Ferryboats Make a Comeback at San Diego Bay

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The ferryboat is back, and it offers a novel way to discover what’s new in old Coronado.

Now in its 102nd year, this attractive city across San Diego Bay is often, and incorrectly, called an island. It’s connected to the mainland by a narrow neck of land known as the Silver Strand, as well as by the graceful San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge.

When that soaring, boomerang-shaped toll bridge opened in 1969, ferryboats were forced to end their longtime service from downtown San Diego to Coronado. But less than two decades later, auto tolls paid back the $47-million cost of the bridge, and ferries have been permitted to crisscross the bay again.

But there is one difference: The waterborne shuttle service is limited to pedestrians. The only vehicles allowed on board are bicycles (when space permits).


Take the Trolley

Don’t worry about being stranded when you dock at Coronado. All ferries are met by Coronado Trolley Lines, a new bus service of rubber-wheeled trolleys that cross the city to its landmark oceanfront resort, the century-old Hotel del Coronado.

On the return trip they also stop at Coronado’s newest resort, Le Meridien, which opened on the bay this past summer.

The San Diego Bay Ferry runs to Coronado every day all year. Departures are on the hour from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., plus an 11 p.m. run Friday and Saturday.


Return trips are half an hour later. The first crossing from Coronado is at 11:30 a.m. and the last at 10:30 p.m., with an extra trip Friday and Saturday at 11:30 p.m.

The ferry fare is $1.50 each way, or you can pay $4 for an all-day pass. It costs 50 cents to transport a bicycle.

The ferries are run by Star & Crescent Boat Co., veteran operator of San Diego Harbor Excursion vessels that make one- and two-hour tours.

Vintage Ferry

One of the two boats making the quick crossing between San Diego’s Embarcadero and Coronado is the Silvergate, a vintage ferry that first crossed in 1941. Its companion is the Spirit of ’76, which was brought from New Orleans.

Ferryboats board passengers at the foot of Broadway adjacent to the Broadway Pier. Buy ferry tokens a few steps away at the San Diego Harbor Excursion ticket booth. Look for the blue awning at 1050 N. Harbor Drive. For information, call (619) 234-4111.

Between the ticket booth and the ferry boarding ramp is the Bay Cafe, where you can get fast-food meals and snacks. Sit at outdoor tables on the cafe’s upper-level observation deck. You’re also welcome aboard the Glorietta, a retired ferry that’s been converted to a floating gift shop.

The Silvergate and Spirit of ’76 provide transportation only; sightseeing information and refreshments are not available on board. After the 10-minute crossing, passengers disembark at the Old Ferry Landing, a cluster of new snack and specialty shops.


The main attraction is Peohe’s, a delightful seafood restaurant on the waterfront. Operated by the Chart House chain, it’s open for lunch and dinner daily (try the coconut shrimp). On Sundays a menu-ordered brunch is served from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Bike Tours

Also at the Old Ferry Landing is Bike Coronado, where visitors can rent tandems ($8 an hour) and children’s or cruiser bicycles ($4 an hour). Ask for a map of Coronado’s bike routes.

Bike Coronado is open every day from 10 a.m. until dark. Baskets, baby seats, children’s helmets and bike locks are available. For information, call (619) 437-4888. Another place for rentals is Holland’s Bicycles, 977 Orange Ave.

At 50 minutes past each hour, from 10:50 a.m. through 10:50 p.m., Coronado’s trackless trolleys depart from the Old Ferry Landing. They cross the city along Orange Avenue and arrive at Hotel del Coronado 10 minutes later.

Trolley fare is $1 each way; children 2 years and under ride free. The drivers talk about Coronado and point out sights along the route.

To discover more about the Crown City, join the 90-minute walking tour offered by Coronado Touring on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at 11 a.m. Cost is $4 per person; no reservation required. For information, call (619) 435-5892 or (619) 435-5993.

Meet the tour guide at the 80-year-old Glorietta Bay Inn, once the mansion of sugar magnate John D. Spreckels and now a 99-room lodge. Rooms and suites in the recently remodeled mansion are $120 to $275; doubles in the modern addition begin at $89. For reservations, call (619) 435-3101.


Glorietta Bay Inn is opposite “The Del,” as the world-famed Hotel del Coronado is affectionately known. A tape recorder rented at the Lobby Shop ($3) will lead you on an audio tour of the grand Victorian that’s welcomed guests since 1888.

Enormous Dining Room

Along corridors on the lower level are photos and exhibits that tell about the hotel’s intriguing history. Be certain to peek in the Crown Room, the enormous dining room. Or treat yourself to the hotel’s popular Sunday brunch buffet ($18.95) between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.; no reservations are accepted, so expect to stand in line.

Rooms in The Del’s original building are $125 to $175, with water-view lanais and suites from $255 to $475; rooms in the modern addition begin at $155. For reservations, call (619) 522-8000.

Another waterfront option for Coronado’s overnight visitors is the 4-month-old Le Meridien San Diego, a luxurious, low-profile resort overlooking ponds, swimming pools and the bay.

Activities include scuba and snorkeling lessons, water aerobics, a windsurfing class, a tennis clinic, a bicycle tour and instructor-led walking or jogging.

Le Meridien’s gourmet restaurant, Marius, features a dinner menu of French Provencale dishes. Or dine informally indoors or on the patio at L’Escale, a brasserie.

Nightly rates at the 300-room Le Meridien are $140 to $260, single or double, with executive suites beginning at $360. Accommodations in separate villas near the tennis courts are $225 to $495. For reservations, call (619) 435-3000.

All Coronado Trolleys stop at the resort, which is at the east end of Second Street three blocks from the Old Ferry Landing.

List of Lodgings

Scheduled to open in November, with 63 rooms and suites, is Best Western Suites/Coronado at Orange Avenue and Third Street. Rates will be $64 to $140. For information, call (619) 437-1666.

For a list of lodgings, visit the Coronado Chamber of Commerce, 720 Orange Ave., or call (619) 435-9260.

To reach the dock for the Coronado ferry, drive south from Los Angeles on Interstate 5 to San Diego’s Civic Center exit. Continue on Front Street to Broadway, then turn right to Harbor Drive and the Broadway Pier.

Parking is available nearby at the Amtrak Depot. Ferry-goers also can arrive via Amtrak trains, which make eight round trips daily from Los Angeles and intermediate stations.

If you drive to Coronado, continue south on Interstate 5 to the California 75/Coronado Bridge exit. Cars with two or more persons should move to the far right-hand lane to avoid paying the $1 auto toll after you cross the bridge.

Round trip from Los Angeles to Coronado is 260 miles.