Mission Bay Staycation

Mission Bay Staycation


Another in our series of articles describing great vacation opportunities close to home.

San Diego is one of the nation’s great vacation destinations, and for those of us already living in Southern California, San Diego is wonderfully accessible.  We decided to pack the kids and head to Mission Bay for a very long weekend.

I had first visited Mission Bay back in the day, when my parents decided to forego the typical migration from Buffalo to Florida for Easter vacation.  Instead, they splurged on a trip to California.  My recollection of Mission Bay centered on Vacation Village.  Imagine my delight when I discovered that Paradise Point was the current name for that venue.  Paradise Point has passed through several changes of ownership in the intervening years.  The stellar location was undiminished, and fortunately the infrastructure has been spruced up over the decades.

Although Paradise Point is well-situated to various tourist attractions (most notably SeaWorld), its 44 acres contain enough activities for the family to forego any need to leave the resort. 

Paradise Point’s 44 acres of bliss – no need to drive anywhere else

We signed up for various activities, including tennis and bocce on the beach.  A clever miniature golf course is laid out around the resort.  For a few dollars more, we were able to rent kayaks.  The calm waters of the bay, especially in the early morning, were a glorious setting for a morning excursion.  Later that day we went to the other extreme with an hour on waverunners.  Fortunately, the area for speedy motorcraft is further away, so that our hours on the patio of our villa were calm and quiet.

Paradise Point’s waterfront villas are quiet and preferred

In fact, our hours on the mile and a half sand beaches made us too lazy to try the lawn croquet.  We did avail ourselves of the bike path that circumnavigates Mission Bay.  There is nothing quite like riding beach cruisers with your family at sunset.  Also available are Paradise Point’s spa facilities and a fitness center.  The five pools at the resort include a kiddie pool.  The rooms are available in a variety of configurations, and it is worth the slightly greater expense to get a waterfront room.  Timing precluded a visit to the apparently impressive BALEENsandiego restaurant, but we had a very pleasant meal outside at the Barefoot Bar and Grill. 

Like many resorts, Paradise Point often runs promotions which drive down the rack rates. Because of Paradise Point’s lush foliage and South Sea décor, it is easy to imagine being in Hawaii or Bora Bora.  Neither of those destinations is quite as accessible, making Paradise Point an easily-reached staycation.

We broke up our Mission Bay staycation with an overnight at the San Diego Zoo’s “Roar and Snore.”  We rolled into the Wild Animal Park and each deposited our sleeping bag, pillow and a light overnight bag.  We had the day to stroll around the impressive park, gawking at the elephants, zebras, lions, tigers and rhinos (“oh my!”) in their natural habitat.  By 4pm we checked into the Kilima Point village of tents, overlooking the park.  As the park emptied of the daytime visitors, we were treated to a more intimate introduction to the park.  As the case with most of the animal kingdom, things get more interesting as the sun goes down.  The sleepy lions began to stir, and there was soon far more action on the African-styled veldt. After we arranged ourselves in our clean and roomy tent, a pleasant dinner was served at an outdoor patio.  A drum circle added to the African tenor of the setting.  Lights were out early, providing a solid night of sleep prior to the early morning bellowing of the animals.  Kids and parents straggled out for cocoa and coffee, but the astute folks joined some of the staff for a stroll down to the park.  There we saw far closer than does the day visitor the early morning activities of the animals.  The long shadows of the day mingled with the mist burning off, and soon we regrouped for breakfast.

The sleepovers are arranged in various configurations, depending on the ages (or presence) of kids. The sleepovers extend into November. There are several categories of accommodations, with the premium tent being somewhat like what movie stars get on their safaris in Kenya.

The Wild Animal Park offers various ‘special experiences’ such as Segway tours and the like. We decided to complete our visit with a zipline ride.  Although the 2/3 mile flight lasts only several minutes, the two hour training and prep time makes for an exciting way to see the animals and their habitat.  Whereas we had already been around the perimeter of the park by tram and gingerly into the park by foot earlier in the day, soaring overhead was exhilarating.  The Flightline is new this year. Kids must be at least 10 years old and 75 pounds.  The harness allows your hands and legs to swing free, but most folks grab the cables when departing the tower high above the valley.  It was bracing indeed.

Back at Mission Bay, we checked into the Catamaran Resort Hotel.  The resort is very South Pacific in design, and is located on the bay and a mere two blocks from the ocean.  We discovered that my wife’s proclivity for lakes was balanced by my love of the ocean.  On our bikes we could cruise a few blocks to a lovely beachfront breakfast spot on the beach.


The South Sea motif is prevalent at the Catamaran Resort Hotel

The Catamaran (which opened in 1958) makes great use of its space, with the lawn between the bay and the hotel used for lunches and dinners.  Our room opened out to the bay, so each morning we were greeted with the opportunity of paddle boards, kayaks or bicycle rides.  The lobby has an impressive waterfall, with an eponymous wooden outrigger suspended from the ceiling.  The pre WW2 art was gathered from various Pacific islands. The large outdoor swimming pool adjoins an arcade, where our kids were shocked to discover that all the games were free.  A luxury spa was added in 2005. 

In case the ocean and the bay are not enough, a pool and free video arcade beckon

In rather pleasing and poignant juxtaposition to the prevailing décor, a Mississippi-styled paddlewheel boat docks nightly at the resort, which is available for the guests to cruise the bay.

The Bahia Belle paddlewheel docked in Mission bay, the Pacific Ocean beyond

I rounded out my relaxing vacation with my first attempt at wakeboarding.  Murphy Sackett was more than patient as I attempted to leverage my purported prowess on snow skis, water skis, snowboard, and skateboard.  I was unable to do any of the aerial maneuvers his more advanced students easily accomplished, but eventually I was up and riding with that same thrill as a 5 year old who loses his training wheels for the first time.

What was once a backwater lagoon discovered by Juan Cabrillo and developed by Hollywood producer Jack Skirball is now a superb vacation destination.  And for Los Angelenos, it is in our extended backyard


Paradise Point Resort & Spa



San Diego Zoo



Catamaran Resort Hotel



Murphy Sackett Wakeboarding




Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.