Updated: Sep 28, 2020
The largest of its kind in the world, Mission Bay and Beaches are over 4,600-acres of aquatic playgrounds. Surrounded by 27 miles of meandering shoreline, with a variety of waterways to explore, Mission Bay is bordered by several beach communities, each with their own distinct vibe. You will quickly discover that this bustling bay area is action packed from sun up to sun down and it is only minutes away from downtown San Diego.
The area can be divided into sub categories, but we really feel you should explore them all.
Let's start of with Mission Bay.
Here you can enjoy water sports activities of every kind. From sailing lessons, kite surfing, and stand-up paddle boarding, to jet skiing, wake boarding and everything in between, there’s something for every age and skill-level to enjoy in the water. You can also take a moonlit cruise on Bahia Belle, a stern wheeler fashioned after a Mississippi riverboat that often features a live band. Back on land families can rent bikes, picnic, and barbecue or celebrate with bonfires at night right next to the water. Accommodations in the area are plentiful, from high-end luxury resorts to budget friendly hotels.
For those inclined Sea World San Diego is nestled right in this area. Depending on your feelings toward this attraction, it maybe worth your time with your kids. I've noted that a lot of people skip the actual shows and prefer to amerce themselves in the theme park rides instead. SeaWorld themselves are winding down the animal exhibits and shows as contemporary thoughts and feelings about the shows are mostly negative.
If sport fishing is your passion, a number of operators depart from Mission Bay with options for half-day, full-day and multi-day trips. During the twice yearly seasons, many of these same boats also offer whale watching tours. These are an excellent alternative to Sea World, as you will see whales and marine life in their natural, wild habitat.
Nearby is Mission Beach and Pacific Beach. These two seem to attract a younger more energetic crowd. Along the 3-mile oceanfront boardwalk, you'll find funky surf shops, beach bars, cafes and nightclubs. A variety of upscale resorts and family hotels are also scattered along the coast.
Mission Beach is also home to the iconic Belmont Park amusement park and entertainment center. The attractions and rides that remain from the original 1925 park include the Giant Dipper, a wooden roller coaster that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The amusement park offers free parking and admission to the grounds. However, a ride wrist band is needed to go on any attractions. An adult ride all day wrist band ranges from $49-$55 depending on when you buy it. Children are from $38-43. This may be a little pricey for such an amusement park. There are cheaper options but with less attractions involved. You can get just the rides for an adult about $30 and children at $20. Take a look around and see what attractions you would like to go on and see before making your purchase. You may also need a few dollars to get a bite to eat at the various grills and restaurants as well as the multitude of shops.
Next up is a funky little ocean side town, called Ocean Beach. This small beach town is a favorite among locals who spend their days surfing, sunbathing around the pier, hanging out in their vintage VW vans, and strolling through the many surf shops, taco stands and antique malls.
Ocean Beach has a throw-back groovy vibe of vintage SoCal, coupled with friendly locals, great dining and micro brews, and a vibrant nightlife scene. And even your K9 is welcome. Ocean Beach has an exclusive beach front just for your furry friend. Dog Beach is wedged between the Mission Bay Harbor Channel and the jetty at the north end of Ocean Beach. Here, pets are not only allowed on the beach, but encouraged to come anytime, cast off their leash and run amok with other canine wave crashers. Its pretty enjoyable to see the dogs enjoying the California surf and sand as much as we do.
Remember to take a walk along the Ocean Beach Pier. Its at the foot of Newport Avenue and is one of the longest piers in Southern California, extending a half mile out to sea. Ocean Beach Pier is one of the few places in San Diego where you can fish without a valid California fishing license.
And next up is Sunset Cliffs. Sunset Cliffs Located between Ocean Beach and Point Loma you'll find Sunset Cliffs, and the Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, a 68-acre recreational area that extends 1-1/2 miles along the Point Loma peninsula’s western shoreline and features park lands, dramatic cliff formations and coastal sea caves. Access to the water here is limited but the setting provides some of the most picturesque views of the Pacific Ocean. Sunset Cliffs lives up to its name and has long served as an attraction for San Diego residents as well as visitors, who gather on the cliffs each dusk to watch the most amazing sunsets you’ll ever see. Just be sure to stand a safe distance away from the edge, as the cliffs are slippery and the surf is powerful.
Remember, with all the exciting things you can do in San Diego, do not forget Travel Insurance. We love World Nomads Travel Insurance, for their low cost, flexibility and customer support.
Now let's go a little further north the Neighbourhoods known as The Northern County Anchored by historic Highway 101, this stretch of California coastline has some of the best surfing anywhere in the world and a laid-back, SoCal vibe all its own. Here you'll find plenty of dining options and shopping opportunities including the Cedros Avenue Design District, the Carlsbad Premium Outlets, several upscale malls and unique, local boutiques. North County has everything from five-star fare at Addison to authentic traditional Mexican food, along with craft brew tasting rooms, urban wineries, and seaside watering holes. If you're looking for outdoor adventures in San Diego, the north region has plenty. From hiking and horseback riding in Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve and stand-up paddle boarding and kayaking in Carlsbad Lagoon, to biking along the coast, or sport fishing, whale watching or surfing.
Now don't worry, you don't have to be a surfer or an adventurer to enjoy some of the top attractions in this area. The North County Coastal region is also home to some of San Diego's top attractions, including LEGOLAND California, SeaLife Aquarium and Legoland Water Park, the Flower Fields at Carlsbad, and the Del Mar Fairgrounds. There's also the San Diego Botanic Garden for a look at native flora and fauna. At the Eastern border of North County, you'll find the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, Las Vegas style Casino Gaming and plenty of great wineries and local breweries.
Legoland is a big hit for children under 10. The rides are pretty tame here, so if you have older children they probably won't enjoy it as much as a 6 year old. But if you have a mixture of ages in your group, Legoland also has the Sealife Aquarium to visit, and also a large Legoland Themed Waterpark.
If twirling rides and splash parks don't excite you, perhaps a stroll into the San Diego Botanical Garden will. Explore four miles of garden trails, restful vistas, flowering trees, majestic palms, and the nation's largest bamboo collection. Thanks to San Diego's mild climate, plants from all over the world thrive here. The diverse topography provides a variety of microclimates giving the visitor a sensation of going from a desert environment to a tropical rainforest, all within 37 acres. But this just isn't a garden made for old ladies appreciating the fauna. The park boasts 4 miles of trails into some interesting garden landscapes that include butterflies and birds. There is even a children's themed garden area with dinosaurs and miniature trains. It is really one of the best botanical gardens in the United States.
If you visit the San Diego Zoo you may have opted to go to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. It is located in this area, but we will talk more about it in an upcoming episode when we discuss the Zoo itself. San Diego's North County Coastal and Inland regions are a paradise for golfers, with over 40 diverse courses to choose from. Graced by cooling breezes from the Pacific Ocean, the Arnold Palmer-designed Park Hyatt Aviara and Tom Fazio-designed Fairmont Grand Del Mar golf courses are uniquely sculpted around the natural landscapes and native vegetation. If you are a golfer, you will not be disappointed.
If you decide to make your home base in the North Coastal area, you'll be in luck if you want to visit Disneyland. It's only about an hour away! You'll also be very close to San Diego's top attractions making this area a hidden gem.
Now let's head the other way. All the way south.
Just south of downtown San Diego and just north of the Mexico border lies the area known as San Diego's South Bay, the gateway to Baja California. This area is home to a number of exciting attractions and also offers great surfing, sport fishing, beach volleyball and horseback riding along the coast and well as some of the best Mexican food this side of the border.
Connecting the South Bay to Coronado, you'll find a portion of the Bayshore Bikeway, one of the most beautiful bike paths in California. This 10-mile portion features a flat, palm tree lined path with stunning views of the San Diego Bay and Silver Strand State Beach, a great spot for families to camp, swim, surf, kayak and fish. It also borders the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge, a 3,940-acre wetland sanctuary for endangered and migrating birds, often seen from the bike path.
On the south end is Imperial Beach and the Tijuana Estuary, the largest salt water marsh in Southern California and another great spot to see migratory birds and local wildlife. Adjacent to the Estuary is the Living Coast Discovery Center, a family friendly aquarium and nature center.Other attractions in the area include Aquatica SeaWorld's Waterpark, the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center (formerly the US Olympic Training Center), with free tours of the center available on Saturdays at 11:00 AM, the Sleep Train Amphitheater where big name bands perform under the stars. An easy drive from Downtown San Diego, and just off the 805 freeway at the last U.S. exit before the border, is the area's largest outlet center, Las Americas Premium Outlets, which features more than 125 stores including many top name brands. With daily savings up to 65% off, it's worth the visit and shopping here is accented by beautiful courtyards, fountains, statues, and elegant architecture.
Next up is historic Point Loma.
Just West of downtown San Diego, you'll find Point Loma, Harbor Island and Shelter Island, all of which offer great restaurants, activities, a variety of accommodations and stunning views of San Diego’s skyline. Point Loma is home to the Cabrillo National Monument commemorating the landing of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who sailed his ship the San Salvador in to San Diego Bay in 1542, to become the first European to set foot in California. We recommend a Visit to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse and discover some of the best tide pooling in San Diego, when low tide reveals flowery anemones, crabs, mollusks and countless other sea creatures inhabiting the reef. Point Loma is also home to the Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, a solemn memorial for those who have served our country and a tranquil setting for reflection. Locals and visitors alike take to Liberty Station, a waterfront urban village in the redeveloped Naval Training Center that includes hotels, restaurants, breweries, and the popular Liberty Public Market, offering stalls filled with prepared foods, beer, wine, pastries and crafts. More than 48 museums, galleries, artist and design studios, dance companies and other organizations showcase San Diego's creative community in Liberty Station. The center also features the Sail Ho Golf Course, a funky nine-hole course left over from the naval training facility.
Our next and final destination in San Diego's Coastal Neighborhoods is Coronado.
Situated just across the bay from downtown San Diego, Coronado is consistently voted best beach in the U.S. by Dr. Beach. With gentle surf, sparkling wide-sand beaches, charming main street and great hotels, including the famous and historic Hotel del Coronado, this island paradise is perfect for a family vacation or romantic getaway. Coronado's coastline offers wide sandy beaches with sparkling sand, courtesy of the mineral Mica, that draw visitors from around the world. There is elegant gardens, old-world mansions, quaint shops, and oceanfront dining with spectacular sunset views to take in. Spend the day relaxing on the beach or rent a bike and tour the island via Coronado's beachfront boardwalk. Take a stroll down Orange Avenue, Coronado's main artery, which is lined with shops, restaurants, galleries, theaters and the Coronado Museum of History & Art. At the other end of the island, Coronado's Ferry Landing offers a collection of more than 20 shops, art galleries and restaurants boasting stunning views of San Diego's downtown skyline. Flagship Cruises also offers low cost ferry service from the landing across the bay to Seaport Village on the edge of downtown. Beyond the beach, Coronado features countless outdoor recreational pursuits including sailing, stand-up paddling, surfing, kayaking, and Venetian gondola cruises. There’s also top-rate golf on Coronado’s Public Golf Course, described as “a gem I consider the best value in the United States" by Golf Digest writer Matt Ginella. Locals and visitors alike also love the popular Coronado Flower Show, held each spring since 1922.
And no trip to Coronado would be complete without a visit to the legendary Hotel del Coronado. Built in 1888 and designated a National Historic Landmark, the hotel has a fascinating and colorful past, which includes presidents and princes, socialites and scandals, ghosts and glamorous celebrities. It's also widely believed to have been the inspiration for the Emerald City in L. Frank Baum's “Wizard of Oz” as the author spent many winters at the oceanfront hotel. While at the Hotel, make sure to visit MooTime to build your ultimate ice cream creation.
Try the Black Cherry and Cheesecake in a hand-rolled waffle cone, you won't be disappointed.
On our next episode we are going to check out Downtown San Diego.
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