We decided to save money in San Diego by not renting a car. Seriously. The hotel parking fee was $50 a night. That’s a lot of money I would rather use for something fun. The San Diego Trolley Tour was the perfect way to see many of the San Diego attractions without a car. San Diego Old Town Trolley provided our family with tickets to the Hop On Hop Off San Diego Trolley Tour and the San Diego SEAL Tour. Our tickets were free, but the opinions are still mine.
San Diego Trolley Tour
We wanted to make the most of our day, so we caught the first trolley at the Gaslamp Quarter Horton Plaza. The stop was less than five minutes from our hotel – The Westin Gaslamp Quarter. After an eight-hour tour of San Diego, the trolley dropped us back off where we started.
Here are our seven must-see stops on the San Diego Trolley Tour.
In 1867, Alonzo Horton purchased 16 1/2 blocks of land in San Diego to build a new city center closer to the San Diego Bay. In the early days, the Gaslamp Quarter was the home of saloons, gambling halls, and bordellos. Today it is the home of bars, restaurants, and hotels. Most of the old building were built during the Victorian era, but many also feature Art Deco design. We recommend eating dinner at Greystone Prime Steakhouse & Seafood. It was on the higher end of our budget (we paid for our dinner) but delicious. My daughter usually eats a child’s steak, but she devoured her entire adult New York Strip.
Old Town San Diego
The first European settlers on the West Coast built their home in Old Town San Diego at the base of the fort El Presidio Reál de San Diego (Presidio). Today it is the site of a historical park as well as small shops and a handful of Mexican restaurants. Old Town is a good place to hop off the trolley and spend time wandering around (and taking a restroom break). It is also the operational base for the San Diego Trolley Tours.
The USS Midway is a retired United States Navy aircraft carrier. It was in service from 1945 until 1992. The San Diego Visitors Bureau provided us with free tickets for the Midway. The self-paced audio tour allows visitors to explore the ship at their own pace. My favorite part was seeing the difference in the housing between the ranks. Enlisted men sleep in bunks packed like sardines in bunks that are three beds high, while officers may have private quarters.
The San Diego Trolley makes a stop at the USS Midway, but we recommend that you come back to visit when you can devote more time. We spent a good six hours touring the Midway, and we didn’t see everything on the ship.
Seaport Village is a modern shopping and restaurant district as well as the place to catch the Old Town Trolley SEAL Tour. It is also home to a carousel that was hand-carved in 1895. My Dad remembers riding on the same carousel in Santa Monica in the 1950’s.
San Diego Trolley SEAL Tour
Is it a car? or Is it a boat? The San Diego SEAL Tour is both. The first part of the tour travels the streets of San Diego before the vehicle heads into the San Diego Bay. That’s right. The tour takes place in an amphibious vehicle that converts from a bus into a boat.
The highlight of the SEAL tour is seeing these guys. They are sitting on top of tanks that hold live bait for fisherman. The sea lions sleep most of the day, but when they are hungry, literally all they need to do is roll over, reach down between the tanks, and grab a fish. In my next life, I want to come back as a San Diego Bay sea lion.
PetCo Park is the home of the San Diego Padres. The team treated us to a game (free tickets) during our visit. Sadly, the Padres lost, but we saw lots of game action including a player running full force into the wall to catch a fly ball. We happened to attend on Military Appreciation Day. A pilot and his celebrity host Dick Enberg sat behind us. I know nothing about sports, but according to my husband, Mr. Enberg is a pretty big deal in the world of sportscasters.
Hop off the trolley to explore Coronado Island, or come back another day to explore and enjoy the beach. The Hotel Del Coronado is amazing. It served as the backdrop to the Marilyn Monroe movie Some Like it Hot, and the architecture was the inspiration for the Disney World Grand Floridian Resort.
The San Diego Trolly Tour is the best way to get an overview of the expansive Balboa Park, but I would plan to come back and spend the entire day visiting the 17 museums (The Museum of Man was our favorite), ten performances spaces, and the beautiful gardens. Oh yeah. It is also the home of the San Diego Zoo.
In addition to the Hop On and Hop Off San Diego Tour and SEAL Tour, Old Town Trolley also offers a La Jolla Day Trip, Ghosts & Gravestones, and a San Diego City Lights Tour. We wanted to go on the La Jolla Trip (San Diego Trolley Tours provided us with free tickets), but we weren’t able to fit it in our schedule.
We look forward to trying at the La Jolla Day Trip and other San Diego Old Town Trolley Tours on our next trip to San Diego.