On a sunny Friday afternoon in June, I joined a gaggle of tourists waiting for the orange and green Old Town Trolley, a bus that picks up every half-hour from McP's Irish Pub and Grill in Coronado.
"As Time Goes By" was playing as we settled into our seats, and a Bogey impersonator was saying, "Of all the tours in all the world, you had to walk into mine."
I was glad I had. As we rolled over the graceful, blue San Diego-Coronado Bridge and hit the highlights of San Diego, we were treated to a running commentary of historical tidbits and fun facts — and to Judy Garland's rendition of "The Trolley Song."
Before returning us to Coronado, the two-hour, $25 hop-on, hop-off tour took us through Balboa Park, to Old Town and along the harbor, where San Diego's newest maritime attraction, the aircraft carrier Midway, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
I chose Coronado as a destination easily reached without a car and where no wheels were no problem. I lived here once, so I knew it was pedestrian- and bike-friendly — flat and laid out on a grid — and an ideal base from which to explore San Diego across the bay.
My odyssey began on a Friday morning as Amtrak 572 pulled out of Union Station for the two-hour, 45-minute journey south. From San Diego's Santa Fe Station on lower Broadway, I had only to carry my bag across the street to catch the 902 bus ($2.25) to Coronado.
It let me off right across from El Cordova Hotel on Orange Avenue, which I had selected largely for its location near shops and restaurants. My room at the vintage Spanish-style hotel was a bit of a relic, but the windows opened to a lush, lovely patio and pool.
The Coronado shuttle bus ($1) stops almost at El Cordova's door as it travels the 1.2 miles from Hotel del Coronado down Orange Avenue to the Ferry Landing Marketplace. It comes by hourly, so the trick is in the timing. For example, the last shuttle leaves Ferry Landing Marketplace at 6:30 p.m., which means that if you're dining in one of its trio of good restaurants — Bay Beach Cafe, Peohe's or Il Fornaio — you may have to take a cab back to your hotel.
On Saturday morning, I ambled over to the nearby Glorietta Bay Inn, once sugar magnate John D. Spreckels' mansion, to join Coronado Touring's walking tour. Although it was more talking than walking — Nancy Cobb, our enthusiastic guide, regaled us with local history for more than an hour before we set off — it was delightful. Our 90-minute, $8 tour turned into 2 1/2 hours, including a stroll along Coronado's wide sand beach.
We walked to Hotel del Coronado, where our guide pointed out a dragon tree that had lost some limbs so cameramen could get a good angle on Marilyn Monroe while shooting the 1959 comedy "Some Like It Hot." (The tree retaliated by ejecting a gooey red sap that gummed up their cameras.)
Later, I took the shuttle back to the Ferry Landing Marketplace, where I rented a bike ($7 an hour) from Bikes & Beyond, which also has two- and four-seat surreys with the fringe on top. There's a terrific bike path that starts at the landing and winds under the bridge; from there, the route continues along wide Glorietta Boulevard past the golf course and into the heart of the village.
For the less athletically inclined, Coronado Pedicab Co. operates from 10 a.m. until dark daily and will pick up anywhere in Coronado for $30 per half an hour for one or two.
For exploring farther afield, passenger ferries cross to San Diego every hour on the half hour from the Ferry Landing, starting at 9:30 a.m., with the last ferry returning from Broadway and Harbor Drive in San Diego — a 10-minute walk from popular Seaport Village — at 9 p.m. weekdays and 10 p.m. weekends. It's $2.25 each way, 50 cents extra for a bike.
Staying in If you stay only in Coronado, there's plenty to occupy a weekend. Restaurants have proliferated in recent years. I had a delightful lunch bayside at Bay Beach Cafe. Uptown, I dined at the stylish Rhinoceros Cafe and Grill and had a late dinner at the bar at Brigantine, which serves hearty appetizers, sandwiches and sushi until 11:30 p.m. weekends.
That means you can first catch a performance at the Coronado Playhouse at the Ferry Landing, where Shakespeare's "Macbeth" will open in mid-August, or at Lamb's Players, in a former movie theater on Orange Avenue. The play "Art" opens there on Wednesday.
At 1100 Orange Ave. is the Coronado Visitor Center and Coronado Historical Assn.'s Museum of History and Art, open daily. There's a nice gift shop and a small exhibit that includes an egg from an 1880s ostrich farm in Coronado and a canvas panel from "Tent City," the oceanfront vacation village that flourished until 1939. There's also a salute to the Kingston Trio. Nick Reynolds, an original member of the group, graduated from Coronado High.
The museum chronicles the history of Coronado, beginning with two Midwesterners, Elisha Babcock and H.L. Story, who came West in the late 1880s for their health and enjoyed rowing across the bay to hunt jackrabbits on the scrubland that was Coronado. They bought the whole peninsula for $110,000 with plans to build a luxury hotel. To help finance it, they would sell lots on Coronado. (The first sale was to a local attorney for $1,600.) In 1888, the Hotel del Coronado, a splendid turreted Victorian, opened on the oceanfront.
Fast forward: In April, the California Assn. of Realtors reported that the median price for a single family Coronado home was $900,000. Coronado homes, an eclectic architectural mix that includes Tudor, Mediterranean and Craftsman, are yet another treat for visitors on foot.
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A sunny stay
GETTING THERE & GETTING AROUND:
Amtrak, (800) USA-RAIL (872-7245), http://www.amtrak.com . An unreserved coach seat from L.A. to San Diego is $29.
Bikes & Beyond, 1201 1st St.; (619) 435-7180. Rental rates $7-$30 an hour.
Coronado Pedicab Co. At the Ferry Landing and the back gate of the Hotel del Coronado; (619) 572-4651. One-hour tour $60; $8 per person for ride.
Coronado Touring: Tours leave at 11 a.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from Glorietta Bay Inn, 1630 Glorietta Blvd.; (619) 435-5993. $8 per person.
WHERE TO STAY:
El Cordova Hotel, 1351 Orange Ave., Coronado; (800) 229-2032 or (619) 435-4131, http://www.elcordovahotel.com . Doubles $129-$179.
WHERE TO EAT:
Bay Beach Cafe, 1201 1st St.; (619) 435-4900, http://www.baybeachcafe.com . Entrees $17-$30.
Rhinoceros Cafe and Grill, 1166 Orange Ave.; (619) 435-2121, http://www.rhinocafe.com . Entrees $10-$25.
TO LEARN MORE:
Coronado Visitor Center, 1100 Orange Ave.; (619) 437-8788, http://www.coronadovisitorcenter.com .
— Beverly Beyette