We'd spent our first evening in San Diego wandering through the city and the morning after on a boat, cruising the San Diego Bay.
With only an afternoon left before we had to go back to Los Angeles and still a whole lot to see, we decided to take a San Diego hop on hop off trolley tour with Old Town Trolley Tours.
San Diego hop on hop off trolley tour with Old Town Trolley Tours
Old Town Trolley Tours was founded by three friends in Key West, Florida, in the early 1970s. They wanted to preserve historic Old Town Key West by introducing visitors to it and raise awareness. Their business took off and is now based in six cities, among which San Diego.
Old Town Trolley Tours works with a hop-on/hop-off system. You buy a ticket once and with that ticket you can hop on and off the trolleys driving through San Diego for an entire day (or two, if you get the two-day tour).
Of course, you can't get on/off just anywhere. You have to use the trolley stops located throughout San Diego and Coronado Island.
Because we’d already covered part of the center and Seaport Village we decided to mount a trolley at the Hilton Bayfront stop. We immediately noticed what a great storyteller our driver, Brian, was. He continually shared interesting and fun facts with us, both about important historical events and about everyday life.
Crossing the San Diego / Coronado Bay Bridge we got some great views over Seaport Village and Coronado Island. It’s actually a bit scary driving over this bridge as the side edge to keep you from falling is only like 20 cm highs and there's no glass in the windows of the trolleys.
Coronado Island isn’t part of San Diego. It’s a separate city and one that upholds strict rules for those living there. McDonald’s and other chains aren’t allowed as the island wants to preserve it’s ‘authentic’ feel.
There was nothing on Coronado when Elisha Babcock and Hampton story decided to buy it for $110,000 (price then) in 1886 to turn it into a resort community. They constructed roads, built a water and power system and attracted buyers for the lots they’d laid out.
Crown on top of their work was and still is the Hotel del Coronado, built in just one year for $1 million dollars (price then).
Balboa Park, San Diego
After having seen the Hotel del Coronado we drove back over the bridge, this time getting a view on the Naval Station, toward Balboa Park.
Balboa Park is huge. There are 15 museums, among which the Air and Space Museum and the Museum of Art, but also performing arts venues, gardens and the San Diego Zoo. The park even has its own free tram service to take you around.
But even by tram, we knew we wouldn't be able to explore the full 1,200 acres of this place with the amount of time we had. We had to make a choice between visiting a museum or two and wandering around to see more but then from the outside.
We chose to wander, but it didn't go so smoothly. Temperatures had been around 40°C during the day for most of our trip and although I love the heat, I was struggling with it that day. I felt tired and just wanted to go hang somewhere, but because I knew we didn't have much time in San Diego I decided to make the most of it.
After about two hours, I had to give in. I wasn't enjoying Balboa as much as I should have and so we decided to take the trolley back to Little Italy and head back to the hotel.
That meant we'd skip Old Town San Diego. I'm bummed I didn't see it now, but at the time I just wanted to get to our hostel and rest for a moment. Even the thought of driving back to LA in our comfortable air-conditioned car seemed appealing.
I did still enjoy our last part on the San Diego Trolley Tour, though, as our new driver told us about some beautiful houses we drove by and their past owners.
Summing up our experience with the trolley tour in San Diego
I'm not someone who easily goes on tours, but I really enjoyed our ride on the trolley. Both drivers we had seemed to love their job and had tons of interesting stories to tell. I regret that we weren't able to make it to Old Town San Diego, but sometimes you just have to accept that it's not your day, even when traveling.
A one-day ticket for the trolleys costs $32,4 for adults and $16,2 for children aged 4-12. Children younger than 4 get to ride for free.
Old Town Trolley Tours also offers a 2-day tour, a San Diego Beach Tour and a Seal Tour. Check out their website for more information on those.
We stayed at Lucky D's Hostel in a private room. This place was perfectly located near the Gaslamp Quarter and the bay area.
We received two free one-day tickets for the Old Town Trolley Tour from the San Diego Tourism Board and a one-night hostel stay from Hostelbookers.com. Partnerships like these will never affect how I express my opinion.