Mission Bay and San Diego Bay trim the edge of San Diego like sparkling gems, and the 4,600-acre Mission Bay Aquatic Park is the centerpiece of it all. No matter your experience level, there’s some kind of water activity at this sprawling aquatic wonderland that will fit the bill. Dozens of outfitters such as those at the Aquatic Center at Santa Clara Point can get you out amidst the blue via every imaginable means; kayak, stand-up paddleboard, motorized watercraft, sailboat, or kite board. For a more novel approach, board the Bahia Belle, a Mississippi River–style paddleboat, snuggle aboard a romantic Venetian gondola, or try jetpacking to skim across the water like James Bond.
If you prefer a cruise experience, Hornblower and Flagship Cruises let you get a millionaire’s view of the bay on scenic tours, as well as dinner and brunch cruises and whale-watching tours. If you are in the area over the 4th of July, you’re in for a treat, as San Diego Bay hosts Big Bay Boom, the largest fireworks display in the county. In winter, it hosts the Parade of Lights, which kicks off at Shelter Island and finishes up at the Coronado ferry landing. The free parade features about 80 seriously tricked-out boats and draws huge crowds along the shoreline.
Mission Beach, the narrow strip of land between Mission Bay and the Pacific, is a chockablock with surf shops, t-shirt joints, and funky beach bars, and there’s a 3-mile oceanfront boardwalk that is great for people watching. At Belmont Park, classic amusement rides include the Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster and FlowRider Wave House, as well as rock climbing, bumper cars, miniature golf, and arcade games. The south end of Mission Beach Peninsula leads to South Mission Beach, where the pace slows down noticeably and volleyball nets are some of the biggest attractions—the competition here can get fierce.
Mission Bay also has 27 miles of water’s-edge pathways, perfect for strolling and biking, and kids love the water slide, human foosball, scavenger hunts, and dozens of other activities offered at Campland on the Bay, an RV and tent campground right on the water. At the end of South Mission Beach Park you can cast a line from the Mission Beach jetty and maybe catch some dinner—no license is required, as long as you fish from the jetty. While in the area, set aside a day or two to experience the roller coasters and marine life presentations at SeaWorld San Diego.
Insider tip: Dogs are allowed on Fiesta Island only, which closes at 10 p.m.