What to do on Coronado Island: A Beach Escape Just Minutes from San Diego
April 10, 2021
Travel date March 2021
Coronado is just minutes from San Diego. It offers a city escape with pristine beaches, biking trails, and quaint shopping villages. There are many amazing things to do on Coronado Island.
We visited San Diego a few years ago for a work conference and enjoyed the area so much we knew we had to return once we started traveling full time in our motorhome, Pippi. After spending the winter in the Arizona desert, we were ready for some California beach time.
I was busy working so Kevin started researching camping in and around San Diego. He booked us reservations on the south side at Coronado Island and on the north side in Mission Bay. The goal of two separate reservations was to explore San Diego without spending the majority of our time driving.
Coronado Island is located across San Diego Bay from downtown San Diego and is a great destination. While staying at Silver Strand State Park, we never left Coronado Island and didn’t run out of great things to do. We only moved our car once and primarily used our bikes to explore the island.
How do you get to Coronado Island?
Coronado is easy to access from both the north and south. It is not a true island due to the man made Silver Strand Peninsula that connects Coronado Island on the south to Imperial Beach. We entered the island on the south side along the Silver Strand Peninsula and left via the San Diego-Coronado Bridge on the northeast corner of the island which leads into downtown San Diego. Both routes are accessible by all vehicles. A 20-minute ferry and water taxis are also available from downtown San Diego to Coronado.
What is Coronado Island known for?
Coronado Island is best known for gorgeous beaches and the Navy facility covering 57,000 acres of the island.
Coronado Island is home to eight Navy installations that support 16 helicopter squadrons, 2 fixed-wing squadrons, two aircraft carriers, four SEAL Teams, Navy Expeditionary Combat Command squadrons, and other air, surface and subsurface commands. We enjoyed watching the planes flying over the beach.
Things to do in Coronado Island
Coronado Island is 33 square miles and offers something for everyone. We saw sailboats parked along the bay and in warmer weather, water sports in the bay would be a nice thing to do in Coronado.
The beaches of Coronado are a big attraction and shouldn’t be missed. There are several designated beaches but Coronado and Silver Strand are the largest, most popular on the island.
Our favorite beach on Coronado Island was the main Coronado Beach located in front of Hotel del Coronado. Free beach access parking is available at Coronado Shores Condominiums and we highly recommend visiting. During low tide, I found more than 25 sand dollars along this stretch of beach. It was a highlight of our Coronado stay.
Silver Strand Beach
We stayed at Silver Strand Beach and were slightly disappointed with the beach. There were warning signs posted on the beach warning of sewage in the water. A local told us that nearby Tijuana’s sewage treatment system floods into the ocean with any rainfall. During my beach walks, I picked up an enormous amount of garbage on the beach. I wasn’t surprised to find plastic bottles and food containers but the volume was surprising. A few of the weird things I found were a wetsuit, a sealed quart of paint, a cabinet door and a cowboy hat.
Bike around Coronado Island
Coronado Island has well marked bike paths and we enjoyed a 12 mile bike ride along the Bayshore Bikeway/Silver Strand Bikeway from Silver Strand State Park to the Coronado Ferry Landing and back. The majority of the ride was on a multi-use paved path with only a little street riding once we got into town. We saw bike rentals at Ferry Landing.
Silver Strand Natures Bridge to Discovery
The narrow strip of land between the southern section of the island at Silver Strand State Park and town is designated as the Silver Strand Natures Bridge to Discovery. It is primarily a natural area with several scenic viewpoints along the bikeway with educational displays about the local birds and sea life. Navy obstacle courses can be seen from the adjacent highway and bikeway.
During our bike ride we rode through Tidelands Park, the largest park on the island. It is a large grassy bayside park with views of the Coronado-San Diego bridge. In addition to the great scenery, the park also offers a playground, picnic areas, free parking and public restrooms.
Coronado Ferry to San Diego
A public ferry is available between downtown San Diego and Coronado Island. The ride is 20 minutes one way and the fare costs $5 per person. The Ferry Landing area offers more than just the boat dock.
Find a Sunken Ship
One of the top attractions in Coronado is hidden most of the time. The SS Monte Carlo was a gambling and prostitution boat that launched with the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. Along with two sister ships the fleet brought in $3M of revenue per year. The SS Monte Carlo hosted around 15,000 evening visitors per week. During a storm in 1937, the ship came loose from its mooring three miles offshore and crashed ashore.
The shipwreck can now only be seen during low tides near the Coronado Shores Condominiums. During winter months and full moons, tides are lower and expose more of the ship. On our visit, we only saw a small portion of the shipwreck exposed on the sandy beach.
The free public beach parking at Coronado Shores Condominiums is also a great place to see the famous Hotel Del Coronado.
Hotel del Coronado
The Hotel del Coronado was undergoing an expansion during our visit so we couldn’t see much from the street side. However, the ocean side was impressive. The resort is now owned and operated by Hilton but it was originally built in 1888. Golden era charm oozes from the iconic architecture of the red tiled buildings.
Shopping and Browsing Coronado Island
We don’t generally browse shops because we don’t have space for more possessions. If we don’t see the cute local goods available, we aren’t tempted. While in Coronado we saw two distinct shopping areas with restaurants and shops worth exploring.
Coronado Ferry Landing
The Coronado Ferry Landing complex is a great place to visit even if you aren’t taking the ferry. The pedestrian area has restaurants and shops along the waterfront. On Tuesday afternoons, a local farmers market sets up in this area but we sadly missed it on our visit. There is also a small sandy bayside beach at the Coronado Ferry Landing. Bike rentals are available at the Ferry Landing and biking is a great way to explore the island.
Stroll Orange Avenue
Orange Avenue offers several small artisan shops and cafes for Coronado Island visitors.
We planned to have a mid-afternoon beer at Coronado Brewing Company but the current San Diego lockdown restrictions required an entrée purchase to purchase alcohol. Since we ate lunch at home before our bike ride, we couldn’t enjoy a beverage on Orange Avenue.
One other note-worthy stop on Orange Avenue is Coronado Taste of Oils. It is a reseller of infused oils and vinegars. If you have never visited one of these types of shops, it is a fun experience. They provide samples of the unique flavors like fig balsamic vinegar or habanero infused olive oil.
Due to COVID, Coronado Taste of Oils was allowing visitors to select up to four varieties to sample and they were served at outdoor bistro tables. We decided to add an olive oil infused with Tuscan herbs to our pantry staples.
Can you walk around Coronado Island?
It is possible to walk around the Ferry Landing and the Orange Avenue areas of Coronado however, if not staying in a nearby hotel, you will need a car to get to these locations. A car is necessary to get to Coronado unless taking the ferry from San Diego. If staying in town, your car will likely remain parked during most of your vacation. Once parked, bikes are a great way to explore the area.
Camping on Coronado Island near San Diego
We travel full time in our motorhome so we chose a campground in Coronado. State parks usually offer budget-friendly camping options. Silver Strand State Beach was a great starting point for our San Diego visit. Silver Strand State Beach Park is the least expensive campground in the San Diego area.
They offer beachside camping for self-contained RVs for $50 per night plus the standard $7.99 reservation fee charged by the California State Park online reservation system. The campground is a large parking lot on the southern end of Coronado Island with water and electric hookups at each site. There are public toilets and outdoor showers available in the adjacent day-use area.
Sites claim to fit rigs up to 40 feet. Overflow parking is available in the nearby day-use lot for extra vehicles. Pippi, our 37ft motorhome, fit in the spot but barely. We had to remove our tow bar so we could back the rear bumper beyond the pavement. Our tow car wouldn’t fit in our site without sacrificing our patio seating area so we parked it in the day-use lot. California State Parks charge $10 per day for extra vehicles but thankfully tow vehicles are included in the standard campsite rate.
Silver Strand State Beach Campground
We were happy to find beachfront parking on Coronado Island but we were spoiled while boondocking in the Arizona desert all winter. Camping at Silver Strand was an abrupt adjustment back into campground living. The park layout and campground policies were frustrating to us.
Overall, Silver Strand is the most affordable lodging on Coronado Island. Plus it is beachfront camping in Southern California. I was able to walk on the beach multiple times per day and work while listening to the nearby waves crashing on the beach. Watching dolphins frolic in the ocean while enjoying my morning tea was a highlight of our campground stay.
We would likely stay at Silver Strand again for the amazing beach access but we’d do so with our eyes wide open to the downsides of the campground.
Sites at Silver Strand sites were very close together so much so that our neighbors patio mat was partially under our living room slide. Thankfully our neighbors spent most of their times at a friend’s campsite and didn’t use their patio during their stay.
Campground Policies & Operation
Silver Strand State Beach was a bit different than other state parks we’ve visited. I suspect these policies are a result of the popularity of this campground.
First off, check in is not allowed until 2pm, without exception. Early arrivals are turned away and advised to leave the park or pay the $10 day-use fee to park in the overflow lot. We joined other RVs in the overflow lot and didn’t pay the day-use fee. At 1:58 pm, RVs started lining up to start checking in. We waited over half an hour while the campground checked in the RVs that jumped ahead of us. This would have been more efficient if they had checked in RVs as they arrived rather than created a 2 pm bottleneck each day. We witnessed this inefficiency each day at 2pm.
Our second unpleasant discovery at Silver Strand, was a $10 fee to use the RV dump station. We have never visited a campground that charges guests extra to use the RV dump and were surprised. Thankfully, our tanks were not full and we didn’t have to pay to use the dump during our stay.
Summary of Silver Strand State Park
In summary, Silver Strand State Park provided oceanside camping on a nearly empty beach for $50 per night. Based on the size of the multiple day-use parking lots summer weekends must get very busy. But in early March for a mid-week stay, we enjoyed a cool, windy beach with only a few other campers. We didn’t enjoy the campground policies and operations but loved the location. Silver Strand is a great homebase to explore Coronado Island.
Is Coronado Island worth visiting?
We found Coronado Island to be a beautiful island near San Diego without the city feel. The beaches were quiet and peaceful. Extensive biking trails made exploring the scenic island easy. We would definitely visit Coronado Island again.