South of San Diego to the Mexican border, cultures blend in several communities. Many Mexican citizens live, work, and send their children to school in these border areas; others cross into the US for shopping. While many Americans used to enjoy reciprocal pleasures in Mexico, sadly drug-cartel violence has spilled into Tijuana and other tourist zones. There are good experiences to be had on the US side, particularly in Chula Vista.
Over one million people a year visit the Cabrillo National Monument at Point Loma. The views are mesmerizing, and the peninsula ends at the meeting point of the Pacific Ocean and San Diego Bay. Half the peninsula is occupied by the military, preventing overdevelopment. Spend time at Sunset Cliffs Park and perhaps spot a whale.
During the days of Prohibition, Tijuana, Mexico, used to be the destination of choice for the Hollywood elite and their followers, and for alcohol and gambling. The palatial, Moorish-designed Agua Caliente Casino & Spa was so popular that it boasted its own landing airstrip for the private planes of the wealthy. Fortunes fell when Mexico declared casino gambling illegal in 1935, and the city later reinvented itself as a family-oriented tourist destination. In recent years, however, drug cartel violence has escalated, and visitors should be diligent and heed all published government warnings.
Unconventional and laid back, OB, as it’s locally known, has a somewhat hippie-like feel. On main thoroughfare Newport Avenue, you can still find a few original shops. But OB is mainly about the beach: on any day of the year, surfers are waiting for the next swell; volleyball players are spiking balls over the net; and dogs are running freely on Dog Beach.
In the 1880s, two wealthy businessmen, Elisha Babcock, Jr. and Hampton Story, purchased Coronado and set out to build a town. They sold lots, laid streets, and constructed the landmark Hotel del Coronado. John D. Spreckels soon bought them out and turned Coronado into a haven for old-money gentry. The military permanently took over much of the peninsula during World War I. The old mansions, resorts, and military base exist harmoniously and give Coronado its unique identity.
No matter where you are in San Diego, look up and you’ll see a jet soaring dramatically past the downtown high-rises on its final approach to Lindbergh Field. One hundred years ago, this area was a muddy wasteland that proved to be an ideal spot for budding inventors and pilots to try out their latest machines. In 1927, Ryan Aviation designed, produced, and tested on the beach the Spirit of St. Louis, the historic plane that Charles Lindbergh piloted solo across the Atlantic.
Created from 3.5 million tons of mud from the bottom of San Diego Bay, this recreational island is a peninsula that extends into the bay south from the airport. Hotels, restaurants, and marinas offer gorgeous views across the bay of downtown, Point Loma, and Coronado. Facing the island is Spanish Landing Park, which commemorates the 1769 meeting of the sea and land expeditions of Gaspar de Portolá and Junípero Serra (see The Spanish Settlement (1769)), which permanently brought the Spanish to California.
Not really an island but a peninsula that juts out into San Diego Bay from Point Loma, this is home to pleasure boats and a park along its length. In the 1950s, the city dredged millions of tons of sand and mud from the bay onto a sandbar to create land for marinas and hotels. A number of hotels still have hints of Polynesian themes, a popular style at the time. The San Diego Yacht Club here is the three-time host of the prestigious America’s Cup sailing race.
1600 Henderson Ave • 619 524 6719 • Open 8am–4pm Mon–Sat (photo ID for Depot; proof of insurance if driving)
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the quaint Spanish-Colonial buildings were designed by Bertram Goodhue, architect of several buildings for the Panama-California Exposition in Balboa Park. The Command Museum displays the history of the Marine Corps in Southern California and the wars in which they fought. Exhibits include photos, training films, and a World War II ambulance.
As the endangered Western snowy plover seeks a place to lay her eggs, the green-and-white vehicles of the US Border Patrol swoop down hillsides, lights blazing, in search of an illegal immigrant. An enormous, rusty, corrugated metal fence, which separates the US and Mexico, slices through the park before plunging into the sea. This southern part of the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve attracts nature lovers who come to hike, ride horses, picnic on the beach, and bird-watch. On the Mexican side of the fence is a lively Mexican community and bullring.
1000 Gunpowder Point, Chula Vista • 619 409 5900 • Open 10am–5pm daily • Adm
The center is in the Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, one of the few accessible salt marshes left on the Pacific Coast. Rent some binoculars and climb to an observation deck to see how many of the 200 bird species in the refuge you can spot. Or you can also take a self-guided tour along interpretative trails. Children will enjoy petting bat rays and leopard sharks. The parking lot is located near the Baysite/E Street Trolley Station; a free shuttle will take you to the center.
When John D. Spreckels acquired the Hotel del Coronado in 1890, he felt the beauty of the area should be available to everyone. He built “Tent City,” a makeshift town that catered to the less-well-to-do. Arriving by rail and car, families paid $4.50 a week to live in tents equipped with beds, dressers, and flush toilets. Amenities included carnival booths, Japanese gardens, a library, and children’s bull fights. At its peak, the town held 10,000 visitors. The tents came down by 1939, when they could no longer compete with the rising popularity of the roadside motel.
Begin at Bikes & Beyond at the Ferry Landing Market Place. Walk to the sidewalk facing the harbor and enjoy the city view. Pedestrians and joggers also use this sidewalk, so proceed cautiously. Around the corner, you will face the Coronado Bridge; the bougainvillea-covered walls on the right mark the Marriott Resort. Information boards on the way depict harbor wildlife and a map indicates the various navy yards. Under the bridge, the path turns away from the water. At the street, bear left and cross over. There is no protected bike path, but traffic is light on Glorietta Blvd.
At the marina, the road will fork; take the lower road to the left. Turn right at the stop-light and get off your bike; bike riding is forbidden on Orange Avenue. Moo Time Creamery (1025 Orange Ave) serves delicious homemade ice cream and smoothies. Walk your bike back to the Hotel del Coronado and check out the shops on its lower level. Leaving the hotel, bear left to Ocean Avenue; the Pacific Ocean is on the left and several mansions, built in the 1900s–1920s, are on the right. Turn right on Alameda and ride through a typical Coronado neighborhood with Spanish-style houses and bungalows. At 4th, cross the street and walk one block; the Naval Air Station will be on your left. Turn right on 1st. It’s a straight stretch back to the Market Place.
You’ll find some of the best shopping in Coronado among these extensive shops in the hotel, including women’s upscale casual wear, sunglasses, toys, jewelry, and the books of L. Frank Baum.
Next to the Coronado Ferry dock, this place offers an eclectic selection of souvenirs, clothing, and galleries. A great farmers’ market sets up on Tuesday afternoons.
3150 Rosecrans Place • (619) 225-0465
Barnes & Noble’s branded store Bookstar is set in the vintage Loma Theatre, with its original facade, and makes for a special experience.
Head to this museum store for historic photos, posters, and books, as well as a fun selection of Wizard of Oz-themed gifts – author L. Frank Baum lived in Coronado.
2640 Historic Decatur • 619 573 9300
You’ll find exciting art stores, grocers, wine shops, bakeries, chocolatiers, ethnic jewelry, and more at this waterfront market location (see Liberty Station). Entertainment events are also held frequently.
1029 Orange Ave, Coronado • 619 435 0070
This independent bookstore has helpful staff, an ample selection of books of local interest and international papers and magazines.
The main drag through Ocean Beach is chock full of antique shops. Some doorways front malls with dozens of shops inside. Finds range from 1950s retro pieces to Victorian and Asian antiques.
4765 Voltaire St • 619 224 1387
This co-op market has been selling organic, minimally processed natural foods since 1971. For food to go, try the upstairs vegan deli. Non-members are welcome but will be charged a small percentage more.
971 Orange Ave, Coronado • 619 319 5858
The trendiest blue jeans, along with a wide selection of bikinis, boots, and accessories, are all part of the changing inventory here.
Within walking distance of the border with Mexico, you can stop by this (see Las Americas Premium Outlets) immense 560,000-sq-ft (52,000-sq-m) outlet center.
Hotel del Coronado, 1500 Orange Ave • 619 435 6611 • $$$
The atmosphere here is light, as is the cuisine. There is a good choice of wines from Southern California’s finest vineyards.
1132 Loma Ave, Coronado • 619 435 0661 • Closed Mon • $$
The luscious French cuisine will put you in heaven. Diners can get great- value meals in the early-bird special.
979 Orange Ave • 619 435 5425 • No credit cards • $
Come here for home-style cooking. A quarter buys three jukebox plays.
932 Orange Ave, Coronado • 619 435-0454 • $$$
Legendary northern Italian cuisine is served here in an intimate setting. The tiramisu is exceptional.
1351 Orange Ave, Coronado • 619 437 4237 • $$
Colorfully dressed waitresses serve up enormous plates and lethal margaritas. The enchiladas, tacos, and burritos are delicious.
5010 Newport Ave • 619 224 4623 • $
Soak up the “junkyard Gothic” ambience at this beach café devoted to burgers, brews, and surf.
2805 Emerson St • 619 223 1109 • $
Order the freshest seafood in San Diego. Salads and sushi are popular.
880 Harbor Island Dr • 619 298 6802 • $$$
With its waterfront view and excellent service, this is a preferred spot for special occasions.
4230 Voltaire St • 619 223 2880 • $
Pick up picnic fare or eat in the small dining area or on the outdoor patio. All choices are vegan and gluten free.
1033 B Ave, Coronado • 619 675 0002 • $
Fresh Maine lobster is shipped overnight for the delicious lobster rolls, creamy bisque, and the salads.