A well-known fact about Coronado is that it tends to sink a few inches each summer. The weight of tourists from inland cities, of college students returned home, of Navy families back for the Fourth of July — Orange Avenue becomes awash in beach cruisers and sunburned shoulders every year when the summer season arrives. But somehow, even with the throngs of vacationers, Coronado holds on to its small-town feel. It’s a place where neighbors bump into each other on Sundays at the park or at the Ferry Landing’s farmer’s market. You can’t go to the grocery store without running into someone you know, whether it’s the pharmacist, neighbor, or landscaper. This is what keeps Coronado quaint, what keeps real estate prices high, and why Navy families return here to retire. It’s a beautiful gated community surrounded on nearly all sides by water.
But summer isn’t Coronado’s only season. Each Halloween Margarita Avenue dresses itself in cobwebs and jack-o’-lanterns for costumed children. And Christmas pours down Orange Avenue with holiday floats iced with garlands and candy canes. This is when Coronado emerges from its pure patriotic summers as a small town full of families.
As a teenager full of angst, I loathed the town’s conservative mentality and traditional values. Being the West Coast’s largest naval port brings a huge influx of military personnel, both enlisted and civilian. I always thought of Coronado as the town of white picket fences and American flags, of BMWs and Lexuses. Everyone here keeps up appearances, and with the Joneses. If you’re a punk rocker there’s plenty to rail against. I suppose that’s why I’m always pleased to see spiky-haired teenagers dressed in studded black rags and sagging pants hanging out in front of Starbucks on the main street. Back in my day it was the Kensington Coffee Company on First Street. The funny thing is that these frustrated kids are Coronado’s golden children, the truly privileged. Believe it or not, some of them graduate with honors and head off soon after to upper-crust schools like Stanford. The shock value of their dyed hair and piercings goes only so far. Once you meet their proud parents or see the cars they drive, you get an honest glimpse, if not into the nature of Coronado, at least into human nature in general.
A little older now, and after nearly seven years away, I’m able to see Coronado differently. There’s something to be said about neighbors who still borrow sugar and bookstores whose clerks know your name. Like La Jolla and Del Mar, Coronado is the land of plenty, where presidents vacation and celebrities live. But beyond all that, beyond the consumerism and conservatism that once drove me mad as a teenager, Coronado is still just a sleepy town.