Sailing & Motor Yachts
There are some 55,000 registered watercraft docked at more than 25 marinas throughout San Diego County. Sailors have a choice of the calm waters of 4,200-acre Mission Bay, with its 26 miles of shoreline; San Diego Bay, one of the most beautiful natural harbors in the world; or the Pacific Ocean, where you can sail south to the Islas los Coronados (the trio of uninhabited islets on the Mexico side of the border). Joining a chartered sailing trip is easy.
The Maritime Museum of San Diego (tel. 619/234-9153; www.sdmaritime.org) offers half-day and 3- to 10-day sailing adventures aboard the Californian, the official tall ship of the state. This ship is a replica of an 1847 cutter that sailed the coast during the gold rush. Half-day sails depart select Saturdays and Sundays at 12:30pm from the Maritime Museum downtown and are priced $42 for adults, $34 for seniors 62 and older and active military, and $31 for kids 17 and under. Reservations are required for multiday trips that make for Catalina Island and points as far north as San Francisco; fares start at $675. One-hour bay cruises are also available daily aboard Pilot, the bay's official pilot boat for 82 years. Tickets are $3 plus regular museum admission price.
Sail Jada Charters (tel. 619/572-3443; www.sailjada.com) offers sunset champagne cruises on a gorgeous wooden (and truly yare) sailing yacht. Constructed of oak, cedar, and teak in 1938, Jada plies the bay Thursday to Sunday ($110 per person); it's also available for whale watching and private charters.
You can pretend you're racing for your country's honor with Dennis Connor's America's Cup Experience (tel. 800/644-3454 or 619/922-6215; www.stars-stripes.com), which offers bay sails aboard one of two 80-foot International America's Cup Class racing yachts. The 2 1/2-hour excursions, either on Stars and Stripes or Abracadabra, are $99 and depart from the Maritime Museum; whale-watching excursions are offered in winter, as well, aboard the 139-foot schooner America.
If you have sailing or boating experience, go for a nonchartered rental. Seaforth Boat Rental (tel. 888/834-2628; www.seaforthboatrental.com) has a wide variety of boats for bay and ocean, from kayaks ($12-$20 for 1 hour) to 240-horsepower cabin cruisers ($350, 2-hr. minimum). Sailboats start at $35 to $38 for 1 hour; jet skis begin at $90 to $99 for 1 hour. Half- and full-day rates are available. Stand-up paddle boards, catamarans, and pedal boats are also available, as well as fishing boats and equipment. Seaforth has several locations including: Mission Bay, 1641 Quivira Rd. (tel. 619/223-1681); downtown at the Marriott San Diego Hotel & Marina, 333 W. Harbor Dr. (tel. 619/239-2628); and in Coronado at 1715 Strand Way (tel. 619/437-1514).
Mission Bay Sportcenter, 1010 Santa Clara Place (tel. 858/488-1004; www.missionbaysportcenter.com), is located on an isthmus extending into the bay and is adjacent to basketball courts, a baseball field, and picnic areas. It rents sailboats (from $24 per hr.), catamarans (from $30 per hr.), sailboards ($18 per hr.), kayaks (from $13 per hr.), jet skis ($95 per hr.), pedal boats ($17 per hr.), and powerboats (from $175 per hr.). There are discounts for 4-hour and full-day rentals. In summer, a variety of youth programs (ages 4-16) teach watersports such as surfing and sailing.
Paddling with the Fishes -- With no experience and a little arm strength, you can enjoy one of San Diego's best marine adventures -- and it's not at any theme park. Explore the protected waters of La Jolla, from its legendary cove to its seven sea caves, in a kayak. You can go solo or in a tandem kayak, self-guided, or on a tour, and it's almost guaranteed that you'll spot frolicking seals or California's neon-bright state fish, the garibaldi. In summer, you may spy harmless leopard sharks circling beneath you; in winter you can head out for whale watching. For rentals or tours, check in with La Jolla Kayak, 2199 Avenida de la Playa (tel. 858/459-1114; www.lajollakayak.com).
Scuba Diving & Snorkeling
San Diego's underwater scene ranges from the magnificent giant kelp forests of Point Loma to the nautical graveyard off Mission Beach called Wreck Alley. At the aquatic Ecological Reserve off La Jolla Cove, fishing and boating activity has been banned since 1929. Diving and snorkeling, though, are welcome in the 533-acre reserve; it's a reliable place to spot garibaldi, California's state fish, as well as endangered giant black sea bass. Shore diving here or at nearby La Jolla Shores is common, and there are dive shops to help you get set up.
But boat dives are the rule. Check out the Islas los Coronados, a trio of uninhabited islets off Mexico (a 90-min. boat ride from San Diego), where seals, sea lions, eels, and more cavort against a landscape of boulders (watch for swift currents). There's also the Yukon, a 366-foot Canadian destroyer that was intentionally sunk in 2000. It's part of Wreck Alley, an artificial reef less than 1 mile out from Mission Beach that includes several other vessels and the remains of a research platform toppled by a storm in 1988. Water visibility is best in the fall; water temperatures are cold year-round.
The San Diego Oceans Foundation (tel. 619/523-1903; www.sdoceans.org) is a nonprofit organization devoted to the stewardship of local marine waters; the website features good information about the diving scene. Notable dive outfits include Ocean Enterprises, 7710 Balboa Ave. (tel. 858/565-6054; www.oceanenterprises.com); Lois Ann Dive Charters, 1717 Quivira Way (tel. 800/201-4381; www.loisann.com); and Scuba San Diego (tel. 800/586-3483 or 619/260-1880; www.scubasandiego.com). OEX Dive & Kayak Centers (www.oexcalifornia.com) has locations in La Jolla, 2132 Av. de la Playa (tel. 858/454-6195), and Mission Bay, 1010 Santa Clara Pl. (tel. 619/866-6129).
Some of the best surf spots include Windansea, La Jolla Shores, Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, Ocean Beach, and Imperial Beach. In North County, you might consider Swami's in Encinitas, Carlsbad State Beach, and Oceanside. The best waves are in late summer and early fall, but winter storms bring big surf, too; even in summer, you'll probably need a wet suit. For surf reports, check out www.surfingsandiego.com or www.surfline.com (click on "cams and reports" and scroll down to "Southern California"). A word of advice: Don't get in over your head; hazards include strong riptides and territorial locals.
Boards are available for rent at stands at many popular beaches. Many local surf shops also rent equipment and provide lessons, including La Jolla Surf Systems, 2132 Av. de la Playa, La Jolla Shores (tel. 858/456-2777; www.lajollasurfsystems.com); Pacific Beach Surf Shop, 4150 Mission Blvd. (tel. 858/373-1138; www.pacificbeachsurfshop.com); and Ocean Beach Surf & Skate, 4976 Newport Ave. (tel. 619/225-0674; www.obsurfandskate.com or www.oceanexperience.net). In Coronado, you can rent boards at Emerald City: The Boarding Source, 1118 Orange Ave. (tel. 619/435-6677; www.emeraldcitysurf.com).
For surfing lessons in the North County, check with Kahuna Bob's Surf School (tel. 800/524-8627 or 760/721-7700; www.kahunabob.com), based in Encinitas; San Diego Surfing Academy (tel. 800/447-7873 or 760/230-1474; www.surfsdsa.com), which offers lessons at South Carlsbad State Beach; and Surf Diva, 2160 Av. de la Playa (tel. 858/454-8273; www.surfdiva.com), a surfing school for women and girls, based in La Jolla. Surf Diva has become so popular it now does lessons for guys, as well as coed group instruction; in summer there are coed surf camps for ages 5 to 17.
Most San Diego hotels have pools, but there are plenty of other swimming options for visitors. The centrally located Mission Valley YMCA, 5505 Friars Rd. (tel. 619/298-3576; www.missionvalley.ymca.org), has two pools available daily (and nightly), including an outdoor facility -- call for schedule information. The nonmember fee is $5 for adults, $1.50 for seniors (62 and over) and children 15 and under. In Balboa Park, you can swim in the Kearns Memorial Swimming Pool, 2229 Morley Field Dr. (tel. 619/692-4920; www.sandiego.gov/park-and-recreation/aquatics). The fee for using the public pool is $4 for adults, $2 for seniors (62 and up) and children 15 and under; call for seasonal hours and laps-only restrictions.
In Mission Beach, you'll find Southern California's largest heated indoor pool, The Plunge, 3115 Oceanfront Walk (tel. 858/228-9300; www.wavehouseathleticclub.com), part of Belmont Park since 1925. This huge pool is 60*175 feet and was recently renovated; there are daily aquatic fitness programs and there's also a full gym facility. Nonmember swim hours are Monday through Friday noon to 4pm and 8pm to 10pm, Saturday and Sunday noon to 8pm. Admission is $7 adults, $6 seniors and children.
In La Jolla, you can swim at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center, 4126 Executive Dr. (tel. 858/457-3030; www.lfjcc.org). This heated Olympic outdoor pool (with an ozone filter; no chlorine) is open to the public Monday through Thursday from 6am to 7:30pm, Friday from 6am to 5pm, and weekends from 8:30am to 5pm. Admission is $10 adults, $5 for ages 14 and under.