroughfare.
In the past I have stayed at the iconic, grande dame of the island, the Hotel del Coronado (and yes that would be the one of “Some Like It Hot” fame), but this trip I opted instead to visit the great lady’s neighbor, The Glorietta Bay Inn just across the street. Once the private home of a sugar baron, the now contemporary Inn overlooking Glorietta Bay, is ideally situated right at the edge of downtown Coronado and within walking distance of the town’s best haunts, a perk of which I took full advantage.
I dropped my bags in my room and before even unpacking, I took off for a stroll down Orange Avenue in search of lunch. I stopped in at Leroy’s Kitchen + Lounge, a new local hotspot that has with good reason been getting a lot of buzz for its unique take on locally sourced and sustainable “urban eclectic” fare. After sampling the eatery’s Niman Ranch Deviled Eggs. Brandt Beef Burger with bacon jam and tomato confit, Truffle fries sprinkled with Parmigiano- Reggiano and signature Bacon Mary (a Bloody Mary made with bacon infused Bison Grass Zu Vodkai), I was an unabashed new fan myself. After lunch I popped next door to the MooTime Creamery, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor also owned by Coronado local David Spatafore, before checking out a few of Coronado’s many art galleries, which have a following of their own.
As Coronado is more of a “dinner and theatre” destination than a “party until you drop” kind of town, later that evening I headed across the street from my hotel to 1500 Ocean, the Hotel del Coronado’s signature restaurant, to check out the new chef, Robert Hohmann, sip a martini and take in the sunset from what is undoubtedly one of the best vantage points on the whole island. After dinner, I ambled down the street to the Lamb’s Player Theatre for a production of Around the World in 80 Days that reminded me just how great theatre is in this part of the world.
The long history of legendary actors and actresses escaping to San Diego and Coronado to work in local theatres has created a theatre culture that still thrives today. As it is one of the best things to do in town, it is an experience not to be missed.
On the final day of my visit I slipped down to the Loews Coronado Bay Resort for a gondola ride along Coronado’s cays. As we floated by one magnificent home after the next, our gondolier sang in Italian. It was an experience that had the potential to be corny that thankfully and gloriously turned out to be a welcome treat.
There is no denying the romance of drifting peacefully on a gondola through luxurious surroundings at sunset. Nor is there any denying that few destinations could deliver such an experience with the same level of grace, beauty and panache.
After the gondola ride, I dined at Mistral, the Loews Coronado Bay Resort’s signature French-inspired restaurant, a clubby spot with dramatic views across the Bay to downtown San Diego. While noshing on Duck Lollipops and Striped Bass, I stared out the massive windows at the gleaming skyscrapers of the city on the other side of the Bay. Though the structures seemed so physically close that I could almost reach out and touch them, psychologically they seemed miles and miles away. And that is the great beauty of Coronado. It is an oasis within an already pretty spectacular oasis…a charmed, unspoiled world on the edge of a different reality. And that is no mean feat.
Find out more about Coronado at www.sandiego.
Watch a short clip of the serenade our very own troubadour gave us on our excursion: