I’ve been visiting Mission Bay in San Diego for over three decades and I still get excited every time I return. Life here revolves around outdoor activities on both land and water, attracting locals and tourists alike. An entire day can be filled with non-stop adventure or simply spent on a lounge chair watching the world go by.
Located north of downtown San Diego, Mission Bay encompasses 4,600 acres of land and water. In fact, it’s the largest aquatic park of its kind in the country. Everywhere you look, you’ll see the bay dotted with sailboats, paddle boards, kayaks, and racing shells. Surrounding the water are 19 sandy beaches and 12 miles of bike paths.
Spread throughout the bay are six hotels and resorts ready to welcome visitors to this dynamic part of the city. There’s something for everyone’s budget and interests. Over the years, I’ve had the chance to visit all of these properties, either as an overnight or conference guest, and hope to share some of the highlights.
My stay was hosted by Discover Mission Bay, but all opinions are my own.
1. Paradise Point Resort & Spa
The lush grounds of the Paradise Point Resort suggest a tropical garden complete with birds of paradise and palm trees. In 1962, 600 species of exotic plants were imported from 20 countries by the resort’s founder, movie producer Jack Skirball. Today, the property keeps much of that original feel, although with more native plants.
What really distinguishes this resort from others are the bungalow-style guest rooms spread throughout the property. The rooms are spacious and each includes a small patio or terrace. During our recent stay, we were fortunate to have a bayfront bungalow next to the sand and just a few steps from the water.
While there is plenty to do throughout Mission Bay and San Diego, it’s definitely possible to check in at Paradise Point and not leave until check out. There are tennis courts, five pools, a spa, lawn games, yoga, a marina, and bike rentals.
On one day, Jason (my husband) and I took a walk along the beach, rented a Funcat from Action Sport Rentals, played putt-putt golf, and relaxed in the hot tub at the main pool. We only scraped the surface of activities but enjoyed every minute of the ones we selected.
When you get hungry, there are several options for dining. For casual fare in an outdoor setting, head to Barefoot Bar & Grill. Serving salads, sandwiches, pasta, and seafood, this is a fun spot for watching the boats on the bay. There’s live music on the weekends which we were able to enjoy one night.
For something more upscale, try Tidal, featuring a themed menu each day of the week like Tuscan Feast, Taste of Aloha, or Pit Boss BBQ. We enjoyed their Sunday brunch outside on the deck, which I definitely recommend.
Other dining options include Tropics Cantina at the Main Pool (open during peak season) and Food2You in-room dining.
Pro Tip: This is a large resort, and walking between rooms, restaurants, and activities can get tiring. Fortunately, they offer transportation on a golf cart – just call the front desk to request it.
2. The Dana Resort
Tucked away in a corner of the bay is The Dana, a smaller resort perfect for a peaceful getaway with friends or family. Located next to Sunset Park, this resort features a large grassy lawn for playing games, unpacking a picnic, or simply lounging while watching the boats in the bay.
Accommodations are divided between the Water’s Edge and Marina Cove. Both offer stylish rooms with views of the park, gardens, bay, or marina – there are no bad options here since all are just steps from the water.
One of the best features of the resort is its bayside infinity pool. A second pool is available in the middle of a tropical garden. Other activities are available including boat and bike rentals.
While visiting The Dana, we had the chance to dine at Firefly Eatery & Bar, a casual restaurant serving upscale food. Dining is available indoors in inclement weather, but the real treat here is the outdoor dog-friendly patio with views of the pool, marina, and bay. We sat at a fire pit table while enjoying a delicious dinner. Beer lovers will especially like the selection of 18 draft beers, most of them from local breweries.
Pro Tip: Families with young children will appreciate that The Dana offers a shuttle to SeaWorld. However, the resort is also within walking distance to the famous amusement park if your family isn’t willing to wait for the shuttle.
3. Catamaran Resort Hotel & Spa
The Catamaran combines the best of Polynesia and San Diego. Stroll the grounds covered with lush vegetation, tiki torches, koi ponds, and waterfalls, all located on the bay. But right across the street is the Pacific Ocean, perfect for swimming and surfing. I can’t think of any water sport that can’t be enjoyed at this resort.
Accommodations include large rooms, studios, and suites, all with a balcony or patio. Select from a view of the gardens or bay.
When it’s time for fun, opt for splashing in the pool or lounging in provided chairs at the beach. Action Sport Rentals offers kayaks, paddle boards, pontoons, and other watercraft for rent. There’s an arcade for kids and a spa for adults.
When walking around the grounds of The Catamaran, it’s hard to miss the sternwheeler, the Bahia Belle, parked at the end of the pier. Currently, every Thursday–Sunday night, this turn of the century boat glides through the water for a leisurely 1-hour cruise. Jason and I took the 7 p.m. cruise and appreciated seeing the lights from the city reflecting on the bay. Coffee, hot chocolate, and adult beverages are available for purchase while cruising.
Dining options at this resort include the upscale Oceana Coastal Kitchen, Moray’s Outdoor Lounge, and the Lava Java coffee shop. I definitely recommend reserving an outdoor table at Oceana to enjoy great views of the resort and bay.
4. Bahia Resort Hotel
Located on a 14-acre peninsula in Mission Bay, the Bahia Resort combines long stretches of sandy beaches with lush gardens. Offering an impressive line-up of activities, this is the perfect place to make everyone in your traveling party happy.
Accommodations at the Bahia include spacious rooms, studios, and suites, all with views of the bay or gardens. For something extra special, book a bayfront room and stay just steps from the sand.
If you want to get out on the water, head to the marina to rent a powerboat, sailboat, kayak, or paddle board. Landlubbers can rent bicycles or a surrey that accommodates up to six people. Other activities include tennis, shuffleboard, and a playground for children.
Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Cafe Bahia serves American favorites on a lovely, tiled patio surrounding a large fountain. The Tangier Bar is a stylish place to grab a cocktail or a light bite to eat.
5. San Diego Mission Bay Resort
It’s easy to spot the San Diego Mission Bay Resort just off the freeway at the exit to SeaWorld. This was the spot my parents would stay while visiting me at the college I attended nearby. And while it’s always been a lovely resort, it underwent a major remodel in early 2020 to update the look, improve the technology, and add to the guest amenities.
The rooms, studios, and suites have sleek and modern decor made even better with oversized sliding glass doors. Choose a garden, resort, or bay view. For something really special, reserve the Fire Pit Studio and enjoy the fire pit on your private patio.
I always loved the pool layout at this resort and the remodel has made it even better with a fire pit and cabanas. For younger children, there’s a wading pool. If you prefer the beach, it’s just a few steps away. Games like badminton and volleyball are available there. Other activities include tennis, basketball, and giant chess and checkers.
Dining options include the upscale Covewood for brunch and dinner, the more casual Plaza del Sol for drinks and small bites, Solrisa for poolside snacks and meals, and Mission Joe for coffee. Be sure to join in the bonfire and s’mores offered every Saturday evening year-round as well as Thursday and Saturday evenings in the summer.
6. Hyatt Regency Mission Bay
A couple of years ago, Jason and I had the chance to stay at Hyatt Mission Bay while I was attending a conference nearby. It’s different from the other Mission Bay resorts since it’s a highrise located on a smaller property, but they manage to pack in plenty of style and tropical feel.
There’s a wide range of rooms and suites to choose from, all quite spacious, and many with views of the marina or ocean. What I appreciated about staying in a highrise was the expansive vista from our upper floor marina-view room. My only complaint was the very noisy sea lion who opted to hang out in the marina (not at all the fault of the hotel).
The grounds of the Hyatt are beautifully landscaped with the pool as its centerpiece. Kids – or kids at heart – will love the two waterslides. Other activities include a waterfront health club and spa. The full-service marina rents a variety of boats and can arrange for sport fishing charters or whale watching excursions.
The Red Marlin Restaurant & Terrace serves both breakfast and dinner. We dined here one night after my conference and enjoyed both the food and ambiance. We sat on the outdoor deck around a fire pit table and felt like we were on a tropical vacation.