Morena/Linda Vista station
A former wetland dredged in the 1940s to create a water playground surrounded by public parks, San Diego’s Mission Bay is nirvana for those who like easy, scenic bicycling. Paved trails that line much of the bay and its sandy public beaches are flat as a pancake, with a connection to the Mission Beach–Pacific Beach boardwalk that parallels the Pacific.
You can also use the trails to get to multitudes of restaurants and attractions. Leave your car behind and get around on your bike – or be even more adventurous and arrive by train, taking your bike on the Coaster or Amtrak, connecting to the Trolley’s Green Line (Morena/Linda Vista stop).
Bike trail tips
Google Maps shows the bike trails around the bay, which all allow bikes, pedestrians and skateboarders. My favorite stretch for riding is Bayside Walk around the north and west sides of Mission Bay. Although it's busy on peak days, trail users tend to be fairly trail-savvy and courteous.
Ocean Front Walk (aka the boardwalk) is a three-mile concrete promenade that runs next to the Mission Beach and Pacific Beach communities along the wide Pacific-facing beaches. If you like people watching, ride at peak times – but expect lots of interruptions from pedestrians and skateboarders. If you’d rather glide along, gazing at the crashing waves, ride earlier in the morning.
To loop around Mission Bay for a total ride of about 14-19 miles, you’ll need to cycle over the bridge along West Mission Bay Drive in the bike lane or sidewalk. Another break in the trail system is at the northeast corner of the bay, where the bike route leads through a residential district. Consider this if you plan to bike with young children or return at night.
To O.B., Old Town, and beyond
Ride a loop to La Jolla from the north end of Ocean Front Walk via somewhat hilly bike routes along surface streets. Cycle into Sea World from a south Mission Bay trail using the pedestrian entrance near the attraction’s northwest corner.
You can also connect to points south via the bike path on the west side of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard Bridge over the San Diego River. Ocean Beach Bike Path along its south bank leads west to Dog Beach in laid-back O.B., and east along the San Diego River to a turnoff down the sidewalks of Pacific Highway to Old Town. The bike path ends at Hotel Circle North; the stretch between the I-5 underpass and trail’s end can be an “iffy” option at night.
The scenic bike trail along San Diego Harbor is about 2.4 miles south of Mission Bay via the narrow bike lane along Nimitz Blvd. Once downtown, check out the ships of the Maritime Museum, the U.S.S. Midway, Seaport Village or Gaslamp Quarter (via the MLK Rail Trail). Ride up the hill on streets east to Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo.
Or, take the bike/ped ferry across San Diego Bay to experience wide-open bay and ocean views along the trails of Coronado and Silver Strand.
Bike 'n brunch: Pick from a number of al fresco dining options along Ocean Front Walk in Pacific Beach, from Pacific Beach Drive north to Felspar, and in Mission Beach near the end of Mission Bay Drive.
Bike rentals: Rent bikes from shops in Pacific/Mission Beach or hotel resorts (see below).
Boat 'n ride: Rent boats and boards at the east end of Santa Clara Place in Mission Beach and at most waterfront resorts. For something different, try a paddleboard yoga class (left). Or, launch your own boat at several public launch ramps.
Parking: Free parking is available in lots around Mission Bay, O.B.'s Robb Field, and on surface streets. Mission Beach oceanfront lots fill early on prime beach days year-round.
Accommodation: Options for out-of-towners along Mission Bay bike routes include: Hilton San Diego, Paradise Point Resort on Vacation Island, Hyatt Regency Mission Bay, The Dana and Bahia Resorts, and Pacific Beach’s Catamaran Resort.
Check for hotels and vacation rentals in Mission Beach, close to the bike routes, and sections of Pacific Beach near the bay or ocean trails. You’ll be most successful at going car-less if you stay closer to the ocean where there are grocery stores and more restaurants to choose from.
RV’ers can camp at Mission Bay RV and Campland-on-the-Bay, situated at the northeast corner of Mission Bay.
About the author
Richard Fox is the author of enCYCLEpedia Southern California - The Best Easy Scenic Bike Rides (2014), featuring detailed coverage and maps of Mission Bay and San Diego, up the coast to Cambria, and across to Palm Springs.