San Diego’s Mission Beach is the laidback California lifestyle writ large, all golden sands, buzzing boardwalks, and tanned kids playing beach volleyball in the warm sunshine. Add to this some of the most amazing theme parks in the region and you have all the ingredients for a fantastic day out. Read on to discover our favorite things to do in Mission Beach San Diego.
Hit the Beach
Close your eyes and picture sun-kissed Californian sands and chances are you’ll conjure up a pretty accurate image of San Diego’s Mission Beach. The neighborhood’s mile-long stretch of perfectly powdery sand offers any number of ways to while away a day or six. Of course, you may choose to simply recline on a lounger with a paperback in one hand and an ice cream in the other. But other beach activities abound here, from volleyball and over-the-line to swimming, surfing and stand-up paddleboarding. Checkered flags mark out the safe zones for water-based fun and the reassuring lifeguard presence might even give you the impression you’ve walked onto the set of the latest Baywatch remake. Bit cold for a dunk in the Pacific, but still fancy a dip? Make for Plunge San Diego, an enormous indoor pool with a floating obstacle course and a retractable roof for sunny days. Which, to be fair, is most days here.
Behind the beach, the broad boardwalk throngs with locals whizzing to and fro on all manner of wheeled transport: expect to dodge skateboarders, cyclists and rollerbladers as you make your way across to the beachside cafés and restaurants.
Head to Cannonball for delicious sushi, Pacific Rim-influenced California cuisine and craft cocktails served high above the boardwalk at the biggest oceanfront rooftop restaurant in San Diego. Nearby Draft South Mission, with its whopping selection of over 100 brews is the place for sampling some of San Diego’s famous craft beers at sunset. Perhaps not all at once though.
One of Mission Beach’s undisputed highlights, Belmont Park is an old-fashioned seaside amusement park that’s guaranteed to charm even the most world-weary of travelers. You can’t visit the park without riding the Giant Dipper, a century-old wooden rollercoaster that has been designated a National Historic Landmark. There are also bumper cars, drop rides, mini golf, climbing walls and a traditional carousel, as well as amusement arcades and plenty of fairground food stalls.
Not far south of Mission Beach, you’ll find the aptly named South Mission Beach. No less beautiful than its more popular sibling, it’s certainly less crowded. This is the place to come for relative solitude on the sands, though there's a range of beach and watersports to enjoy here too, should the mood take you. The long Mission Bay Jetty is a great spot to cast out a line and catch dinner. There’s an abundance of bass and halibut to be had and – because you don’t require a permit to fish here – the jetty is popular with both experienced fishermen and young kids angling for their first catch. Locals up the ante during lobster season by diving beneath the jetty and attempting to corral their own lunch by hand.
Directly behind Mission Beach’s narrow sandbar lies Mission Bay, the largest man-made saltwater bay of its kind on the planet, with 27 miles of shoreline and 4,600 acres of waterways, islets and beaches to explore. Of course, this makes for some great walking and cycling trails, and bikes are available to rent at a number of outlets around the area. This is also the place to get wet, with watersports galore including jet skiing, wakeboarding, paddleboarding, surfing, sailing, and just about any other watery activity that tickles your fancy. Kid-friendly beaches here are also perfect for picnics and building sandcastles.
Make like Huckleberry Finn and take to the bay’s tranquil waters on a nostalgic Mississippi-style steamboat, or head out along the coastline on a sightseeing cruise. During the winter migration season, you may even be lucky enough to spot gray whales as they make their majestic way south to Baja’s warm lagoons. A number of sport-fishing excursions also depart regularly from Mission Bay, with options for half-day, full-day and multi-day trips.
SeaWorld San Diego
Mission Bay is also where you’ll find SeaWorld San Diego. There’s plenty here to keep you occupied for a day or two. And it’s not all about the sea creatures either (though there are plenty of those, too). This sprawling complex also has stacks of high-octane rides, including the absolutely terrifying Electric Eel. The highest and fastest rollercoaster in San Diego, it makes Belmont Park’s Giant Dipper seem positively quaint by comparison. Ride the Shipwreck Rapids for a rapid drenching and take in all the best coastline and San Diego skyline views from the Bayside Skyride gondolas and 98-meter-high Skytower.
Kids will love getting up close to the many inhabitants of SeaWorld’s 19 aquariums. Walk through a glass underwater viewing tunnel as sand tigers and whitetip reef sharks cruise silently past, meet loggerhead, hawksbill, and green sea turtles at Turtle Reef, and visit the touch pools at Explorer's Reef to interact with (thankfully harmless) bamboo sharks, rays and horseshoe crabs. You can even enjoy – if enjoy is the correct word for it – the unusual sensation of shoals of tiny cleaner fish nibbling at your fingers. Don’t miss the cuteness overload that is the sea otter zone and, at the other end of the size spectrum, huge killer whales at the Orca Encounter.