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CALIFORNIA TRAVEL

Alternative modes of transportation abound in Coronado

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CORONADO, Calif. (AP) -- On a recent Friday afternoon, I joined a gaggle of tourists waiting for the orange and green Old Town Trolley, a bus that picks up every half-hour from McP's Irish Pub and Grill in Coronado. "As Time Goes By" was playing as we settled into our seats, and a Bogey impersonator was saying, "Of all the tours in all the world, you had to walk into mine."

I was glad I had. As we rolled over the graceful, blue San Diego-Coronado Bridge and hit the highlights of San Diego, we were treated to a running commentary of historical tidbits and fun facts -- and to Judy Garland's rendition of "The Trolley Song." Before returning us to Coronado, the two-hour, hop-on, hop-off tour took us through Balboa Park, to Old Town and along the harbor, where San Diego's newest maritime attraction, the aircraft carrier Midway, is open daily.

I chose Coronado as a destination easily reached without a car and where no wheels were no problem. I lived here once, so I knew it was pedestrian and bike friendly -- flat and laid out on a grid -- and an ideal base from which to explore San Diego across the bay. My odyssey began on a Friday morning as Amtrak 572 pulled out of Los Angeles' Union Station for the two-hour, 45-minute journey south. From San Diego's Santa Fe Station on lower Broadway, I had only to carry my bag across the street to catch the 902 bus to Coronado.

It let me off right across from El Cordova Hotel on Orange Avenue, which I had selected largely for its location near shops and restaurants. My room at the vintage Spanish-style hotel was a bit of a relic, but the windows opened to a lush, lovely patio and pool. The Coronado shuttle bus stops almost at El Cordova's door as it travels the 1.2 miles from Hotel del Coronado down Orange Avenue to the Ferry Landing Marketplace. It comes by hourly, so the trick is in the timing. For example, the last shuttle leaves Ferry Landing Marketplace at 6:30 p.m., which means that if you're dining in one of its trio of good restaurants -- Bay Beach Cafe, Peohe's or Il Fornaio -- you may have to take a cab back to your hotel.

On Saturday morning, I ambled over to the nearby Glorietta Bay Inn, once sugar magnate John D. Spreckels' mansion, to join Coronado Touring's walking tour. Although it was more talking than walking -- Nancy Cobb, our enthusiastic guide, regaled us with local history for more than an hour before we set off -- it was delightful. Our 90-minute tour turned into 2 1/2 hours, including a stroll along Coronado's wide sand beach. We walked to Hotel del Coronado, where our guide pointed out a dragon tree that had lost some limbs so cameramen could get a good angle on Marilyn Monroe while shooting the 1959 comedy "Some Like It Hot." (The tree retaliated by ejecting a gooey red sap that gummed up their cameras.)

Later, I took the shuttle back to the Ferry Landing Marketplace, where I rented a bike from Bikes & Beyond, which also has two- and four-seat surreys with the fringe on top. There's a terrific bike path that starts at the landing and winds under the bridge; from there, the route continues along wide Glorietta Boulevard past the golf course and into the heart of the village. For the less athletically inclined, Coronado Pedicab Co. operates daily and will pick up anywhere in Coronado.

For exploring farther afield, passenger ferries cross to San Diego every hour on the half hour from the Ferry Landing.

If you stay only in Coronado, there's plenty to occupy a weekend. Restaurants have proliferated in recent years. I had a delightful lunch bayside at Bay Beach Cafe. Uptown, I dined at the stylish Rhinoceros Cafe and Grill and had a late dinner at the bar at Brigantine, which serves hearty appetizers, sandwiches and sushi.

You can first catch a performance at the Coronado Playhouse at the Ferry Landing or at Lamb's Players, in a former movie theater on Orange Avenue.

The Coronado Visitor Center and Coronado Historical Association's Museum of History and Art are open daily. There's a nice gift shop and a small exhibit that includes an egg from an 1880s ostrich farm in Coronado and a canvas panel from "Tent City," the oceanfront vacation village that flourished until 1939.

There's also a salute to the Kingston Trio. Nick Reynolds, an original member of the group, graduated from Coronado High. The museum chronicles the history of Coronado, beginning with two Midwesterners, Elisha Babcock and H.L. Story, who came West in the late 1880s for their health and enjoyed rowing across the bay to hunt jackrabbits on the scrubland that was Coronado. They bought the whole peninsula for $110,000 with plans to build a luxury hotel. To help finance it, they would sell lots on Coronado. (The first sale was to a local attorney for $1,600.)

In 1888, the Hotel del Coronado, a splendid turreted Victorian, opened on the oceanfront. Fast forward: In April, the California Association of Realtors reported that the median price for a single family Coronado home was $900,000. Coronado homes, an eclectic architectural mix that includes Tudor, Mediterranean and Craftsman, are yet another treat for visitors on foot.

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If You Go ...

GETTING THERE: There are daily Amtrak trains from Los Angeles' Union Station to San Diego's Santa Fe Station. From the station, walk across the street to catch the 902 bus to Coronado. If you're traveling by car, take I-5 south and merge onto CA-75 toward Coronado.

GENERAL INFORMATION: Coronado Visitor Center, 1100 Orange Ave.; (619) 437-8788.

ON THE NET: http://www.coronadovisitorcenter.com

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