Keep this secret to yourself: on foggy, overcast days, people don’t go to the beach.

That means it’s a perfect day for a San Diego day trip around the beach.

Just a few weeks back, Easter weekend was gray and it was perfect top-down driving weather. A light jacket, light traffic and the heater on in the Mustang convertible I had for the weekend.

Say what? A cloudy day perfect for a convertible?

Well, in San Diego, sunny usually means warm. A few hours in the car in the sun means it’s going to be a bit toasty. It’s also a lousy time to pick for a beach drive, since everybody else will have decided to head there: no parking, lots of folks lost in their own lanes, wandering around.

So, take advantage of a cool day to explore the beach — in this case, Mission Bay. My trip was a complete loop around San Diego’s “other” bay, starting and finishing at the Ingraham Street exit from Interstate 8. Along the way are stops at some of the less-traveled spots, including Quivira Basin, Mission Point Park, El Carmel Point and the wetlands up north. We’ll also cruise around Fiesta Island and find a couple of great photo spots where cars can drive on the sand.

This is one of those great “vacation at home” opportunities. If there isn’t one in your garage, a convertible is just a Web site and credit card away. Ford Mustangs, Chrysler Sebrings and PT Cruisers are available through the major rental firms. Others such as the Volkswagen New Beetle and Mini Cooper, as well as exotics such as the Nissan 350Z Roadster, Corvette or Lotus Elise, are sometimes available through the majors, or through specialty firms. It could cost a couple of hundred bucks for something really exotic, but it might make the perfect present for a birthday, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.

foggy boats
Not too cool to sail.

My tangerine-colored Mustang GT, on loan from Ford, proved an enjoyable ride. I never figured it would be about 27 miles around the bay; the cloverleaf shaped harbor just doesn’t seem that big when you’re whizzing across the bridges on Ingraham Street or West Mission Bay Drive. But checking out all the nooks and crannies brought quite a few discoveries of hidden spots, restaurants to check out next time and some secret parking spaces. A good place to do some advance research is the city of San Diego’s Mission Bay Web site.

After exiting I-8 at Ingraham Street/West Mission Bay Drive, I survived the mess of on- and off-ramps and folks looking for the Sea World parking lot to enjoy the high-banked turn onto West Mission Bay Drive. A quick left and another left and I was on Quivira Way.

This is a boater’s haven, with slips, the Harbor Police headquarters at Hospitality Point, Driscoll’s boat repair yard and the spot I stopped for lunch, the Mission Bay Marina Deli, 1548 Quivira Way. The deli looks like it’s quite a lively place at night, with an outdoor cabaña, barbecue and wide selection of beers.

Next door is the Aqua Adventures Kayak Center, where explorers can rent kayaks on their own, take lessons, or take a guided tour by kayak.

Across the street from the marina, there’s a big, dirt parking lot that can make a good photo-opp for your classy ride. There’s water and boats as a backdrop, but there are better opportunities later.

Locals will remember the Marina Village shopping and restaurant complex; it’s still there, but is now only open to conferences. There’s also a couple of sportfishing centers (with cafes) and the Hyatt Islandia.

Leave Quivira Basin and head toward Mission Beach, but before getting there, loop around Mariner’s Point, which has a better car-on-sand photo spot, and around the back of the Bahia Hotel to Bahia Point.

Mission Beach is as crazy as ever and Belmont Park looks to be bustling again. There’s nothing like the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster, which has been a thrill since 1925. Even a ride isn’t on the intinerary, pull into the parking lot and listen for the rumble of the cars and the screams of the riders.

The south end of Mission Boulevard is a world of its own. With bars like the legendary Pennant at San Gabriel Place and tightly packed homes, the narrow strip of sand gives passengers glimpses of both the beach and bay. Drivers should keep their eyes on the road.

At the end are parks left and right. Mission Point Park, on the bayside, has grass and a great view of the marina and channel. On the ocean is South Mission Beach, with views of the jetty to the west, Ocean Beach and pier to the south, and north to La Jolla even on a foggy day.

Heading back north on Mission Boulevard, I took two turns to the bay side, at El Carmel and Santa Clara points. El Carmel Place is a pretty short trip, unless you’re a member of the Mission Bay Yacht Club or San Diego Rowing Club. Santa Clara Place has a recreation center, complete with ball field, and the Mission Bay Aquatic Center, jointly operated by Associated Students of San Diego State University and Campus Recreation of University of California San Diego.

Just to give you an idea of how slow it was on the foggy day I visited, I found a parking spot at the end of Pacific Beach Drive. That gave me time to visit the not-so-busy boardwalk. One place that was busy was the Lahaina Beach House, which is only quiet in hours when alcohol can’t be sold.

Heading east, I cruised around Crown Point on Riviera and Crown Point drives, stopping by the Northern Wildlife Preserve. Hard to believe, but the whole place used to look like this… marshland. It was called “False Bay” back then, a name given by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542. Development began in the 1940s and continues today.

One of those spots under consideration for development is Fiesta Island, which today is mostly still just a big lump of sand dredged up from the bottom of the bay. A road goes along the shore of about three-quarters of the big island; don’t miss the turn just before the intersection with Pacific Highway.

Fiesta Island is my favorite car photo-opp spot. The beach is wide and cars are allowed off the narrow, paved, one way and one-lane road. A few days after I took delivery of the Miata back in July 1991, I came out here and posed with my new baby, using the bay as a backdrop. I took another photo as a souvenir of my short time with the Mustang.

From here, it was down Sea World Drive and back through the blender to Ingraham Street and I-8. A surprising 27 miles.

San Diego is all about the beaches, but visiting on sunny weekends is always a traffic hassle. So wait for the fog, then hit the road. You’ll have a great day.

Route and Info


  • About 27 miles


  • Easy, except for occasional lost drivers not paying attention.


  • Interstate 8 to Ingraham Street/West Mission Bay Drive exit. Go north (right) on Ingraham Street.
  • Take West Mission Bay Drive exit.
  • Left at Quivira Way. Continue left onto Quivira Way and Hospitality Point. Loop around Quivira Way and return to West Mission Bay Drive.
  • Left at West Mission Bay Drive.
  • Left at Mariners Point; continue left to Mariners Point area. Loop around and return to West Mission Bay Drive intersection.
  • Continue across West Mission Bay Drive to Bahia Point. Circle Bahia Point (behind Bahia Hotel) and return to West Mission Bay Drive.
  • Right at West Mission Bay Drive.
  • Left at Mission Boulevard.
  • At end of Mission Boulevard, go left to Mission Point Park. Loop around park, then continue across Mission Boulevard to South Mission Beach parking area. Return to Mission Boulevard.
  • Left at Mission Boulevard.
  • Right at El Carmel Place. Circle around and return to Mission Boulevard.
  • Right at Mission Boulevard.
  • Right at Santa Clara Place. Loop around and return to Mission Boulevard.
  • Right at Mission Boulevard.
  • Right at Pacific Beach Drive.
  • Right at Riviera Drive.
  • Continue onto Crown Point Drive at Ingraham Street.
  • Right at Pacific Beach Drive.
  • Left at Olney Street.
  • Right at Grand Avenue. Continue onto Mission Bay Drive.
  • Just before onramp to Interstate 5, turn right to continue on Mission Bay Drive.
  • Right at North Mission Bay Drive. Loop around at DeAnza Cove or Mission Bay Golf Course. Continue onto East Mission Bay Drive.
  • Right at Fiesta Island Road. Circle Fiesta Island and return to East Mission Bay Drive.
  • Right at Sea World Drive.
  • Take I-5/I-8 Ingraham Street Exit to return to freeway.
Vintage Ford pickup
Old Ford pickup makes a great beach cruiser.
Rose Creek estuary
Rose Creek estuary gives visitors an idea of the bay in its natural state.


  1. This brings back memories. In the Walk for Mankind (1970?) I walked 30 miles around Mission Bay. Later in the 70s, my dad kept our sailboat at Quivira Basin.

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