In 1542, explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo named this tidal basin “False Bay.” Between the 1940s and 1960s, the US Army Corps of Engineers transformed the swampland into a 6.5-sq-mile (17-sq-km) showplace aquatic park and the city’s premier recreational playground. Containing 19 miles (30 km) of beach and 27 miles (43 km) of shoreline, Mission Bay offers water and land sports, as well as cozy inlets and grassy knolls for lazy days.
2581 Quivira Court • 619 221 8899 (recorded info 619 221 8824) • www.sandiego.gov/lifeguards/about/contact
Mission Bay Aquatic Center: 1001 Santa Clara Place; 858 488 1000; open 8am–7pm daily; equipment available for hire such as sailboats, kayaks, bodyboards, paddleboards, and more (terms and conditions apply); lessons and classes available, rates vary (www.mbaquaticcenter.com).
Bayside Walk: Bahia Belle cruise: 998 West Mission Bay; 858 539 7779 for tickets and public cruises; boarding: Bahia Hotel 6:30pm–1:30am, Catamaran Resort 7pm–1am; adm $10, under 12s $3 (free for resort guests); www.bahiahotel.com/dining-entertainment/bahia-belle-boat-cruise
Belmont Park: 3146 Mission Blvd; 858 228 9283; open for rides 11am–10pm most days; ride prices vary (free parking and adm)
Reached via a causeway, this dune-covered peninsular park has bonfire rings and a leash-free dog area. The site also hosts the infamous Over the Line tournament.
Known as one of the world’s largest facilities of its kind, this center at Santa Clara Point offers lessons in nearly every water activity, from surfing and sailing to paddleboard yoga and sea kayaking.
Strollers or cyclists may take this route from the lush Catamaran Resort (the departure point for sternwheeler Bahia Belle) to the park’s western edge, where it loops at Mission Point. Rest and take in the views along the path.
On the northeast corner of the park, DeAnza is convenient for a picnic or swim. Boats and jet skis launch from the ramp, and there is a designated area for volleyball.
Jutting from the tip of a small peninsula, this sandy expanse provides an intriguing dichotomy: it hosts skateboard competitions and is a nesting site for the California least tern.
Extending 116 ft (35 m) across Mission Bay Drive, Ventura Bridge connects Quivira and Mariners basins, before linking to Mission Beach and Belmont Park.
Parallel to Mission Beach, Ocean Front Walk is more of a movement than a stroll, a chaotic blend of rollerbladers, skate dancers, cyclists, and surfers running toward the waves. Festivities continue onto Mission Beach – a gigantic 2-mile (3-km), year-round beach party.
Belmont Park still retains its old-fashioned seaside aura, highlighted by the 1925 Giant Dipper roller coaster, but there are also attractions like Tron-themed laser tag and the FlowBarrel artificial wave machine.
The dividing line between Pacific and Mission beaches, this 750-ft (228-m) pier is notable for its 1930s cottage motel, set right above the water. Even if you don’t book a stay at the motel, you can still walk the pier.
Waterfront shops, restaurants, and a resort are clustered around busy Quivira Basin and Dana Landing, from where daily scuba diving and fishing charters depart. Mission Bay Park Headquarters provides information and maps. From Dana Landing, Ingraham Street cuts across Vacation Isle to Crown Point.