Mission Bay includes 27 miles of shoreline with numerous parks, beaches, islands and coves, restaurants and resorts. The bay is part of 4,200-acre Mission Bay Park, the largest man-made aquatic park in the country, and the ninth largest municipally-owned park in the United States.
Mission Bay is packed with activities of all kinds, including the famous marine park SeaWorld San Diego where Shamu the whale reigns over 200 acres of world-class entertainment, as well as favorites such as Fiesta Island, Leisure Lagoon, Sail Bay, and Mariners Cove.
But you don't need to pay admission to enjoy Mission Bay's scenic beauty and white sandy beaches, and indeed the Bay is a great place for any water sport, from water skiing and wakeboarding to sailing, snorkeling, and just plain swimming.
Some of the standout locales on the bay include: Fiesta Island, a popular location that hosts events such as charity walks and runs, bicycle races, and time trials; Sail Bay, which has a beautiful running path; Crown Point, a favorite place for volleyball; Ski Beach, a nice place for picnics; Mission Bay Sports Center at Santa Clara Point, with watersport rentals and instruction; the resort hotel at Vacation Isle; Mariners Point, the large sandy peninsula off of Bonita Cove and a tern sanctuary; Quivera Basin for fishing and scuba diving charters; the Islandia Hotel, with various shops and restaurants nearby; and Dana Landing, the busy boat launching ramp and sportfishing center.
Bird watching is prime along the north bank of the San Diego River flood channel, especially when the tide is out. The bay is home to a wide range of birds, including terns, egrets, sandpipers, herons, and curlews.
Mission Bay is one of San Diego's most popular locations to fly a kite, picnic or sail a model yacht. Fire rings make it possible to cook out and stay warm. Mission Bay Park also offers a variety of free opportunities to the public such as professional volleyball and Over-the-Line sporting events. Annual attendance in the park is estimated at 15 million.
- Lifeguard Protection:
- Lifeguard staffing on Mission Bay beaches is primarily seasonal, usually beginning with school Spring break, continuing with spring weekends, becoming daily during summer, and reduced to weekends after summer through October. Between November and Spring break, there are no lifeguarded beaches on Mission Bay.
- Drop Off:
- There are no significant currents on Mission Bay, nor is there any surf; but there is a hazard posed by the drop-off. It can be a particular problem for small children. The steepness of the beach can be such that a child who is waist deep, for example, may take one step and be in water that is over their head. For this reason, parents are strongly urged to watch their children closely and to allow swimming only in areas supervised by a lifeguard. It is also strongly recommended that those who are weak swimmers or non-swimmers not be permitted to use floating objects that might allow them to access water over their head. If they lose the floating object they can quickly submerge and drown.
- Rip Currents:
- Most California beaches experience strong rip currents. The safety tips section on the government's website provides an explanation of rip currents and some methods of freeing yourself if caught in a rip current. The best advice is to swim near a lifeguard.
- Restrooms and Showers:
- Restrooms with showers are located at all of the above listed swimming beaches on Mission Bay, except at Enchanted Cove. At some beaches there are two restroom buildings available.
- Disabled Accessibility:
- There are very few stairs in Mission Bay Park. Instead, the park is composed primarily of abundant grassy park areas with extensive cement walkways. Of particular note is the playground at Tecolote Shores which was designed for use by physically challenged children, and is very popular with all children. It is located at approximately 1500 East Mission Bay Dr., very near the swimming area.
- Beach Fires:
- Containers for beach fires are available at many beaches and available on a first come, first served basis. Fires are permitted between 5am and midnight. The burning of rubbish is prohibited. Only wood, charcoal, or paper products may be used as fuel. Fuel for the fire may not exceed a height of 12 inches above the upper edge of the fire container. The fire must be extinguished before leaving the beach. Open beach fires outside containers are prohibited at all San Diego beaches.
- Standard San Diego beach regulations apply with the following modifications. Please check the government website for a full regulation list.
- The consumption of alcohol at this beach and park area is prohibited at all times. Includes the boardwalk, on or against the seawall, or parking lots.
- Overnight camping is prohibited, and it is unlawful to park a vehicle in Mission Bay Park between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. daily.
- Glass containers of any kind are not allowed in the park.
- Dogs are allowed on Fiesta Island off leash at any time. In the summer, access to Fiesta Island after 10:00 p.m. is limited to pedestrians because the gate at the entrance to Fiesta Island is closed overnight. Dogs are allowed in the park on leash anywhere in Mission Bay Park before 9:00 a.m. and after 6:00 p.m. Dogs are prohibited from the park between 9am and 6pm. Park Rangers and park users ask that dog owners pick up after their dogs, and "leave only paw prints behind."