CORONADO — 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.
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.
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.