San Diego is known for its vacation-worthy beaches, but you don’t always have to go to the ocean to play in the water (or be forced to deal with all that sand). If you go inland and look between our hills and canyons you’ll find tons of freshwater lakes and ponds that are splash-worthy for a fun-filled day. Scroll down for our favorite in-the-know watering holes (until now that is) that tend to be less crowded and more secluded—you might even be the only ones there! Plus we’ve paired each waterway with a food hot spot nearby to grab some coffee, sandwiches or grab a box of doughnuts from one of our favorite shops for your lakeside adventures.
This one is at the top because it’s one of the least-known ponds on this list (until now that is). It’s right across the street from its more famous “Big Brother” Lake Miramar and it’s tucked behind the Scripps Miramar Ranch Library next to its parking lot. It’s a small pond with a cute flat trail that will take littles about 20 minutes to walk around—longer if they stop to feed the ducks or throw rocks into the water.
Insider Tip: The library sells duck food from its gift shop inside, cash only.
Food Hot Spots: Stop by Gong Cha for teas and boba, or Somisomi (one of our favorite ice cream shops in San Diego) for soft serve or Paris Baguette for pastries and coffee.
10301 Scripps Lake Dr.
Plan to spend several hours here because your kids won’t want to leave (making hitting up that food hot spot below even more clutch). After you walk or stroll on the lower flat paved loop trail for about 40 minutes (or you can take the upper hiking trail), you can choose to visit the small fishing dock, the new forest-themed playground or run around in the splash pad.
Food Hot Spots: You’ll discover a new favorite at the Old California Coffee House & Eatery, which has vegan and gluten-free options and even fire pits outside.
650 Foxhall Dr.
Lower Otay Lake
Get inspired at this Olympic-approved lake which serves as the training lake for rowing sports from the U.S. Olympic Training Center across the street. Even if you don’t have Olympic aspirations, you can rent a boat and feel like one for the day. You can also rent fishing gear and buy live bait from the Rocky Mountain Recreation Company on-site to fish from the dock. They also sell ice cream, drinks, snacks and picnic supplies. Bring your bikes or go for a long walk on the quiet out-and-back trail that hugs the lake.
Insider Tip: The lake is only open on Wed, Sat & Sun and it's closed the 2nd Wed. of each month.
Food Hot Spots: Starbucks, IHOP and Islands Burgers are all nearby.
Lower Otay Lake
1500 Wueste Rd.
Model Yacht Pond
Bring your remote-controlled water toys to zip around on this hidden pond on Mission Bay. It’s primarily used for sailing small model yachts, so while it seems inviting, there is no swimming allowed here. However, a model yacht club meets regularly, and if you’re lucky enough to be here when they are, it’s a really nice group, and some will even let your kids sail their boats for a few minutes! When the kids are done watching, there are trees to climb, sandy beaches nearby with shaded picnic tables, bathrooms and fire pits for bonfires.
Food Hot Spot: Walk next door to Paradise Point Resort to grab a coffee from their Island Grinds Coffee shop or order pizza from their Barefoot Bar & Grill on the water. This is also a fun spot to walk around, find their native bird habitat lagoons, buy duck food from their gift shop and climb to the top of the lookout tower.
Model Yacht Pond
2800 Ingraham St.
Heritage Park Pond
Spend the entire day here with over nine options for fun! Choose from the playground, skate park and walking trails to run out some energy. For more action, bring a ball for the basketball courts or soccer field or a frisbee for the large open spaces. Grab a picnic table for lunch and use the barbecue grills and bathrooms. Check the schedule for concerts at the amphitheater or recreation classes at the community center. To keep it simple, kids will love just running around the hills and walking around the duck pond. When you need a break from all the activity, walk across the street for lots of food options.
Food Hot Spots: Walk across the street to DK Che Fruit for smoothies, raspados and tortas.
Heritage Park Pond
1339 E Palomar St.
Play at the only natural lake in San Diego County with loads of activities to choose from. Start at the playground near the library or hit the skate park, walk or bike around the loop trail that circles the lake, and then go find the butterfly garden. If you’re feeling sporty, bring your rackets for the tennis courts, play catch at the softball fields or throw some horseshoes in the pits. You’ll also find 17 fitness stations for a free workout on the southwestern part of the lake. Kids will enjoy doing the TRACK Trails program, where you complete an educational scavenger hunt and log them online for prizes. Check the park ranger schedule online to go for a guided hike.
Food Hot Spot: Mary’s Donuts & Coffee is a nearby locals favorite and their lunch and breakfast sandwiches are also a big hit.
12660 Lindo Ln.
Tucked behind some office buildings and next to the Courtyard by Marriott hotel, you’ll find this quaint little lake that’s more of a pond. It’ll take kids about 10 minutes to run around it, but they’ll probably go around a few times. Bring little trikes and scooters for them to practice on the flat paved loop around. Stop to find the koi fish, turtles and ducks swimming around. There’s also a small waterfall that’s fun for kids to watch and a little bridge to run over next to the Veteran’s Memorial. Trees keep this area shaded and it’s a great picnic spot, so stop at a nearby restaurant or BYO lunch (no bathrooms here so plan ahead).
Food Hot Spot: Starbucks and Peet’s Coffee are nearby and lots of restaurant options down the street.
11666 Avena Pl.
Lake San Marcos
Rent a boat on this small private lake for a relaxing morning or early evening family time. You can rent electric Duffy boats or pontoons for cruising or fishing. If you want more of a workout, you can rent SUPs, kayaks or pedal boats. The water is calm because there are no wakes, so it’s ideal for little kids and beginners to enjoy. If you want someone to row you around, hire a guided gondola tour from Black Swan Gondola Company, they might even sing to you!
Pro Tip: Turn this into a relaxing stay-cation and get a room at the modern Lakehouse Hotel.
Food Hot Spots: Eat dockside at the Amalfi Marina Bar for out-of-this-world pizza or walk across the street to D’liteful Chocolat for crepes, breakfast and of course chocolate.
Lake San Marcos
1025 La Bonita Dr.