California California Hotels photography road trip San Diego

Coronado Beach in a dry December

Coronado Island is the southern entrance to San Diego Harbor. Coronado is often called an island, yet it is not actually an island. The southern approach to Coronado is about ten miles along an isthmus strip of sandy beach connecting the affluent resort enclave of Coronado at the northern end of the isthmus to the mainland of southern San Diego County at Imperial Beach. This stretch of land was developed purposefully as a beach resort community in the 1880s. The U.S. Government appropriated much of the land for Naval bases to protect the harbor of San Diego and the border lands with Mexico.

Coronado map

A two-mile long bridge from downtown San Diego connects the mainland city of 1.1 million on the eastern side of San Diego Bay to the town of Coronado. The population of Coronado is about 30,000.

Besides the bridge, there is also ferry service from San Diego to Coronado.  By land, the drive is about 30 miles from the Gaslamp District of downtown San Diego to drive south past National City and Chula Vista to Imperial Beach, then north along the peninsula to Coronado.


Coronado – San Diego Bridge (wikipedia)

Coronado Bridge is a high curving bridge 200 feet above the bay to accommodate the passage of aircraft carrier ships under the bridge.

USS Carl Vinson

USS Carl Vinson in home port at Naval Air Station North Island (NASNI) at the northern tip of the Coronado peninsula.

My parents are retired military and they regularly stay at military base lodges when traveling. One of the premier lodges in the military hotel directory is the Navy Lodge at Naval Air Station North Island Coronado. The Navy Lodge is located on the beach about one mile north of Hotel del Coronado.

Navy Lodge-1

Navy Lodge at Naval Air Station North Island, Coronado-San Diego.

The Navy Lodge is like a Best Western room in a 5-star exclusive beach location. The beach is more exclusive than the Hotel del Coronado with a 70% lower price tag at $89 per night. The Navy base beach is far less crowded than Coronado Beach due to restricted access limited to military personnel and their guests.

Navy Lodge Beach View

Coronado Beach at Naval Air Station North Island.

A high fence extends across the beach and out into the water separating the military base beach from the public beach of Coronado.

Coronado Beach

View of Coronado Beach from Navy Lodge at NASNI base on Coronado North Island. Military fence extends into the Pacific Ocean.

The downtown skyscrapers of San Diego are visible from the Navy Lodge top floor balcony.

San Diego skyline

Downtown San Diego skyline across the bay from Coronado.

The Hotel del Coronado displays over 100,000 lights on the hotel exterior for the holiday season. The hotel’s 19th century Victorian architecture is distinctive in night lights.

Hotel Del at night

Hotel del Coronado in holiday lights.

Traveling around San Diego to see touristy stuff was a tough choice when the beach outside the Navy Lodge on Coronado was about the best place one could possibly hang out in the region. Over a period of four days I visited Old Town San Diego, Balboa Park, Gaslamp District and Hotel del Coronado.

Over the next few days I will add to my collection of California travel stories with articles about these San Diego locations.

Coming Down from Mexico

Interstate 5 through San Diego has a sign near the entrance to the Coronado Bridge stating International Border 15 miles.

I took a drive along the Coronado isthmus south to the Tijuana Estuary National Wildlife Refuge near the USA-Mexico border. Loew’s Coronado Bay Resort Hotel is situated along the isthmus on the harbor side, a few miles south of the town of Coronado.

West coast Navy SEALS are based at Coronado and at military bases along the isthmus.

Tijuana Estuary

Tijuana Estuary National Wildlife Refuge, Imperial Beach, California

There did not seem to be many birds hanging around the slough.

I gained some informational  knowledge from this little side trip to the border lands that made the excursion worthwhile to me.

Across the street from where we parked at the Tijuana Slough is the Pacific Ocean. I walked over to check out the beach.

Imperial Beach

There is a distinct color line in the sand at Imperial Beach.

I learned that Tijuana is situated in a location with an average elevation about 300 feet higher than San Diego. When it rains in Tijuana, shit runs downhill into the sea.

Imperial Beach warning sign

Imperial Beach Warning Sign – Sewage Contaminated Water

The basic rule of thumb for these parts is stay out of the water after it has rained. The beach at Coronado receives awards regularly as one of the top beach destinations in the USA.  I loved the views, but I kept my feet firmly planted in the dry sand out of the water. The sign at Imperial Beach was about ten miles south of the beach at Coronado.

Tijuana Mexico at night

The lights from Tijuana, Mexico seen from Coronado, California.


Ric Garrido of Monterey, California is writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler.

Loyalty Traveler shares news and views on hotels, hotel loyalty programs and vacation destinations for frequent guests.

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  • Carl December 27, 2013

    I lived in Coronado for 2 years in the mid 90s, your photos bring back memories. From your earlier photos, I figured you were staying at the Navy Lodge, glad your folks continue to use that benefit. The one in Coronado is indeed one of the best ones in the system. Here in Hawaii, the cabins at Barking Sands in Kauai are also good.

  • Paul December 27, 2013

    @Carl – Barking Sands – one of the most spectacular beaches I’ve ever seen with the base of the Na Pali cliffs rising almost vertically out of the Pacific. And taking the road to the beach in a rental is a hoot, especially after a recent rain. Well worth a trip if you’re ever in Kauai.

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