Inside the Outdoors at San Diego’s Mesmerizing Mission Bay

If you love the Great Outdoors, San Diego is The Place! Besides a fantastic climate, America’s Finest City offers tons of recreational opportunities you can enjoy outside, year round. Like swimming. At Mission Bay.

Located in Pacific Beach, Mission Bay Park is the largest aquatic park of its kind in the country. With about twenty-seven miles of shoreline, the park consists of over 4,600 acres in roughly equal parts land and water. It includes nineteen miles of sugar-white sand beaches with eight locations designated for swimming. It has boat docks and launching facilities, sailboat and motor rentals, jet skiing, paddle boarding, kite surfing, bike and walk paths, basketball courts and playgrounds, picnic tables – all inside the outdoors.

“How ‘bout a trip to Mission Bay this weekend?” Mom suggested when I was in junior high, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Our neighbor, Frank, had a sailboat. “Frank is taking the boat out on Saturday” Mom explained.“ I was usually first in line for Frank’s fifteen foot sailboat, Sunshine.

The fam at Mission Bay, 1972. I’m on the far left. (Don’t tell anyone, okay?)

“Cruising and sailing are two different things,” Frank explained later.

“Whaddya mean?” I asked.

“To go cruising, most folks require a sailboat with a head, a galley, and bunks. A thirty or forty-footer with electronics for navigation and entertainment, refrigeration and a galley, and an engine for light wind.” And all kinds of electronic thing-a-mah-jigs, doo-dads and gizmos. “Not so with sailing,” Frank flung an arm at Sunshine. “All you really need is a hull, mast, rudder, and sail.”

We pile out of the car near the Hilton San Diego on East Mission Bay Drive, about a mile from Sea World. I inhale the sharp sting of salt air. Sea gulls squabble over a discarded Big Mac. A sharkish spit of sand slashes the shore’s ankles, severing the beach into flashing runnels and firth. A hopeful flight of pigeons lifts off from the lawn, necklacing a row of palm trees before re-settling a few yards away. Buck-teethed and slick, slivers of cloud shiver wet and shining overhead. Mission Bay is shingled in mist, rinsed and weltered. In morning hibernation, the sun will waken before noon.

Mission Bay at sunset. Max Pixel.

Sailing on Mission Bay with Frank as a junior high and high schooler, I learned there’s nothing quite like the moment when a sail catches the wind and takes it captive. Awakened from its sluggish stupor, Sunshine responded like Secretariat heading into the final turn of the Belmont Stakes. Catapulting forward, the sailboat split the bay’s watery seams like a hot knife through butter. I could reach out and touch the water as it flowed past, feel every puff of breeze. Sense every change in trim.

My nautical abilities still rank somewhere between potted plant and brick. But at least we never sank. Or capsized. Then never fails to renew my faith in a merciful God. Or the mesmerizing beauty of a San Diego summer day inside the outdoors at Mission Bay!


Join us next time as we zip north again for a couple of really cool hikes in Washington’s lush Olympic Peninsula.

How’s your Great Outdoors Month going?

Sail boat photo credit

Mission Bay Park photo credit – Flickr. Chad McDonald.