Water, water everywhere - that's just one of the qualities that makes San Diego so special. You could spend weeks just exploring our beaches, but to make the most of a shorter visit, here's a day of fun for all ages. Spend the morning at SeaWorld and the afternoon paddling or sailing Mission Bay. Then it's time for dinner just steps from the sea, followed by a scenic sternwheeler cruise on the bay.
Just about everyone has heard of SeaWorld and its famous killer whales. And while the Shamu shows remain popular with fans of all ages, the park has plenty more to offer. One of the best ways to experience Sea World is with a one-hour, behind-the scenes tour that gives you a VIP view of animal housing and training facilities and research areas. (Other personalized tours are available as well. See Web site for details; tours should be booked in advance). Then, be sure to check out favorite attractions like the delightful Penguin Encounter; Forbidden Reef, home to gentle bay rays you can touch and feed; Shark Encounter, where a walk-through, Plexiglas tube takes you into the midst of hundreds of sharks; and dozens of other exhibits and shows. Dining options range from snacks and fast food to sit-down restaurants. Note: Buy a "Two Days to Play" admission ticket, for the same price as a single day ticket, and you can come back another day for free. Park hours vary according to the season; gates open at 9 or 10 a.m.; SeaWorld San Diego.
Next, head for one of the many boat rental facilities around Mission Bay. Depending on your skill level and the size of your party, you can rent anything from a single or double kayak or a people-powered paddle boat to a fast-moving sailboard, personal watercraft, or sailboat. Generally, the motor-powered craft stick to the east portion of the bay (Fiesta Island is especially popular with the jet ski crowd) while sailors and kayakers are more common on the west side. Several of the larger hotels, including the Bahia, the Catamaran, and Paradise Point, have rental facilities, as do the Mission Bay Sport Center at Santa Clara Point and Seaforth Boat Rental at Quivira Basin. Be sure to bring along some bottled water and plenty of sunscreen; San Diego sunlight can be intense year-round.
Plan to have dinner at one of the restaurants right on the boardwalk facing the ocean in Mission or Pacific Beach. Two favorite destinations of locals and tourists are the Green Flash, 701 Thomas St., and World Famous, 711 Pacific Beach Drive. Both offer extensive menus (from burgers to grilled steaks and seafood), full bar service, oceanview dining rooms and outdoor patios just steps from the sand. After dinner, walk north or south along the boardwalk to catch the flavor of this seaside neighborhood. Just watch where you're going: this popular strip attracts loads of rollerbladers, skateboarders, cyclists and joggers.
Wrap up your night with a cruise on the Mississippi-style sternwheeler Bahia Belle, which shuttles between two hotels on Mission Bay. The views are fabulous from all three decks, and the bay has a quiet beauty all its own at night. Cruises from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. are designated Family Hours, while those from 9:30 p.m. on are for the 21 and up crowd only. Catch the boat at the Bahia Hotel and enjoy a short tour before stopping at the Catamaran Hotel. After a brief stop, the ship returns to the Bahia.