In case you hadn’t noticed from other posts on this site, we love San Diego – specifically Mission Beach, a laid back coastal area of the city built on a sheltered natural sandbar. We’ve been there three times now and are already planning our next trip. It’s a fantastic place with lots to do, and this post covers some our favourite things to do in Mission Beach.
There are plenty of bike rental shops in and around Mission Beach. Prices vary from $10 an hour to nearly $40 so shop around before you commit to hire. Hamel’s Surf Shop on Ventura Pl. just off the beach is a good place to start. Cycling is a great way to get around the area. The beach bikes you can hire are really smooth to ride and the beach paths and quiet roads mean you’ll feel safe cycling in the sunshine with relatively little traffic to worry about. La Jolla Beach is about a 30 minute ride away and Pacific Beach is only about 5 minutes along the coastal path. Both are well worth a visit as they are so easily accessible by bike. Even if you just hire bikes for an hour, it’s a great way to explore the area and see a bit more than your would on foot. You can ride along the coast, or around the more sheltered part of Mission Bay and dream of one day owning one of the many beautiful beach cottages that line the water! If you’re staying in an Airbnb, they will sometimes provide bikes for free – as well as paddleboards and surfboards if you’re lucky. Check the listing as bikes will be advertised as part of your Airbnb price.
Cycle or walk about a mile along the sea wall to Pacific Beach and explore Garnet Avenue, the main strip of bars and restaurants. There is a really young vibe there and it gets lively in the evenings. We’ve been to Reds and watched a great open mic stand up show (Wednesday nights, off Reed Avenue) and Moonshine Beach – a huge country bar that hosts big names on a regular basis. Moonshine Beach costs $5 to get in, and drinks start at only $2. There are great shops in Pacific Beach too! It’s well worth a trip there for dinner and drinks – you might just end up staying for the whole night.
You’ll need to cycle the 6 or so miles to La Jolla or drive there (it would be a really long walk!), but visit for a bit of change of pace. This beachside town is bigger and more built up than Mission Beach. There are some seriously expensive hotel, shops and restaurants there but it’s really nice to take a look around. If there is one reason to go though, its the seals. They are all along the La Jolla coast, but head to Seal Beach or Children’s Pool – sheltered areas protected by sea walls – to get the best photos. We saw about 50 seals resting on Seal Beach when we went, including lots of babies! They are there pretty much all day, so you’ll be sure to catch some good sightings whenever you go.
Visit the Bahia
The Bahia Hotel is only a short 5 minute walk from Belmont Park and has lots to offer! There are two blind seals on the site that were rescued from the ocean to live out their days at the hotel. You can watch them being fed twice a day and visit their pool to watch them swimming around.
The Bahia has it’s own private beach on the bay to0, which is stunning and really peaceful. There are double cabanas on the beach that you can take an afternoon snooze on or spend a couple of hours reading in. Strictly speaking, I guess these are just for guests, but there are always cabanas spare so give it a go!
You can hire water sports equipment from the Bahia too and take paddle boards, kayaks and pedal boats out on the bay.
The Bahia also has a great bar call the Tangiers, that offers Happy Hour drinks between 3-6pm each day. It does tasty food too!
Take a sunset ride on the Bahia Belle
The Bahia Hotel has a turn of the century, Mississippi style sternwheeler – the Bahia Belle – that leaves the hotel every half an hour several days a week to cruise across the bay to the Bahia’s sister hotel, The Catamaran. A return trip costs $6-$10 per person for non guests (guests get on free) and you can always get off at the Catamaran to explore the area before catching a ride back. The boats run from 6:30pm to midnight or 1am depending on the day of the week and there is live music and DJs from 9:30pm onwards. We went at 6:30pm, just in time for sunset and enjoyed an (expensive) glass of wine each as we watched the sun go down. It was worth it though for the sunset! Double check the schedule with the hotel as the Bahia Belle doesn’t run in the winter months.
For God’s sake, eat some Fish Tacos. You can’t go to San Diego, California in fact, without trying some. Mission Beach has the best I have ever had. The Sandbar Sports Grill is just opposite Belmont Park, right next to the ocean. For $13 you can get this amazing plate (I’m hungry now!)
It gets better. The Sandbar offers $4 fish tacos between 4pm-7pm Monday -Friday and $2 tacos on Tuesdays from 7pm.
Belmont Park is a mini beachfront amusement park with rides, games and attractions, snack bars, restaurants, bars, a wave machine where you can practice your surfing and plenty of shops.
The main attraction is the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster, a wooden roller-coaster dating back from 1925. You can hear the screams from a few blocks away and the Coaster looks great lit up at night.
There’s so much to do at Belmont and there is free parking and admission. Check it out for the afternoon or arrive there in time for lunch. Head to be beach afterwards – it’s only a few steps away.
As if Mission Beach doesn’t have enough to offer, you can also use it as a base for Whale Watching. We’ve been on several trips with San Diego Whale Watch and can’t recommend them enough.
They offer morning (10:00-13:00) and afternoon trips (13:30-16:30) every day of the week. Both are 3 hours long and have a really knowledge marine biologist guide on board to talk you through the trip and alert you to any sightings. There’s a drink and snack bar on board too in case you get hungry.
If you don’t see a whale or a dolphin, you will get a free pass for another trip. If you see dolphins, but no whales, you’ll get a 50% discount – a good deal!
Top tip! Book on a Tuesday and your trip will cost you $29 per person. Every other day is $48 per person.
Sunsets and fire pits
The sunsets in Mission Beach are breathtaking. You can’t help but stay outside and stare at the sun as it disappears for another day. Another reoccurrence are fire pits. Every home has one, big or small and most bars and restaurants will have some too to take the edge of the night time breeze coming in from the ocean. Enjoy a drink next to a roaring fire after a busy day exploring the area by foot or bike. We actually brought our own fire pit after our first trip to remind and replicate San Diego nights at home – not quite the same! I took these photos on the first night of our last trip to Mission Beach and I remember thinking how happy I felt to be back, how much we love it there, and how excited I was to start planning what we’d be doing tomorrow.