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Mission Bay

Mission Bay Park, just north of San Diego International Airport, is the largest man-made aquatic park in the United States, sprawling across 4,235 acres, 46 percent of which are land and 54 percent water. It encompasses 27 miles of shoreline—including 19 miles of sandy beach with eight official swimming areas—a network of channels and islands with marinas and boat launches, playgrounds, basketball and volleyball courts, a model yacht pond, hotels, an RV resort, and almost 14 miles of bicycle and pedestrian paths meandering through tree-shaded lawns. People come here from all around the San Diego area to boat, swim, jet-ski and water-ski, kiteboard, jog, fly kites, picnic, play, and laze about in the sunshine.

Mission Bay Park was created by dredging and filling a tidal marsh that early mariners had named False Bay, mistaking it for San Diego Bay to the south. Before the San Diego River flood control channel was built, the rivermouth used to shift between False Bay and San Diego Bay. The marsh was dredged in the 1940s and 50s, and recreational facilities developed in the 60s. Today’s landscape is almost entirely man-made, but bits of wetland survive at the bay’s northern end and at Famosa Slough, south of the San Diego River channel (outside park boundaries). The area still has important nesting and feeding spots for many species of birds, including osprey, herons, stilts, terns, mallards, pintails, shovelers, and Belding’s savannah sparrows.

Mission Bay’s network of broad bicycle and pedestrian paths provide ample opportunities for accessible recreation, whether you’re looking for a workout or a leisurely stroll. On a six-mile round-trip along the park’s east shore you can watch windsurfers and kiteboarders galore, or stop for a picnic at a shaded pavilion. A broad, sandy beach and views of the San Diego skyline are among the highlights of a shorter excursion around the north shore’s Crown Point peninsula.

Visitor center: Located on the east Mission Bay shoreline, just south of De Anza Cove, this visitor center provides information about tourist attractions, lodging, and restaurants for the greater San Diego area (not specifically for Mission Bay Park). 

Trail/Pathway Details

East Mission Bay

Trailhead: Southern end: Rose Marie Starns South Shores Park, off Sea World Drive. Northern end: De Anza Cove, off North Mission Bay Drive.

Length: Over 4 total miles

Typical Width: 4 ft. & above

Typical Grade: Level

Terrain: Hard

Description

Starting from the southern trailhead, at Rose Marie Starns South Shores Park just east of Sea World, a broad concrete promenade bordered by native plants and palm trees follows the shore of Pacific Passage, a narrow channel separating Fiesta Island from the mainland. The mostly undeveloped island is a launch spot for jet skiers, kiteboarders, and other water sports enthusiasts, and many charity runs, bicycle races, and other sporting events are held there. You soon come to an accessible shaded picnic pavilion, and will find benches and turnouts along the way.

After about .25 miles, cross Fiesta Island Road and follow the path behind a dirt parking lot, then cross a bridge over Tecolote Creek before skirting an inaccessible playground. This area, called Tecolote Shores, stretches north for about a mile to the Hilton Resort. Fiesta and another small island are close by across the channel, which on my visit in September was busy with kiteboarders taking advantage of a stiff breeze to skim back and forth along the shore, often jumping high in the air to make their turns. Frequently windy, Tecolote Shores is also popular with kite flyers. Traveling through grassy parkland shaded by palms and other trees, you share the path with joggers, bicyclists, parents pushing strollers, and inline skaters. Picnic tables and barbecue grills dot the lawns, but many people spread blankets on the grass to snack or sunbathe. Children play on narrow stretches of beach and in the shallow water.

At about 1.5 miles you reach the Hilton Resort, where you travel between the hotel and the water. North of the hotel is a small cove with a broad sandy beach and an accessible picnic pavilion. This stretch of parkland, known as Playa Pacifica, extends for about .75 miles to De Anza Cove, passing through scenery much like that of Tecolote Shores. At the northern end of Playa Pacifica is the tourist information center. Passing a boat launch at the southern end of De Anza Cove, continue to the parking area, where you will find an accessible picnic pavilion and restrooms. You can roll across the firm lawn here to overlook the cove and its small sandy beach before returning the way you came.

Crown Point

Trailhead: Crown Point Park parking area, 3700 Crown Point Drive

Length: 2-4 total miles

Typical Width: 4 ft. & above

Typical Grade: Level

Terrain: Hard

Description

Crown Point is a large peninsula that juts into northern Mission Bay, creating Sail Bay to the west and Fiesta Bay to the east. Crown Point Park, with a large sandy beach and manicured lawns, stretches along the peninsula’s eastern side. Enter the bicycle path from any of its parking areas. Traveling through grassy parklands with trees and picnic tables, you can look out over Fiesta Bay, where you’ll see the Ski Islands, Fiesta Island, and Vacation Isle. The San Diego skyline shimmers in the distance.

After about a half-mile (depending on which lot you started from), you leave the lawns behind and follow the path along the back of a wide stretch of beach; drifting sand may be a problem here. To your right are steep sandy bluffs, while ahead of you is the Ingraham Street Bridge, crossing Fisherman’s Channel, which divides Fiesta Bay from Sail Bay. Just before the bridge, a set of stairs rises up the bluff to the street. On my visit one September evening, there were in fact several fishermen along the channel, both on shore and in boats. I encountered just a few runners and bicyclists along this stretch of trail, which seemed peaceful despite the traffic on the bridge.

You may see shorebirds as you round the point; on my visit, a lone egret stalked the sandy shoreline amidst a flock of busy avocets. Passing beneath the bridge, you can see the Mission Beach community across Sail Bay. A rowing crew flew by in its shell, and sailboats skimmed the waves farther offshore. Here and there, stairways climb the bluffs, which are mostly covered by iceplant, shrubs, and grass; tall palms are planted along the roadway above. Rounding a curve in the trail, you come to some sailboats pulled up onto the beach; the bluffs diminish, then disappear, replaced by condominium and apartment buildings. The activity picks up, as runners are joined by people walking their dogs or pushing strollers. I turned around here, but the path continues for more than a mile around the north end of Sail Bay, where it connects to Bayside Walk, a paved walkway along the western Mission Bay shoreline.  

Accessibility Details

The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.

Accessible Parking: Yes

Plentiful free lots with accessible spaces (some van-accessible) throughout Mission Bay, including at each of the trailheads mentioned. Lots typically fill early on summer weekends (there were many open spaces on my visit in September).

Accessible Restroom: Yes

At Rose Marie Starns South Shore Park and De Anza Cove 

Accessible Picnic Tables: Yes

East Mission Bay: At shaded pavilions near Rose Marie Starns South Shore Park, Tecolote Shores, Playa Pacifica (accessible from parking lot but not from the trail), and De Anza Cove.
Crown Point: Near the northeast corner of the first parking lot at Crown Point Park.
Kiteboarders off Fiesta Island
Kiteboarders off Fiesta Island (Eileen Ecklund)

Features icon key

  • bicycling
  • hiking
  • particularly good for families
  • picnic

Additional Information

View Map  
Website: www.sandiego.gov/park-and-recreation/parks/regional/missionbay/
Managing Agency: City of San Diego Park & Recreation Department
Phone: (619) 235-1169
Reservations: (619) 235-1169
Hours: Daily, 4 am-2 am
Fees: None
Dogs: On leash
Leashed dogs are allowed in the park before 9 am and after 6 pm (April 1-Oct. 31; after 4 pm Nov. 1-March 31). Fiesta Island has an off-leash dog area.
Public Transportation: San Diego Metro Transit District
Reviewed by Eileen Ecklund, September 15, 2009
Access Norhtern California This web guide is a project of Access Northern California.  
California Coastal Conservancy Thanks to our partner the California Coastal Conservancy

DISCLAIMER: Although the information contained in this web-guide was believed to be correct at the time of publication, neither Access Northern California nor California Coastal Conservancy shall be held responsible or liable for any inaccuracies, errors, or omissions, nor for information that changes or becomes outdated. Neither Access Northern California nor California Coastal Conservancy assume any liability for any injury or damage arising out of, or in connection with, any use of this guide or the sites described in it.

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Accessible Restrooms Icon looks like a women and men restroom signBeach Accessible
Wheelchairs Available
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