San Diego/Coronado Weekend Guide
Coronado is magical!!! While I am typically a fan of quick weekend trips (that do not require you to take a day off from work), I would suggest making your trip to Coronado a three-day weekend. I’ve been making a yearly trip to Coronado for the past nine years. It’s a trip I truly look forward to, and when I leave, I always think “why don’t I come to San Diego more often?”. While San Diego is a great city with so many things to do, I want to walk you through my idea of the best weekend in San Diego/Coronado.
Leaving from LA:
Rise and shine! Get ready, jump in the car, and head south! Yes, traffic can be horrendous between San Diego and LA—especially on a Friday. Fortunately, that’s what podcasts—or showtunes—are for! To break up the drive a bit, I like to stop a little north of San Diego for lunch at one of most beautiful places – La Jolla!!
La Jolla is just fantastic. While there are many restaurants to choose from, I always stop at the same one – George’s at the Cove. We go to the Ocean Terrace at George’s, which is a rooftop restaurant & bar with excellent food and unparalleled views! Truly sensational! Either before or after lunch, you must walk down to the La Jolla Cove. You can go down into one of the caves by using the entrance in the little gift shop. You can also walk along Coast Boulevard and visit all the seals and sea lions laying on the rocks along the water. It’s really an amazing sight to behold! While this should be common knowledge, please do not get too close to the seals and sea lions to get a photo/selfie. It is super dangerous and—in my opinion—a little rude. Best to admire them from a distance – you can still get great pics!
Arrive in Coronado:
After lunch, just hop back into your car and go the short distance to Coronado. Yes, you could stay on the mainland of San Diego, but I’m not sure why you would when Coronado is so close! Coronado is on an island—sort of! It’s connected to the mainland by a tombolo called the Silver Strand. (Bet you didn’t think I would bust out the word ‘tombolo’ in this weekend guide!) It’s basically a strip of sand connecting an island to the mainland. There are a few great places to stay on Coronado. Here are those that I recommend:
Hotel del Coronado: Quite simply the best! Built in 1888, the Del is a living legend! Entering the hotel, you feel just like Marilyn Monroe— (I feel more like Jack Lemmon)—in Some Like It Hot! (If you haven’t seen Some Like It Hot – you must!!!) A fair warning: room rates are pricey—even for a standard room. The hotel is now a Hilton property, so you may be able to take advantage of points. If you do stay at the Del, I would recommend staying in the main/Victorian building. Unless you can get one of the beach villas, in which case – CALL ME! Even if you do not stay at the Del, you can still explore the grounds and take advantage of all they have to offer. We haven’t discussed when you are taking this trip, but I typically go during November/December. The holiday decorations are lovely and there is an ice skating rink right on the beach. I must say that is a great time to visit--it’s like a Hallmark Christmas movie come to life!
**Disclaimer: You may be wondering – ‘isn’t the Hotel del Coronado supposed to be haunted?’ Why yes, yes it is. And I don’t know if you believe in that kind of thing, but I do and the place is haunted—for sure! You can read about it here. A little spooky, but I just call out Kate’s name whenever anything spooky happens, so she knows I know what’s up!**
Coronado Island Marriott Hotel & Spa: This hotel is a great resort and spa with lovely views of the bay. It is in close proximity to the Coronado Ferry Landing - which has shops and restaurants as well as – you guessed it – Ferries – that will take you back to the mainland.
Glorietta Bay Inn: Located close to the Hotel del Coronado, the Glorietta Bay Inn is a charming boutique hotel that will make you feel like you are visiting friends at their mansion in the early 1900s. Perfect location where you can walk to many of the restaurants, shops, bars and activities of the island.
Best Western Plus Suites Hotel Coronado Island: Good location on Orange Avenue. Closer to the Ferry Landing side of the island, but you can still walk to the Hotel Del. Affordable and nice place to stay.
So, you are all checked into your room. Now it’s time to go back across the bridge and head to Balboa Park! You have a few options when it comes to afternoon activities. For my annual trip, I typically alternate between the San Diego Zoo or enjoying the wonderful museums at Balboa Park. So, let’s talk through both scenarios:
San Diego Zoo: First off—this zoo is massive! They have lots of options for transportation throughout the zoo, but you can get a great workout walking from exhibit to exhibit. There are also more hills involved than you would expect at a zoo (at least I’m always surprised by them!) Comfy shoes are a must! I’m not sure how you feel about zoos, but this one is top notch, of course. In addition to all the exhibits, they have many different experiences and tours to choose from. They also have tacos and beer! Don’t be tempted by their margaritas, though—they are entirely too sweet!
Balboa Park: Ok – so the Zoo is technically in Balboa Park, but it’s a huge park! On the other side of Balboa Park there are many things to do: theaters, museum, gardens, and restaurants! So much to see and really so beautiful! As far as museums go, I would definitely recommend the San Diego Museum of Art , the Timken Museum of Art, and the San Diego Natural History Museum. You also have to visit the Japanese Friendship Garden and the Botanical Building! You’ve already had lunch, but I would recommend stopping for a glass of wine and perhaps a snack at Lady Carolyn’s Pub. It’s called a Pub, but really it’s an outdoor patio space where you can sit for a minute and relax and get great photos of the Old Globe Theatre.
Time to eat! I would recommend eating Italian food after the park. Why? Because I would always recommend eating Italian food! So, there are a few places I would recommend near the park and then also a few in the Little Italy area of San Diego, which is a short drive or Uber ride away.
Cucina Urbana: Love this place! Located close to Balboa Park, it’s the perfect place to come after a day exploring the museums or the Zoo. For two people, I would suggest sharing a starter (salad or appetizer), a pizza, and a pasta dish. But if you have more people – even better! Just order everything! They have an amazing polenta board situation and, for the pasta, it’s difficult for me to choose between the pappardelle and the bucatini! You can’t go wrong with any of the pizza, but the Burrata/Rapini pizza is delightful! It’s a cool, buzzy spot so make sure you have reservations!
Il Dandy: Ok, this restaurant is something special! Also located near Balboa Park, the kitchen at Il Dandy is helmed by a Father/Son Michelin Star chef duo from Calabria. I mean…do I really need to say anything else? The service is top notch, and everyone seems truly excited by the menu and the passion of the kitchen. I was pretty passionate while eating the food, as well! The wine list is perfection and the food is ridiculous—in a good way! When you go, start at the top of the menu and order everything. The pizza is dazzling—the Rustichella pizza with Rapini, Burrata, and Maialino Nero Sausage blew my mind! (Ok, I realize that sounds very similar to the pizza I suggested at the restaurant above. What can I say?!? I have a type when it comes to pizza.) I could probably talk about the food here for a few hours but I will just say one more thing – get the Potatoes with Caciocavallo (Southern Italian Cheese) & Mustard – sounds crazy – tastes like heaven! Also – because of this restaurant, I’m going to start demanding Limoncino instead of Limoncello at restaurants. They are basically the same thing but come from different regions of Italy. So, I’m #teamlimoncino! Ok – I’ll stop rambling about this place… wait – did I mention the Budino???
Barbusa: Barbusa is located in the Little Italy area of San Diego, which is definitely worth checking out. It’s a great neighborhood where you can walk to different stores, restaurants, bars and make a whole evening of it! Barbusa features Sicilian food, which is always a win in my book! Also, something to note is that they have many gluten free options and gluten free pasta so if you have anyone in your life who is triggered by gluten then they will be very happy here! I do my typical Starter, Pizza, Pasta combination because I can never decide between Pizza and Pasta so it’s best to have both and share! My favorite pizza here is the Burrata and Rapini—just kidding! My favorite pizza here is actually the Dolci e Picante w/ Soppressata, Calabrian Chiles, Lavender Honey, Bermuda Onions, Mozzarella, Grana Padano, and Basil…. Pretty much all of my favorite things (just missing the Burrata and Rapini!) This restaurant has a fun vibe and gets crowded so definitely make ressies!
Herb & Wood: Also located in Little Italy, Herb & Wood is by Top Chef favorite Brian Malarkey. I’ve been to a few of Chef Malarkey’s restaurants and the experience is always a good time. At this restaurant, he puts his personal spin on Italian cuisine with items like the pizza with Spanish Chorizo, Taleggio, Oregano, Peppers, Onions, and Honey. Also, here is where I would try some seafood options such as the Roasted Branzino or the Grilled Pacific Swordfish.
Confession: since I typically go to San Diego during Thanksgiving weekend, my Saturday mornings usually revolve around watching college football…in the hotel room…while drinking champagne. However, if college football isn’t your thing—or you are not there during football season--don’t fear, there is plenty to do! Go to your hotel’s spa and/or pool, walk along the beach, take The Del’s Yoga on the Beach or Cycling/Spinning on the Beach class, explore the Coronado Ferry Landing, or take the ferry to Seaport Village on the mainland. Or, you can just put on your hotel robe and drink champagne in your room. Football or not--it’s a fun time!
Don’t drink too much champagne, though, because for lunch you need to go to Old Town San Diego! I love Old Town for many reasons, but perhaps the biggest reason is the Crispy Carnitas at the Old Town Mexican Cafe. Now there are many restaurants in Old Town, and I’m sure they are all fabulous, BUT I can’t imagine anything being as good as the Carnitas at Old Town Mexican Cafe – make sure to ask for them crispy! Then order a Cadillac Margarita and you are in for a treat. There is typically a long wait for a table, but bar seating is easier to come by and they have lots of TVs at the bar in case there are games you want to watch. Sorry for the football obsession but that’s a big part of “Leonetti Living” so I guess I’m not technically sorry. Then after lunch you need to walk all around Old Town to explore what they have to offer. You can go into a few of the museums and they have all sorts of fun stores to go into. I would also recommend checking out the Whaley House which is considered one of the most haunted houses in America (in case you want to see more ghosts other than Kate Morgan!). Also – the Church of the Immaculate Conception is a beautiful place to visit. Just so much history! Old Town is like the Colonial Williamsburg of California and I am here for it! Also – no stop to Old Town would be complete without going to Rose’s Tasting Room. It’s tucked back in the corner of Fiesta de Reyes so it could be tricky to find but just keep walking and you’ll get there! They have beer and wine tastings with many local San Diego options. You can do a tasting and then they have a few tables to sit at while you enjoy a glass and they have fun merchandise to look through and buy for friends and family. I just love this place!
Ok – so after you’ve walked all around Old Town time to head back to Coronado!
During the Holidays you will want to check out the Del in the evening and watch the Skating by the Sea! They have an ice rink set up on the beach and you can choose to skate yourself or just watch from the sidelines – I prefer observing as it’s some of the best people watching you will ever find! However, if it’s not the holidays then you can do a little pre-dinner walk on the beach! I like to stay on Coronado for dinner on Saturday night and there are many options to choose from, but a few of my favorites are:
Serẽa: This place is fairly new at the Hotel del Coronado. It replaced the 1500 Ocean restaurant that used to be in the same place and I must say I enjoyed Serẽa immensely. Many fresh seafood options, personalized service, and an extensive wine list. It’s an indoor/outdoor situation so if the weather is lovely – like it typically is in San Diego – you can sit outside with gorgeous ocean views.
Bluewater Grill: This is a casual spot for good seafood in Coronado. It’s located in the old Hotel del Coronado Boathouse and is walking distance from the hotel. Great views of the boats and water and I’ve always had very friendly service there!
Chez Loma: This is a very charming French restaurant located in a beautiful converted Victorian house. So lovely! Located in walking distance to the Del, Chez Loma is perfect for a romantic dinner date while on your Coronado weekend. I’m not much of a dessert fan but it’s difficult for me to say no to a crème brûlée there.
After dinner you can take a stroll on the beach, go to one of the bars at the Del, or go to your hotel room and watch TV – whatever you want to do - but enjoy it because it’s your last night in Coronado!
On Sunday morning I would suggest going for breakfast at the Del! Here are a few options:
Sheerwater: I just love Sheerwater! It is open for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner and is located on the beach side of the hotel just steps from the ocean. I am a fan of their breakfast buffet. Since I’m not a big breakfast person I appreciate a buffet with a few lunch items. Also – they always have cheese on the buffet and I really appreciate cheese!
Crown Room: Ok – brunch at the Crown Room is something that everyone should experience at least once in their lives - it’s a whole production! First of all – the Crown Room is stunning! Secondly, for brunch they have every kind of food you could imagine. So come hungry and don’t have too much strenuous activity planned after breakfast – other than a nice stroll on the beach to walk off the meal.
For your daytime activity – I’m going to be honest – Sundays are for football so you can find me watching my game at my favorite bar on Coronado – McP’s Irish Pub. They have all of the NFL games and make it so easy for you to watch them. You just go in and let them know what game you want, and they let you know which TV it will be on – they are super accommodating, have decent food and cold beer. It’s kind of like heaven. Also – they have a nice outdoor seating area and are dog friendly. Also – during halftime of my game, I always walk a few doors down to my favorite bookstore – Bay Books. It’s an independently owned bookstore – which is very refreshing – and they have a great selection of books. I always peruse the shelves and figure out what I need and then come back after the game to make my purchases. It’s one of my favorite traditions of the trip! Wow – I am a nerd!
However – if it’s not football season - or if you are more normal than I am - then you can do a different daytime activity. I would suggest getting out on the water and doing some sort of boat excursion. They have bay cruises and sailing tours and an array of water activities all over the city. So go crazy – you’re in San Diego! Just make sure to get back to your car around 4pm and head back to Los Angeles. And I promise the whole way back you will be saying – “why don’t we go to San Diego more often??”