San Diego's Old Town Trolley: Acquaint Yourself with the City and Its Lore
Three days in San Diego was insufficient to cover the highpoints. Where to start? The San Diego Zoo was a must see. Balboa park and a museum or two were also near the top of our list. Seeing Old Town, eating out, walking the port – too much for the mere 72 hours between landing and leaving.
The airport, near downtown, brings planes close overhead.
We started slow, mulled over the options, got our bearings by walking the marina next to our hotel and fantasized about owning one of the yachts moored there.
The yacht in the lower right corner has my name on it.
Flame of Friendship, symbol of international goodwill between San Diego and Mexico.
San Diego Sea Port
As we walked along, enjoying the scene, we stumbled on a little kiosk that sold tickets for the Old Town Trolley. Curious, we walked over and took a look. It was the best move we could have made.
Faux Lighthouse: around the corner we signed up for the trolley.
The trolley stops at eleven major tourist highlights, and you can get on and off at your pleasure. The stops include:
- Old Town Market
- San Diego Harbor
- Seaport/Seal tours
- Convention Center
- Horton Plaza
- Gaslamp Quarter
- Hilton Bayfront
- Balboa Park/Zoo
- Little Italy
We chose to ride the trolley one complete circuit to get stories and yarns and a bit of history before stopping at specific destinations. Using it as our means of transportation for the first day, we saved a bundle on cabs, and along with our ticket we got discount coupons for attractions we'd visit later.
As we motored along, our guide, Curly, was the entertainment. I don't use the word 'entertainment' lightly. He was a combination guide and historian with a hearty dose of comedian thrown in to keep things lively.
Curly giving us his spiel.
The Gaslamp District was home to Wyatt Earp during what history calls his lost years, the period he was forced to leave Arizona Territory because of murder charges pending against him and his brother Virgil. Wyatt and his wife, Josephine, operated gambling establishments in the Gaslamp District, and embarked on a bit of land speculation. Anything they touched (or bought) in downtown San Diego was guaranteed to make them richer.
Historic Gaslamp District
I'm a sucker for ghost stories and as we rode along, Curly told the tales of several well-known San Diegoan apparitions. The Horton Grand Hotel was the former site of Ida Bailey's bordello in the heart of the Gaslamp's historic red light district. It is now the earthly wandering ground of gambler Roger Whittaker's spirit. Poor bedeviled Whittaker found life closing in on him. Gambling debts mounted to a fearsome level. In a desperate effort to extricate himself from his debts, he chanced cheating at cards, but was caught and about to be murdered for the misdeed. Whittaker managed to escape those he'd duped, although not for long. He ran to the Horton and hid in room 309 where his luck finally ran out. He was found and shot. Every room in the hotel has a diary on the nightstand so guests can record their other-worldly experiences. Only the bravest stay in room 309.
A Horton Grand Hotel Veranda. Roger Whittaker's ghost haunts room 309.
San Diego's famous Whaley House is listed by the United States Department of Commerce as an authentic haunted house. It is built on the site of a public gallows where many poor souls lost their lives.
Our trolley rumbled past the Metropolitan Correctional Center, part of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Two of its more illustrious residents were Patty Hearst and Eldridge Cleaver (at different times). It's a prison with a perk; incarceration where inmates can dream of better times while gazing at the blue waters of the Pacific. I don't know about the food or other amenities, but there's no reason to complain about those million dollar views.
We clamored past Horton Center with its blitz of department and specialty stores. I'm not a shopper at heart, even less so when I'm accompanied by my husband, so we didn't disembark.
The trolley stopped at Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo providing previews of what we'd be doing the next two days.
A creature of Balboa Park.
We treated ourselves to only a quick stop at the Old Town Market, but I've put it on my list for further exploration next trip. Lots of colorful displays that even a non-shopper can appreciate.
Old Town Market
Our day didn't afford us enough time to properly enjoy the beautiful Hotel del Coronado beach resort. Built in 1888 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977, this gracious Victorian classic will give us a place to dream about staying on our return visit.
Hotel del Coronado
That return visit will also provide more time to explore the 48 square blocks of Little Italy which began as an immigrant tuna fishing community. Its current incarnation as a vibrant, hip, community that cherishes its roots, offers visitors fine restaurants, boutiques and art galleries against a backdrop of the bay.
The trolley had served us well. It oriented us, was a means of transportation, helped us choose places to visit this trip and gave us an inviting taste of others that we'd check out further next time. And at every point along the way it brought chuckles and helpful information.
Julie Albrecht Royce, Travel Adventures Editor, is the author of Traveling Michigan's Sunset Coast and Traveling Michigan's Thumb, both published by Thunder Bay Press. She writes a monthly column for wanderingeducators.com.
All photos courtesy and copyright Julie and Bob Royce