The Hotel del Coronado, located in Coronado City on the peninsula across the San Diego-Coronado Bridge, is one of the ten stops on San Diego’s "hop on, hop off" Old Town Trolley Tours. The famous wooden resort hotel was built in 1888 and is still a high-demand property, situated next to Coronado Beach, which is one of the top ten destination beaches in the U.S. The hotel has appeared in numerous movies, including "Some Like it Hot," the 1959 comedy starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. And for dedicated "Wizard of Oz" fans, this is one of their popular pilgrimage sites, considering that author L. Frank Baum stayed at the hotel in the early 1900s and reportedly conceived the idea of The Emerald City based on the hotel itself.
To some visitors, it’s simply trolley stop #8, but to special interest aficionados and travel agents with an eye to their client’s needs and dreams, this is the stop for: beach lovers, water activity seekers, resort-goers, film buffs, Oz fans, Irish Pub collectors (the trolley stop is right outside McP’s Irish Pub & Grill), historians, architects, skateboarders, Segway sprinters, ice cream screamers, souvenir shoppers and more.
Along with the other nine trolley stops back in San Diego City proper, there are a myriad of special interest opportunities to explore.
1. Old Town is known as the birthplace of California, as it all started here when Father Junipero Serra established "the Mother of all Missions," San Diego de Alcala in 1769. This was the first of 21 missions that would spread north to Sonoma. Today, Old Town appears as an early American settlement where visitors can appreciate and purchase Americana; tap their feet to music concerts; see a Wells Fargo wagon; visit the blacksmith shop; munch on beef jerky and quaff craft root beer; celebrate history at the site of the original mission and in period homes such as the Whaley House Museum; enjoy Mexican food culture in the outdoor restaurants; buy decorative pottery and souvenirs; take lots of photos and generally have a great time wandering and exploring.
San Diego's Old Town Market. Photo: Supannee_Hickman / Shutterstock.com.
2. Balboa Park was created in 1863 and it was the largest urban park in the country. The property came to international attention when the 1915 Panama-California Exposition took place in the wonderful Spanish Colonial Revival buildings. Now, Balboa Park is comprised of 17 museums and cultural institutions, the iconic California Tower, theaters, gardens, outdoor art galleries, flowers and palm trees, restaurants, and the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ (with 4,500 pipes). Special interests can be explored in every museum, including the photography museum, the model railroad museum, and the botanical building (where a red-shouldered hawk was perched in a tree nearby — a draw for birding clients). The museum exhibits (check out "Cannibals in the Museum of Man") change on a regular basis so, as the saying goes, “It’s never the same park twice.”
3. Liberty Station Arts District is a formal Naval Training Center with 26 buildings housing work from artists using all mediums from oils to water color, photography, pottery, and dance. Visitors can take a workshop in knitting and crocheting, and visit the Contemporary Quilt Museum or the Women’s Museum of California. The San Diego Comic Art Gallery is a mecca for cartoon and animation fans, many of whom also attend the granddaddy of all comics conventions, Comic-Con, at the downtown convention center.
4. The Cabrillo National Monument is located at the tip of the Point Loma Peninsula. While the monument honors Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo as the first European to set foot in 1542, on the west coast, the area is an adventure spot offering hiking paths, beautiful scenery, birding and an informative visitors center. This is also the place to send clients in February and March to witness the Pacific Gray Whales as they follow the migration route from the Arctic to Baja, California.
The entrance to San Diego's Cabrillo National Monument. Photo: Jay Yuan / Shutterstock.com.
5. Little Italy is a cultural hub in the center of the city with restaurants, bars and shops. The fusion menus celebrate Italian, Portuguese, Mexican and even Japanese food, as people from these countries worked together in the fishing industry in days gone by — and the waterfront is only a 15-minute walk away. There are parks, piazzas, and a Saturday Farmers’ Market, as well as seasonal festivities.
San Diego's Little Italy. Photo: Mikhail Pogosov / Shutterstock.com.
6. At the Waterfront, during a visit in June, there was a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier within camera range, but the main attractions there include the USS Midway Museum (a decommissioned aircraft carrier that guests can visit) and the Star of India (the world’s oldest ship still sailing regularly, and which took to the seas when Abraham Lincoln was President).
7. Foodies! With a customer-service ethic that is untouchable, San Diego’s restaurants will impress clients who are into the culinary scene, where "scene" is the operative word for atmosphere and ambiance to enjoy the food, wine, cocktails and craft beer. Here’s just an appetizing teaser of what's available:
- Panama 66 (Balboa Park) — While you wait for your food, you can stroll in the outdoor sculpture garden with drink-in-hand and enjoy the noon-time carillon (bells) recital emanating from the California Tower.
- Born and Raised (Little Italy) — An excellent, high-end steak house experience where martinis and Caesar salads are made at your table. Dimmed lighting and wood furnishings contribute to the theme of "release, relax, recharge, refresh, retreat and realize there’s a lot to enjoy in life beyond employment, obligation and conformity," according to the restaurant's GM Thomas. My rib-eye was dee-licious!
- Breakfast Republic (Liberty Station) — Try the shrimp and grits or perhaps the carmel macchiato French toast, each with a side of Jurassic bacon.
- Liberty Market (Liberty Station) — Features 30 vendors selected for their hands-on culinary experience and passion, offering everything from Maine lobster to Hawaiian poke.
- Puesto (Seaport Village) — This is Mexican food at its best. Start with the guacamole, of course, and then try a selection of tacos. I had the grilled octopus (very good), the filet mignon (really good) and the chicken tomatillo (really, very good!). And, in between, I had a flight of Tequila, a shot of Mescal and a very nice local craft brown ale.
Travel agents are keenly aware that they can zoom into each and every destination to discover all the special interests (also referred to as niche markets) that lie within and that will appeal to specific clients. Of course, the key is to keep records of your conversations with your clients and then surprise them by referring to something they mentioned. Who are your Oz fans, film followers, fashionistas, gardeners, photographers, historians, military buffs, train enthusiasts, etc.? If you don’t know, then it’s time to review the likes and dislikes section in your client records and start filling in this key psychographic, which is why people travel in the first place. Your clients will love you for this attention to detail.