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Wandering the West

Give me a three-day weekend and a little spending money and I’m most likely going to head to San Diego. And once on the ground after the quick, sorta cheap Southwest or Skywest flight from Salt Lake, I’ll take off for Coronado Island. This is about my favorite three-day getaway, and it works any time of year since San Diego’s temperature never seems to vary more than 5 degrees either side of 70.

Coronado used to be where San Diegans and Los Angelinos went for the summer. The island became a tent city cleverly called "Tent City" where the well heeled camped in style along the perfect sugar-sand beaches of the Pacific. Over time, Coronado became more civilized, starting with the 1888 construction of Del Coronado Hotel.

"The Del" is about my favorite hotel on earth. There are fancier, newer, more gonzo places for sure, but this grand old Victorian palace is spectacular. Set on 28 beachfront acres, the Del keeps landing on top ten lists top place for a romantic getaway, top place for a wedding, best beach, best atmosphere, best this, best that.

If you remember the old Marilyn Monroe-Tony Curtis-Jack Lemmon classic movie "Some Like It Hot," you’ve seen the place. The sprawling, bright-white wooden hotel is topped with a red roof, and its red turret towers 10 stories over the place a landmark visible for miles and a place where lookouts were stationed in World War Two to watch for enemy subs. Now, with invaders at bay and with the holidays close, they’ll be decorating the turret and the rest of the roofs with Christmas lights.

Inside, the Del’s lobby is all dark woodwork and crystal chandeliers. A piano plays in the background, and the sound of laughter drifts from the bar. The interior garden courtyard leads to verandas overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the swimming pool deck and green lawns. To the south, the hotel years ago added two modern hotel towers, which offer their own stunning Pacific views, which include Point Loma to the north, Tijuana, Mexico, to the south and the Coronado Islands offshore.

Whether you stay at the Del or opt for other island lodgings from motels to bed and breakfasts, it’s worth a few hours to wander through the Del’s many hallways, soaking up its history and elegance. Another grand hotel lies across the street from the Del the Glorietta Bay Inn, converted into a hotel from an elegant mansion.

Coronado is kind of a beach town counterpart of Park City, the kind of place where eventually you bump into everybody in town at the grocery store, post office or swimming pool. Its equivalent of Main Street is Orange Avenue. Traffic from San Diego flows over the elegant blue Coronado Bridge and dumps onto Orange, whose boulevard is lined with flower-covered medians and leads to the Del at the end of the street. Along Orange you’ll find all the restaurants you’ll need, along with art galleries and real-estate sales offices (sound familiar?). In one gallery on my last visit, everything for sale was ocean-themed except for one rack of note cards featuring Park City scenes!

And where the mountains and resorts are the draw in Park City, in Coronado it’s all about the beaches. Everything in front of the Del up to the Navy’s base on the north half of the island is public. Coronado City beach runs the length of Ocean Avenue, and the north end of the city beach is Dog Beach, one of the few pet-friendly beaches in So Cal. South of Coronado, the land narrows to a strand of sand wide enough for Loews Coronado Bay Resort (where you can rent kayaks) and Silver Strand State Beach. A bike trail runs from Coronado along the oceanfront all the way to Imperial Beach, which ends at the Mexican border about twenty miles south of the Del.

Coronado is a place to relax on the beach, and have a walk or bike ride followed by a quiet dinner. For those looking for more excitement, San Diego is just over the bridge.

Free-lance writer Larry Warren has been wandering the West covering news stories for television and magazines since he landed in Utah in the mid-1970s. In this column he writes about the favorite places he goes back to when he can.

THE VITALS:

San Diego Airport to Coronado: 8 miles.

Web sites: http://www.coronadovisitorcenter.com http://www.hoteldel.com

Insider tip: Cold beer, hot pub food and cool deck at McP’s Irish Pub on Orange Avenue.


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