Car-less in Mission Bay

The case for a waterfront bike-cation (take the Green Line trolley).

Cyclists of all kinds pedal past Mission Bay–facing Catamaran Resort at the southern end of P.B.
  • Cyclists of all kinds pedal past Mission Bay–facing Catamaran Resort at the southern end of P.B.

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).

Uncrowded trails at the southeast corner of the bay.

Uncrowded trails at the southeast corner of the bay.

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.

Off-peak riding on the Mission Beach stretch of the boardwalk.

Off-peak riding on the Mission Beach stretch of the boardwalk.

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.

Taking in the view from Sunset Cliffs.

Taking in the view from Sunset Cliffs.

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.

It's a 35-minute ride from O.B. to downtown using the Nimitz Blvd. bike lane, says Google.

It's a 35-minute ride from O.B. to downtown using the Nimitz Blvd. bike lane, says Google.

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).

Paddleboard yoga class in the bay.

Paddleboard yoga class in the bay.

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.

Blog: enCYCLEpedia.wordpress.com
Website: enCYCLEpedia.net

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I would caution anyone planning to ride the Ocean Beach Bike Path along the south side of the San Diego river to watch out for homeless, junkies, and drunks littering those areas under the bridges. Between the garbage, clothing, shopping carts and trash on the bike path, it can be a real challenging ride. The graffiti on the supports under Pacific Hwy and the Hwy 5 overpass is unbelievably on the scale of that seen at Chicano Park . The situation is obviously out of control and the police have apparently conceded these area to the drug dealers and the homeless. Sadly, it seems the San Diego River Foundation has also given up on removing non-native species and restoring native flora while cleaning up the riverside in general at this end. I definitely would not recommend this ride to anyone other than those who enjoy a cruise on the wild side.

I've ridden this route a number of times and never had any problems. While I agree there may be safety issues to address, fear-mongering posts like this (OMG - graffiti!) aren't really helpful.

Both Javajoe and pjamason make valid points. The stretch of the OB Bike Path (that I described as “iffy” because of space constraints) between Hotel Circle N through the I-5 underpass can be very creepy to ride on, however, I don’t know whether there’s a problem with actual assaults on cyclists. Does anyone have any stats or stories? I've felt uncomfortable with people glaring at me from the brush there, but I don't feel threatened in broad daylight riding with friends. I would never ride it solo at night.

Having to ride that section of the OB trail is only an issue on your fabulous “car-less Mission Bay vacation” in two instances I can think of, and it can be avoided as well: 1) If you are staying in the Hotel Circle area (or live in that direction) it’s the most direct and easiest route to get to the beach at OB and to Mission Bay. However you can avoid it by taking the busy bike route of Taylor Street west into Old Town, then head north on Pacific Highway, which has bike lanes except for a short curvy stretch on the I-5 overpass with no bike lanes. Then Mission Bay bike trails meet up with Pacific Highway across Sea World Drive. 2) If you are staying around Mission Bay and want to ride into Old Town, the easiest way is the OB Bike Path to Pacific Hwy, then a short distance (even on sidewalks) to the south. To avoid the stretch of OB BIke Path between I-5 and Pacific Hwy though, you can instead take Pacific Hwy the whole way from Mission Bay (Sea World Dr), similar to #1 but in reverse.

Finally, the route between the Morena trolley stop and Mission Bay is not via the OB Bike Path, but along a separated 2-way bike trail along Friars road, leading either to a turnoff to the trail along the north bank of the San Diego River, or to Sea World Drive, across which is a dirt path that leads to the right to the paved Mission Bay trails (or take the bike lane east along Sea World Drive). Note that Friars Rd goes under Pacific Hwy but there’s no connection. And of course from the Trolley station you can take your bikes on the Green Line into downtown if you prefer not to ride on the Nimitz bike lane as described. Happy Trails!

It's not fear mongering, PJMason#2. I just think people should know what they are going to be seeing if they take this route. Also, the comment about the grafitti is not to caution people but to let others know that this stretch is viewed as certain people's territory. The comment was made in hopes that someone either in law enforcement or those involved in cleaning up the area might react and do something about it. Or, are you under the impression that graffiti is more indicative of the native species?

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