History of the Coronado Bridge

Known for its characteristic curve and girder supports, the Coronado Bay Bridge is a San Diego landmark with a history just as unique as the bridge itself.
Jess Tucker
Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. This means if you make purchases through them, I may be compensated at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.
History of the Coronado Bridge
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An Overview of the Famous Coronado Bridge in San Diego

Coronado Bridge at Sunset from the San Diego BayView of Coronado Bridge from the Coronado Lsland Marriott Resort and Spa

If you’ve ever taken a San Diego harbor cruise or looked out over the San Diego Bay from the balcony of a nearby hotel, you’ve undoubtedly seen the Coronado Bridge.

Defined by its staggering height at over 200 feet, as well as its curved shape, the bridge is unique to the point of being one of the most recognizable bridges in the United States! Even its blue color, meant to help it blend into the sea and sky, is striking when viewed in person.

Bridging the gap between San Diego’s mainland and Coronado Island, the Coronado Bridge is a fixture of the bay. What many who drive across the bridge or snap photos of it from afar don’t know is why the bridge looks the way it does, and what its history can tell us.

Local Tips
Enjoy the Views
Enjoy the breathtaking views of the Coronado Bridge, but be mindful of traffic while taking photos or admiring the scenery. Use designated lookout points and pedestrian pathways for safety.

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Loews Coronado Bay Resort
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Coronado Beach Resort
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Coronado Island Marriott Resort & Spa
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The Little Known History of the Coronado Bridge San Diego

Under the Coronado Bridge
Under the Coronado Bridge

The construction of the San Diego Coronado Bridge wasn’t without its hiccups and delays. The unique circumstances of its construction included demands from the U.S. Navy, a delay of over 30 years, and some truly innovative engineering methods.

Far from posing an unsolvable problem, however, the tale of the Coronado Bay Bridge’s history sheds light on how the bridge got its characteristic height and curve.

The Hotel Del Coronado with the Coronado Bridge in the Backgroun
The Hotel Del Coronado with the Coronado Bridge in the Backgroun

Delayed Beginnings

The original plans for constructing a bridge between San Diego and Coronado date back to the 1920s. At the time, the idea was suggested by John D. Spreckels, an entrepreneur and notable community figure who had a hand in the history of other San Diego landmarks like the Hotel Del Coronado and Belmont Park in Mission Beach.

The bridge’s construction was initially opposed by the U.S. Navy, who had a strong presence in Southern California at the Naval Base San Diego. The Navy argued that a bridge across the bay would be too structurally unstable to withstand earthquakes or potential attacks, and that if the bridge collapsed, it would trap Navy ships.

Pushback against the bridge’s construction was so severe that the Navy threatened to pull out of San Diego entirely, so the idea was shelved for decades. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the Coronado City Council considered the proposal again, and even when the plan was tentatively approved in the mid-1960s, there were many more hurdles to clear before construction could begin.

Pillar of the Coronado Bay Bridge
Pillar of the Coronado Bay Bridge

Challenges in Construction

To ensure any ships coming out of the San Diego Naval Base could pass under the bridge, the Navy supported its construction on the condition that the bridge would stand over 200 feet above the water. This would be a high enough clearance for even the largest of aircraft carriers.

Architects puzzled over how to maintain the 200-foot clearance height without making it too steep for cars to pass over safely. To achieve this, the bridge needed to be longer than the distance between each shoreline. They landed on a solution that ended up giving the Coronado Bridge its defining characteristic: a curve!

Coronado Bridge is also unique in that it has no overhead supports. Rather than constructing a suspension bridge, the plans called for 27 arch-like towers to act as supports, elevating and stabilizing the bridge.

Construction on the Coronado Bridge began in February of 1967, and it opened to traffic in August of 1969. The Coronado Bridge has been in continuous operation ever since.

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Coronado - Full Day Bike Rental
Coronado - Full Day Bike Rental
Enjoy Coronado Island while taking a full day bike rental. Use your Go Pass and Grab your bike, helmet and map, then plan your personal tour of the island. Take in the beautiful view of the San Diego skyline during your picturesque ride.
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What kind of deals does the Go City San Diego pass offer?

The Go City San Diego pass gives visitors the ability to save up to 55% on attraction admissions.

Combine our exclusive 5% discount to save even more and consider the All-Inclusive pass to maximize your savings. Plus the pass gives you the ability to skip the line when visiting select attractions.

Use our exclusive discount code GVSD5OFF to save an extra 5%!

Why is the Coronado Bridge San Diego Famous?

The Coronado Bridge is more than just a way for people to get from point A to point B. It’s also become a local landmark, and over time, its unique features have gained attention.

The Bridge’s Distinctive Style

Though the Coronado Bridge was tricky in its design, it is these design constraints that make it so unique!

Without them though, the bridge wouldn’t have its iconic bend or its concrete girder system of supports. Its look is so distinct that it’s one of the most recognizable bridges in America.

Sunset of the Coronado Bridge Over San Diego Bay
Sunset of the Coronado Bridge Over San Diego Bay

A Record-Setting Bridge

Many regard the Coronado Bridge as a marvel of engineering, receiving awards from the American Institute of Steel Construction.

At the time of its construction, it was the world’s longest box girder bridge, and held that title for 39 years until the Shibanpo Yangtze River Bridge was built in China in 2008.

All the Way to the Bay Mural Under Corondao Bridge in Chicano Park in Bario Logan
All the Way to the Bay Mural Under Corondao Bridge in Chicano Park in Bario Logan

Art Murals

Since 1973, the pillars on the Coronado Bridge’s eastern end have sported colorful murals.

These paintings are part of the art at Chicano Park in Barrio Logan, which has the world’s biggest gallery of Chicano art murals. Many of the murals depict scenes from Mexican-American history and important cultural figures, from Pancho Villa to Frida Kahlo.

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Hotel del Coronado, Curio Collection by Hilton
Hotel del Coronado, Curio Collection by Hilton
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It doesn’t get any more iconic in San Diego than the Hotel Del Coronado. This luxury hotel is what other hotels strive to be. Treat yourself to this experience.
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What's the Best Way to See & Experience the Coronado Bridge in San Diego Today?

Plan a visit to the Coronado Bridge today and drive across this historic landmark, or check out other ways to learn more about it.

Harbor Cruise in San Diego Bay
Harbor Cruise in San Diego Bay

Take a Tour

Many of San Diego’s best tours feature the Coronado Bridge as a key location!

To hear stories of the history of the bridge from a local guide, take part in the Coronado: GPS-Guided Scooter Tour & Round-Trip Ferry, which includes stops at other famous spots nearby like the Hotel Del Coronado and the Naval Air Station.

View of Downtown San Diego from the Coronado Bridge
View of Downtown San Diego from the Coronado Bridge

Visit During Special Events

Ordinarily, pedestrians are not allowed to cross the Coronado Bridge by foot or bicycle, as it is deemed too dangerous. However, there are a few days a year when this restriction is lifted.

The Navy Bay Bridge Run/Walk opens up the bridge to pedestrians once a year. This fundraiser, which began in 1986, supports San Diego’s significant Navy personnel population through the work of the Navy Region Southwest Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) Program. The event typically runs in May each year.

Alternatively, visit during August to take part in Bike the Bay, during which participants can bike across the bridge. Rent a bike with a Go City San Diego pass and follow the trail all the way from its starting point at Embarcadero Marina Park, then loop back around to bike the length of the Coronado Bridge.

Because the bridge is rarely open to pedestrians, I really recommend both of these events as one of a kind San Diego experiences!

Main Entrance to the Hotel Del Coronado
Main Entrance to the Hotel Del Coronado

Stay at a Coronado Hotel

San Diego’s history is best experienced through a first-hand visit. If you’re planning to drive over this historic bridge, follow it up with a stay at another historic locale in Coronado, the Hotel Del Coronado, Coronado Island Marriott Resort and Spa.

Affectionately referred to as ‘The Del’ by locals, this beachside resort has been a fixture of Coronado since its construction in 1888. Hosting a wide range of famous guests from celebrities to U.S. presidents, learning about the history of Hotel Del Coronado is the perfect companion for anyone interested in the Coronado Bridge.

Additional Things to Know Before You Visit the Bridge

View of Coronado from the Coronado Bay Bridge
View of Coronado from the Coronado Bay Bridge

When Should You Visit?

As one of San Diego’s seaside towns, no trip to Coronado is complete without spending time on some of its beaches.

San Diego’s sunny weather and warm temperatures mean you can visit the beach anytime, but if you’re looking to swim at Coronado Central Beach or Silver Strand State Beach, the shores come alive in the summertime. Those who prefer riding a jet ski around the bay or renting a board to surf at Imperial Beach will find the best conditions in the fall.

Tip of Coroando Gold Course
Tip of Coroando Gold Course

What Other Sights Are Nearby?

There are many other chances to learn about history and experience San Diego’s culture in Coronado.

The best way is to grab a Go City San Diego All-inclusive pass with our discount code, GVSD5OFF. With it, you’ll save when you visit the Coronado Museum of History & Art, rent a paddle board or kayak, and ride the Coronado Ferry.

Boats Moored As Seen from the Coronado Bay Bridge
Boats Moored As Seen from the Coronado Bay Bridge

Other Ways to See the Bridge

Other than driving across it and taking the GPS-Guided Scooter Tour, many harbor cruises offer incredible views of the Coronado Bridge.

Some of our team’s favorites include the Sights & Sips 2-hour Sunset Cruise on San Diego Bay and the San Diego: Harbor Cruise, both of which are featured in our list of the 13 Best Harbor Cruises & Boat Tours in San Diego!

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Loews Coronado Bay Resort
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Loews Coronado Bay Resort
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