San Deigo’s most nautical neighborhood of Shelter Island is also one of its best-kept secrets, boasting shockingly good live entertainment, restaurants with world-class views (and Mai Tais!), and a multitude of ways to have fun on the water.
Not actually an island, but an artificially built-up peninsula developed in the 1950s that connects to the San Diego mainland in the Point Loma community.
Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, San Diego Yacht Club, San Diego Zoo.
The island was designed to provide safe shelter, as a peaceful oasis in the middle of a busy city harbor.
The enduring island-wide Polynesian/tiki style theme, which was a popular aesthetic at the time of its creation and is actually legally mandated to follow by all buildings
Where to stay
An Island Born from Human Ingenuity
In the 1960s, the Los Angeles Times described the 1.2-mile Shelter Island as a fantastic, man-made creation – “something from nothing,” and “a testimonial to human ingenuity.” It all sprung from what was originally just a sandbank, only visible at low tide. During World War II, the San Diego Bay had to accommodate larger ships, so the bay was dredged, and the sandbank was built up – eventually, more than 20 feet above high tide, and Shelter Island (after being developed through the 1950s) was born.
Plenty of Things to Do, by the Water or in the Water
If you want to get out on the water but don’t have your own gear, no need to venture far – Kona Kai Marina has you covered. Jet skis, kayaks, pedal boats, paddleboards, and even powerboats are available to rent at the marina. If you’d rather take it easy on land, Shoreline Park stretches the entire bayside width of the island and is a beautiful setting to enjoy the views – plus, there are spots for concessions, a bike path, play equipment, and even a fishing pier. The 500-foot-wide T-shaped pier extends 200 feet away from shore with common catches including yellowfin croaker, Pacific mackerel, and sand bass.
Public Art & Entertainment
Many towns larger than Shelter Island aren’t blessed with the sort of public art displays and entertainment like you’ll find here – not to mention the gorgeous natural backdrop. There’s the Yokohama Friendship Bell (a gift from Yokohama, Japan, to its sister city across the Pacific Ocean, San Diego), Pacific Portal (a concrete gazebo that marks where the bay meets the ocean, sculpted to almost look like waves are rolling out from each), and the Pearl of the Pacific (a fountain in Pacific Rim Park uniting the four quadrants of the Pacific Rim), among others. As for entertainment, Kona Kai Resort offers live music, and during the summer, Humphreys Live Concerts By The Bay does too, having drawn legends like Aretha Franklin, Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, and Ringo Starr.
Boats, Boats, Boats
If you’re near the San Diego coast, looking for a friendly port to dock at, scoot into Shelter Island. With a handful of dock-and-dine restaurants, marinas, and all the amenities the nautical community would need, it’s a favored spot. The 500-slip Kona Kai Marina is the closest marina to the open ocean in the Bay and accommodates boats of all sizes. And we do mean all sizes – even those with superyachts are in luck because the bay is one of the few deep enough (due to the dredging during World War II) to accommodate the mega-vessels.
Dining Like an Islander
Harbor views, an inviting 360-degree bar, and Chef Roy Hendrickson’s delicious, carefully-crafted, locally-sourced menu qualifies Vessel Restaurant at Kona Kai Resort as less of a resort dining option and more of a destination in its own right. Another spot to try during your visit: Bali Hai, practically an institution in San Diego, more than a half-century after its doors opened. Walk upstairs at the two-story, Tiki-themed dock-and-dine restaurant, and you’ll marvel at the sparkling views of the Bay, Coronado’s North Island, and even the city. They’re famous for their Mai Tais, too – make sure to try a Mr. Bali Hai Mai Tai (served in a souvenir Tiki mug) if you visit.