An ideal day itinerary using Old Town Trolley Tours

San Diego’s Old Town Trolley Tour is an excellent way to get an overview of the city for first-time or infrequent visitors. The trolley drivers are entertaining and most stops are well-worth your time. However, admission is not cheap, so to make the cost of an Old Town Trolley Tour worth your while, plan to spend the whole day utilizing it.


After a day on the trolley as visitors already familiar with San Diego, we designed what we consider the perfect all-day San Diego Old Town Trolley Tour itinerary for families:

The trolley begins running at 9 am (in most seasons) and makes stops every 30 minutes at 11 points of interest (two of which are hotels). The tour takes two hours to complete if you remain on the trolley, but the real beauty of this tour is the hop-on, hop-off feature, so you’ll want to utilize that. However, you certainly don’t need to get off at every stop.


Step 1: Unless you’re staying at one of the two hotels on the tour route (Marriott Marquis or Hilton Bayfront), you’ll want to start at Old Town.

Arrive at 9 am at Old Town (the trolley station is located at the edge of Old Town Market on Twiggs). You’ll want to tour Old Town, but wait: the market is much more lively later in the day. Instead, board the trolley and start the tour.

Step 2: Get off at Stop B: San Diego Harbor.

Most families will want to either tour the USS Midway LINK or the Maritime Museum. Either will take about two hours to visit. If you don’t want to spend that much time, it’s still worth hopping off to walk along the harbor front to see the various ships docked: the historic Star of India, the Midway aircraft carrier, an historic submarine, and the odd cruise ship or two.

USS Midway

Step 3: Enjoy the trolley through stops C-H.

Get back on the trolley when you’re done with the harbor, and ride it through the next six stops (this will take approximately 30 minutes). The trolley will take you through the downtown area and give you the history of the founding of the city, plus point out Petco Park, the Gaslamp Quarter, and Horton Plaza. You’ll then head over the Coronado Bridge (with great city views) to Coronado Island.

Step 4: Hop off at Coronado-Orange Avenue.

Don’t get off at the first Coronado stop (on the bay side) but rather wait until the second stop near the ocean side. This is a great place for a causal lunch at any number of sandwich shops, plus a walk on the beach by the famous Hotel Del Coronado. Plan to spend an hour, then re-board the trolley.


Step 5: Hop off again at Balboa Park.

The very next stop is Balboa Park, home of San Diego’s many kid-friendly museums and the San Diego Zoo. We recommend saving the zoo for a separate visit (as it deserves a full day) but definitely get off the trolley to walk the grounds of the park. The botanical garden is free, as are several smaller museums. If you want to spend a few hours (which we recommend), our top picks are the Museum of Man, San Diego Natural History Museum, or Reuben H. Fleet Science Museum.

Step 6: Stay on through Little Italy.

Unless you need a meal (the dining in Little Italy is stellar), stay on the trolley through Little Italy after Balboa Park and take it to Old Town. The nice thing about hopping on and off: each driver has different tidbits to share, making the tour entertaining no matter how many drivers you get.

Step 7: Disembark at Old Town.

You’ll want to visit Old Town Marketplace and the Old Town State Historic Park for at least two hours, after which Old Town is a great place to get an authentic Mexican meal for dinner. Our favorite sites in Old Town include the visitor center and historic exhibits in the Old Town State Historic Park square, the marketplace with lively colors and (mostly) cheap souvenirs, and the many snacks and old fashioned candle, soap, and candy shops. Look for the lady making tortillas!

This tour itinerary should take you from 9 am to past 6 pm. Of course, adjust according to your interests, but we found this to be a great use of the trolley (plus you skip the hassle of parking at all these locations).


Trolley tickets:

Trolley tickets are $39 for adults and $18 for kids, making it a serious investment for your day. All the more reason to plan the perfect day’s itinerary to utilize it! Get trolley tickets online or at the Old Town or harbor kiosks.

As I disclose whenever applicable, we experienced the trolley as guests of the company, for the purpose of review. Without hosted activities, we wouldn’t be able to bring reviews to Pit Stops for Kids.