Location: Vacation Isle is located in the center of Mission Bay, and reachable by Ingraham Street from South and North Mission Bay. (map)
Vacation Isle is a bit of a hidden gem in San Diego. Many people who drive over the bridges of Ingrahm Street don’t even notice they’ve arrived on an island. As just one part of the vast aquatic playground that is Mission Bay Park, it sometimes gets overlooked by visitors to Sea World and Belmont Park. Those who spend time on Vacation Isle, however, recognize that here, there’s a lot to do for such a little island.
In 1958, the city of Mission Bay approved a $60 million dollar plan to dredge the Mission Bay swamp to create 30 miles of shoreline beaches, grassy knolls for picnicking, and areas for boating, skiing, swimming, and other water sports — an area which would come to be known as Mission Bay Park. Four years later, movie producer Jack Skirball discovered for himself a small island in the bay that, with his help, would become Vacation Isle. He built the resort, which would later become family-friendly Paradise Point, around the concept of a tropical movie set in which vacationers would get the star treatment. The remaining areas of the island were broken into Ski Beach on the eastern side of Ingraham Street, and Vacation Isle Park on the western side.
Vacation Isle Park
The park on the southwestern side of Vacation Isle is a great spot for family fun and picnics. There are numerous picnic tables and trees dotted around the grassy park, as well as sandy beaches that meet calm bay waters — perfect for small children. There are also two sets of convenient restrooms and walking/running paths throughout the park and along the shores.
Vacation Isle Park’s most unique feature is the Model Yacht Pond. What is a model yacht? It’s like a remote-control car, except it’s a boat. Just like their full-sized counterparts, model boats come in all styles, from sail boats to speed boats. Enthusiasts often build their own models from kits or from scratch and bring them to calm-watered ponds such as the one at Vacation Isle Park. On a summer weekend, the high-pitched buzz of model yacht motors can be heard from across the island. When the Model Yacht Basin isn’t filled with motorized miniatures, it attracts an adorable array of Mission Bay’s ducks (and ducklings) and other waterfowl. Come to Vacation Isle with a model yacht of your own to show off or a loaf of bread, family, and a picnic basket to take advantage of this beautiful park.
Paradise Point Resort and Spa
Paradise Point boasts 44 acres of lush, tropical landscape, reminiscent of Hawaii and Tahiti. The family-oriented resort features bungalow-style rooms, most of which are situated on sandy beaches or gorgeous lagoons. With five pools, tennis courts, an 18-hole miniature golf course, and an NBA-sized basketball court, it’s where vacationers come to play in Mission Bay.
Vacation Isle visitors don’t have to be resort guests to take in some of Paradise Point’s best features, however. When Jack Skirball built the resort, he used set pieces from his movies to add magic and charm to the resort, and a walk around the grounds will reveal the porpoise fountain from the 1963 film Cleopatra and decorative masonry from multiple movie sets that adorn the entryways of bungalow rooms. At Paradise Point, there are even several original mission bells that marked the El Camino Real, the historic roadway between California’s Spanish missions.
Paradise Point includes a fitness center and spa, complete with massages, yoga classes, and beauty treatments. Visitors looking for a quick bite to eat with family or an elegant bay-front dinner will love the poolside Tropics Cantina, Barefoot Bar and Grill, or Baleen restaurants. A beachfront marshmallow roast in one of 14 bonfire pits around the property can also be a fun attraction. Bicycle cruisers and segways are available for rent, and seeing an entire family peddling a quadracycle around the ground is quite common. People who enjoy water sports can rent boats, jet skis, and paddle boards to take out into Mission Bay, or take advantage of the Paradise Surf Academy for surfing lessons. There are also several Car2Go car rental stations.
East of Ingrahm Avenue, it’s all Ski Beach. The park is known for its boat ramp that allows water sport enthusiasts to drop the speedboats, jet skis, and other watercraft into the glass-like water of Mission Bay. Picnic areas and the children’s park are perfect for weekend family barbeques and fire pits along the beach are a great place to roast some marshmallows and catch Seaworld’s summer fireworks shows. Bring a volleyball net or a few cones to mark out goal boxes, and Ski Beach’s grassy fields transform into an impromptu community sports venue for having fun and making fast friends.
Ski beach is also a great place for festivals and fairs, like the annual Pacific Island Festival and San Diego Bayfair’s World Series of Powerboat Racing events. Both of these family-friendly events occur in September. The Pacific Island Festival is a free Ski beach event that features great food, music, and dance from various cultures like Hawaii, Tahiti, Indonesia. San Diego Bayfair has hosted their World Series of Powerboat Racing event on Mission Bay for almost 50 years. It features races between 150+ competitive teams racing some of the fastest boats in the world at speeds over 200 mph. The three-day family-friendly event also features RV camping, an inflatable playground, and even a motocross exhibition.
Anyone looking for some family fun, the excitement of water sports, or a relaxing tropical paradise can find it on Vacation Isle. It’s one of San Diego’s great vacation spots, right in the heart of the city.
A long, narrow sandy beach on the east side of Vacation Isle.
South Cove Beach
A sandy beach with fire rings.
Vacation Isle Park
South end of Vacation Isle. Grassy park areas with sandy beaches, picnic tables, fire rings and restrooms. Picnic gazebo. Small amphitheatre type seating with fire ring at South Cove.
Ski Beach Park
East side of Vacation Isle. Large grassy area, a picnic shelter with picnic tables, fire rings and a path for jogging or bike riding. Boat launch and ski area on the south side, but no swimming is allowed. Children’s playground next to picnic shelter.
Model Yacht Basin
South of Paradise Point Resort. Used for both sail and power model boats in races and regattas.
San Diego BayFair – The World Series of Powerboat Racing
Best viewing: Fiesta Island (west side), Crown Point, and Ski Beach.
The premier San Diego boat racing and family beach festival celebrating the end of summer.
Race course: In the waters between Vacation Isle, Fiesta Isle and Crown Point.
Mission Bay Triathlon
Over 1,600 competitors from around the country will compete in the Mission Bay Triathlon. Join us at the birthplace of the sport!
Mission Bay Christmas Boat Parade of Lights
The best viewing is from Riviera Shores, Crown Point, Santa Clara Point, the east side of Vacation Island and west side of Fiesta Island.