Mission Beach is known for its incredibly long, wide beach, its historic amusement park, and its friendly laidback vibe. One of San Diego’s most popular beach neighborhoods, it is located next to both Pacific Beach and Mission Bay. The neighborhood is built on a sandbar with a jetty at its southern end separating it from the San Diego River estuary. Popular boardwalks run along both the Pacific Ocean and Mission Bay sides of this neighborhood, making it a favorite for walkers, joggers, and bicyclists. Mission Beach offers a wide variety of local entertainment hot spots and fun beach and water activities. Belmont Park is the centerpiece of Mission Beach tourism along with the adjoining 30,000-square-foot outdoor Wave House entertainment complex.
Like many popular neighborhoods in San Diego, John Spreckels had a hand in developing the Mission Beach neighborhood as well. Banking on the successful property sales of the neighboring communities of Pacific Beach and Ocean Beach, and the 1925 construction of the Mission Beach Amusement Center, Spreckels began selling small lots on the sandbar. Using his usual method of putting an attractive entertainment draw in the area to garner interest, he eventually created the most densely developed neighborhood in San Diego. The majority of the first homes in this neighborhood were summer beach cottages. Now, because of limited options on small lots, many of the original cottages have been transformed into multi-story homes. In a few cases, adjoining lots allowed for the construction of bigger homes. The Giant Dipper and the Mission Beach Plunge are the only remnants of Spreckels’ original amusement park, later renamed Belmont Park.
Mission Beach is one of the biggest, nicest beaches in San Diego and one of the best reasons to visit this neighborhood. You will find locals and vacationers alike playing beach volleyball, enjoying a rousing game of horseshoes or cornhole, tossing a Frisbee or football, or taking a bike ride along the longest boardwalk in the city. Water sports enthusiasts can surf, boogie board, skim board, windsurf, swim, sail, dive, kayak, and more at Mission Beach under the watchful eyes of expert lifeguards highly trained in spotting rip currents that are natural to the area. Memorial Day weekend, Fourth of July, and Labor Day weekend will require coming early to stake out your spot on the beach. No alcohol (since 2008), smoking, glass containers, or overnight camping is allowed on the beach. Only leashed dogs are permitted on the beach or boardwalk, and only before 9 a.m. and after 6 p.m., which lifeguards strictly enforce.
Historic Belmont Park is a wildly popular, albeit small, beachside amusement park that has been a neighborhood icon for close to a century. You can ride a variety of rides including the original wooden Giant Dipper rollercoaster, have your fill of fair-style food, and play an assortment of arcade games. This is the place for oceanfront family fun. The Wave House entertainment complex has beachside eats at the WaveHouse, where its always full-party mode, Draft for craft brews on the beach also serving breakfast, and Cannonball – the largest oceanfront rooftop sushi restaurant in San Diego. WaveHouse patrons also thrill to the FlowBarrel wave machine (the only one in the United States), whether they’re spectators or participants. Also in the complex, Plunge is a 60-foot indoor swimming pool that was once the world’s largest saltwater pool. Now a freshwater pool, it’s the perfect place to swim, take aquatic classes, or play water games. The Plunge changing rooms were even featured in the movie Top Gun. There is a fully equipped, full-service fitness facility on the far side of Plunge that offers Beach Boot Camps if you need to get that beach body back.
Bonita Cove Park, directly across Mission Boulevard from Belmont Park, is the perfect place to lie under a shade tree and read, have an intimate bay front picnic, or barbecue with friends and family. Wide open spaces and cool breezes make this a local summertime favorite. The expansive grassy area has plenty of room for kite-flying, Frisbee, or the occasional softball game; there is a children’s playground, a tot lot, plenty of picnic tables, ample barbecue grills, and a few fire rings. The sandy beach cove is open for swimming and has a life guard station. Like all Mission Beach beaches and parks, alcohol is not allowed. The park also has bathrooms and free parking. Mariner’s Point Park, adjacent to Bonita Cove, is a great place for a stroll or for shore fishing. The sandy beach at the point is a protected area and no swimming is allowed. The Bonita Cove and Mariner’s Point parks welcome family reunions, corporate picnics, weddings, and other group events with permits of up to 250 people in the off season.
Other Things to See and Do
Since Mission Beach is the heart of beach life in San Diego, it makes sense to stay in the neighborhood. There are a ton of private vacation rentals both along the oceanfront and the bayside, if you want privacy and a more homelike ambiance. If, however, you really want to be on vacation while you vacation, consider staying at the Bahia Resort Hotel across from Belmont Park. It’s on a private 14-acre peninsula and has just about every amenity a beach-lover requires. Take advantage of their sparkling pool, Moroccan-style hotel bar, free Bahia Belle cruises, tennis courts, or beach and water sport rentals.
Among the many laidback beach bars and restaurants in Mission Beach, Sandbar Sports Bar & Grill, Coaster Saloon, Beachcomber, and Guava Beach Sports Bar are local favorites. During football season, Guava Beach hosts NFL Sundays. They are predominantly a Minnesota Vikings and Denver Broncos bar, so expect to see those games or the San Diego Chargers on the giant screen, but several other games are showing on TVs around the bar simultaneously. Located a block from the beach on Mission Boulevard near Santa Clara Place, NFL Sundays at Guava are worth experiencing if you get the chance.
Mission Beach is the epicenter of water sports in San Diego. Surf, swim, boogie board, boat, and more, on the ocean side of Mission Beach, or kayak, Jet Ski, sail, swim, and paddle board bayside. Either way, you’ll never run out of things to do. End your nights in Mission Beach by getting together with friends for a bonfire at one of the many fire pits that run along the Bay. The nightly SeaWorld fireworks can be seen from almost anywhere in Mission Beach making every night seem like a celebration of fun. You can easily find interesting things to do from sun up to sun down and beyond in Mission Beach.