A short flight or a road trip from the Bay Area, Mission Bay is best known as home to SeaWorld but is also an ideal family beach vacation destination. The protected bay with calm, still waters is perfect for sandy play while nearby Pacific Beach and its boardwalk is within walking distance. Nearby attractions San Diego Zoo, LEGOLAND, San Diego Zoo Safari and the brand new Sesame Place makes Mission Bay a great springboard for day trips. From windsurfing and jet skiing to lying on the beach, we loved our time in Mission Bay and think your family will, too!
Action Sport Rentals
Want to SUP, jet ski (minimum height 36”), paddle boat or kayak? Action Sports Rentals has you covered and with multiple locations in Mission Bay, is the go-to rental spot. For those who prefer to stay dry and on land, they’ve got bikes (even for kids and trailers for the littles!) and surreys for rent. We tried jet skiing as a family for the first time and our thrill-seeking kids absolutely loved it. Not only was it an adventure, but we got a unique tour of the Bay from the water.
This oceanfront amusement park is a quintessential family beach vacation must! Kids will love the pay-as-you-play coasters, carousel, bumper cars, zipline, climbing wall, go karts and more.
Bahia Belle Sightseeing Cruise
Hop aboard this Mississippi-style, sternwheeler boat for a tranquil one-hour cruise at sunset for views of Mission Bay that you can’t find anywhere else!
Kendall-Frost Marsh Reserve
Nature enthusiasts will love the peace and quiet of this saltwater marshland with its raised platforms for birdwatching. Come for a walk at dawn or dusk for breathtaking views.
Chairs, tables, bonfire set up and clean up (say no more) and of course, s’mores are all included in this full-service experience. This means a perfect end to a family beach day is guaranteed while roasting marshmallows under the stars—as a bonus, dazzle the kids with the magic flame add-on!
Oceana Coastal Kitchen
California cuisine at this elegant bayside eatery is the name of the game and families will love the tabletop fire pits and live music on the weekends. Enjoy pre-dinner craft cocktails while the kids play nearby in the sand—it doesn’t get much better than this!
Barefoot Bar & Grill
This casual waterfront restaurant at Paradise Point (more below) serves up a mean happy hour and we loved diving into their avocado toast and eggs benedict. Bonus: Kids will love playing by the lagoon while waiting for food and checking out the stingrays and leopard sharks.
Los Panchos Tacos and Cantina
Since going to San Diego and not having tacos while on a family beach vacation is a sin, we sussed out the best-rated taqueria in the area. This spot is a short drive from Mission Bay and we took advantage of Taco Tuesday and got to try (and loved!) the carne asada, baja fish and cabeza (cow cheek!).
This unassuming hole-in-the-wall sushi joint is tucked in a strip mall but don’t let looks fool you; we had some of the freshest and tastiest sushi ever (the toro was out of this world good)! Udon and beef/chicken teriyaki is also available for the non-sushi inclined crowd.
After a long beach day, slurping down oodles of noodles (the shoyu ramen was a winner here) and savory Japanese tapas is my family’s idea of a great end to the day. But save room for…
Handel’s Ice Cream
Is it even a family beach vacation if you don’t have ice cream? We didn’t think so either. Handel’s has a bit of a cult following and it's not unusual to see long lines at this walk-up counter which is fine as you’ll need every minute to wrestle with which flavor(s) to get as they have a LOT.
Paradise Point Resort and Spa
A tiki torch-lined driveway transports you to San Diego’s island resort where gorgeously manicured lawns, lush foliage and lagoons teeming with wildlife will make you wonder if you accidentally ended up in Hawaii. An iconic observation tower offers a bird’s eye view of the resort and its surrounding areas including the five (heated) pools and mini-golf course.
The kids zone activities (on select days) offer a break from the sun with rock painting and tie-dye arts. An island treasure hunt, tennis courts, bike tour/rentals and skateboarding lessons means kids here will be busy…and happy!
Bayside bungalows open right to the sandy beach where families can enjoy lazy days in the sand and calm waters by simply walking through the back door. The convenience of getting kids on/off the beach without lugging a ton of equipment (and sand!) into the car will give you more time to relax and enjoy the glorious sunsets with the family on the beach—you are in Paradise after all!
Editor’s note: This trip was sponsored by Discover Mission Bay and Paradise Point Resort, but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer.