A Tour of the Best Bicycle Route Around San Diego’s Aquatic Playland
By Frank Gormlie
This started out as a chronicle – complete with a photo journal – of the best bicycle ride around Mission Bay. I had planned to post nearly one hundred photos with complete descriptions and commentary – but due to a glitch in our programs, I was having too many problems to present all the pics. So, I temporarily shelved that idea and gravitated to a briefer version, this one. (As you peruse the photos, be sure to click on them for larger versions to view.)
The tour I now present around Mission Bay is a great one and it is a ride that has been honed by me and a few riding friends over the last three decades – since the early Eighties.
It is a ride along a route that has a minimum of traffic and street exposure, and it is a route that is practically 13 miles round trip from the Ocean Beach Skateboard Park in Robb Field.
This route normally takes me about an hour and three quarters to ride. Yet it took me two days to chronicle it and take all the photos. My photos have captured the best of Mission Bay, especially the myriad of human activity the surrounds and permeates the largest aquatic park on the West Coast.
Why Mission Bay? Why Now?
Yes, Mission Bay is the largest playground of any of the “re-stored” lagoons in California and elsewhere this side of the Rockies. It is a great public resource and still has enough attributes of nature and wildlife to make biking around it a most pleasurable experience.
Why now? It’s spring, the flowers are blooming, the sun is – mostly – shining. It’s a great time to get out and get some exercise. And what better way to do that than to take advantage of this great water and shore-lands park at our fingertips.
I have been biking around these waters since the early Eighties and as I lived in OB the vast majority of these past decades, the following route is indeed OB-centric – and it begins in Ocean Beach.
The route I recommend has, as I’ve mentioned, a minimum exposure to vehicles, traffic and streets. The route follows mostly bike and pedestrian paths, the San Diego River asphalt road, but there are a few spots where there are no real bike paths and the bicyclist must take to the roadway, yet even the streets that are traveled have minimum traffic themselves.
The route favors bike paths over sidewalks, and sidewalks over streets and/or painted bike paths. And along the way, I will note alternative paths or interesting side trips. There are plenty of rest areas and restrooms along the route, and it does avoid high pedestrian areas – like the Mission Beach Boardwalk. Unfortunately, you are exposed to the noise and toxins of the freeway for acouple of miles, as you glide along the River and next to I-8.
Some factors to consider: time of week – more pedestrians, joggers and bicyclists on the weekends, of course. Wind is a definite consideration, and it is because of the headwinds that I recommend heading east at first, so there are a minimum of winds on the return route back to Ocean Beach.
Outline of General Route
The route takes off from the OB Skateboard Park at the terminus of I-8 and right next to the San Diego River and goes east (there’s usually plenty of parking in Robb Field). For 2+ it follows the River and then it jumps up to a short stretch of Pacific Highway, crosses the River and then dumps down onto the bike paths of East Mission Bay.
From there you travel north. If you can imagine Mission Bay as a giant 4-leaf clover, with the bottom 2 leafs squashed, then you are circulating the outer lines of those leafs. You pass Fiesta Island and ride along shady paths next to white sand and lush green lawns of the park. At the tip of the right top leaf, you enter DeAnza Cove, and then turn west, cross the new Mike Gotch pedestrian bridge over Rose Creek.
At that point, you have to take to the streets around Crown Point, but you drop down to more parkland and travel over to the north-west quadrant of the clover. Peddling on the “inside” bike paths of Mission Bay, you hardly ever see a car. Finally, you head south and turn towards OB with the Mission Beach Roller Coaster off to your right and rear.
You complete the circle by crossing the San Diego River once again and turn right towards the Skate Board Park and the end of the trip.
Here is a more complete route description:
1. Start off at OB Skateboard Park in Robb Field. Normally there is plenty of parking
2. Go east down the San Diego River. With the Pacific at your back, head east down the San Diego River on the south side of the water and tidelands. After about 2 plus miles, you wind up at the intersection of the two great freeways, the 8 and the 5.
3. Bike under I-5 and take ramp up to Pacific Highway. You tuck under I-5 and an on-ramp, and then take the bike ramp up to Pacific Highway. Once on the bridge, take a left.
4. Head north towards Mission Bay on Pacific Highway, by crossing San Diego’s largest river, taking in views that you don’t often have of the largest waterway in the County, pass by the CHP station, cross the bridge over I-5, and come down to Sea World Drive. This is probably the most dangerous section of the route as the bike path fades away on the bridge over the freeway.
5. Travel through the intersection of Pacific Highway and Sea World Drive, go straight – west – through the light and towards Fiesta Island – this is now East Mission Bay Drive. Get on a sidewalk if you can.
6. Go north on bike path. Pass by the dirt parking lot at the entrance to Fiesta Island (this lot is an alternative parking area in case you are not coming from OB), and continue north on the bike and pedestrian path that is on the west side of East Mission Bay Drive. Get off the streets and from here you’re on bike paths – except for one stretch in the northeast section of the bay, near Crown Point. Biking around Fiesta Island adds about 3 miles to the trip.
7. Continue north on the bike path, past Tecolote Creek, past the Hilton Hotel, up to DeAnza Bay in the northeast clover quadrant.
8. Turn west – staying on the same bike path – at the fitness course.
9. Turn right (north) on DeAnza Rd at the small round-about at the end of the bike path.
10. Turn left on North Mission Bay Dr. and go west. This is a brief section of street but with very little traffic.
11. Cross the Mike Gotch Memorial Bridge and continue west on the brand new path, past the playing fields of Mission Bay High School. This bridge was just dedicated one year ago. Gotch was a former city councilmember representing Mission Beach.
12. Stay on Pacific Beach Drive – as the Bridge path turns into this roadway. This is another stretch where you’re on the street; bike past Campland on your left and peddle the short distance to the intersection with Olney Street, stop and keep going straight up a slight incline.
13. Continue on PB Drive going west, past the Kendall-Frost Preserve, its trailer off to your left. Stop and check out the photos of the wildlife that lives and stays in the bay.
14. Turn left at Crown Point Drive.
15. Stay on Crown Point Dr until the entrance to Crown Point Park becomes visible, bear left.
16. Go left down the hill to the park, and then left into the parking lot, staying on the left edge of the lot – and you’ll then see the entrance to the bike path through the park.
17. Get on the bike path and go south through Crown Point Park. You’re now officially on the Bay Side Walk and you’re going to stay on it around Crown Point, under the Ingraham Street bridge, and over to northwest Mission Bay.
18. Bike under Ingraham Street bridge and onto the west side of Crown Point, as you bend north once again.
19. Go north on Bay Side Walk to Fanuel Street Park, a small rest area and take a break; there’s restrooms, shade, parking, a kiddy playlot and plenty of grass.
20. Travel west on the Bayside Walk, over a low ped bridge and through the Catamaran’s expansive claim to the beach and shore.
21. Bike south on the Bayside Walk, being careful and cautious with any other pedestrians, strollers and other bikers. You are now in a virtual “ghost town” as the community of Mission Beach has truly faded away and has been replaced by mostly-vacate vacation rentals and time-shares
22. Continue south, past Santa Clara Point, past El Carmel Point and past the sleeping Bahia Bells off to your left, nestled at the Bahia Hotel docks.
23. Get on sidewalk and go east and parallel with West Mission Bay Drive, carefully crossing the busy roadway.
24. Go over the Glen Rick Bridge, heading east on W. Mission Bay Dr.
25. Take right to Quivira Road. Coming down the bridge, take a quick right at the light, across from the Dana Hotel, and then a quick left onto Quivira Road, going east away from Mission Beach. You’re on street surface once again – the last street section of the route.
26. Follow Quivira Road eastward as it curves around and passes the Marina Village area with its large parking lot. Watch out because parts of the asphalt along outside the parking lot are very rough.
27. Turn left and go up the bike path to the bridge to Ocean Beach.
28. Cross the San Diego River for the last time as you glide back to Robb Field and the starting point. Total distance: 12.71 miles. Congratulations – you’ve made it!
Note: I will be publishing a longer version with many, many more photos and descriptions. Watch for it.