Mission Bay and San Diego Bay trim the edge of the city 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 conveyance; kayak, stand-up paddleboard, motorized watercraft, sail boat, 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 rivals Venice Beach 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. Mission Bay also has 27 miles of water’s-edge pathways, perfect for strolling and biking, and at the end of South Mission Beach Park you can cast a line from the Mission Beach jetty and maybe catch some dinner. While in the area, set aside a day or two to experience SeaWorld San Diego, the largest aquatic park of its kind.
tip: Dogs are allowed on Fiesta Island only, which closes at 10 p.m.