San Diego’s Shelter Island – A Lively Waterfront!

Shelter Island San Diego

Shelter Island is a great place to sit for a spell!

Summer-Fall, 2013 – While we were in San Diego, living in one of the marinas in Shelter Island’s “backyard,” we discovered a summer-long party was going on out on the island’s “front yard” that faces the bay.

Statue of kid with balloons

A bronze statue is dressed up with balloons

Shelter Island’s unique waterfront park invites visitors to spread out a picnic, or kick back with a book under a tree, or host a birthday party, or gather the whole clan for a huge family reunion, and these kinds of festive happenings go on whenever the sun is shining, which is pretty much every afternoon!

Sunbathing on Shelter Island

Shelter Island’s little beach is great for sunbathing.

Whenever we took a stroll across the street from the marina, the bay side of Shelter Island was hopping with activity.

Joggers, walkers and people with dogs filled the paths, while sunbathers and fishermen hung out by the water’s edge.

Shelter Island Drive, the road that runs the length of this spit of land, is a about a mile long, and it is a favorite place for people to show off their sports cars.

We spotted high-end cars of every variety driving by. After a while we got used to looking up and seeing something exotic rolling past, like a Ferarri or Lotus or Bentley or Rolls Royce.

Roadster on Shelter Island

California Dreaming…

This is California, after all, where cruising in a sporty roadster is an iconic pastime.

One day we found a Porsche car show was in full swing at one end of the island. Porsches of every color and from every era filled the grassy lawn by the water. Proud owners stood back and smiled while their cars were ogled and photographed.

Porsche car show Shelter Island

Porsches are lined up at a car show

Many of the cars had cute license plates. I liked the one that said “It’s qwik.”

Porsche - it's quik!

This is a fast one!

The Porsche car show was set up for just a few hours that Saturday, but the local RVs were there every day.

Porche car show on Shelter Island

What a place to show off these beautiful cars

RVs up to 30′ long are given designated parking spaces that they can stay in 22/7 — all but the wee hours of the morning. A group of “regulars” showed up early every morning to take their favorite spots along the waterfront.

Decorated RV on Shelter Island

There’s a little of everything here

Just as unique and eye-popping as any sporty Porsche was one fellow’s Class C motorhome. He had decorated if from stem to stern in crazy, colorful doo-dads and stickers. The exterior of his rig was an evolving work of art, and we watched him carefully adding goodies to it every so often.

Prevost at Humphreys

The RV culture on Shelter Island includes million dollar rigs!

At the opposite end of the spectrum, famous rock and rollers pulled into Shelter Island every few days to perform in outdoor concerts at Humphreys.

Their posh RVs were given designated parking too, right in the Humphreys parking lot!!

Seeing these million dollar rigs lined up always prompted chatter among the passersby, “Who’s playing tonight?”

Their lineup was impressive, and bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Moody Blues were on the roster during our stay.

Fishing Pier cShelter Island

This little pier is Shelter Island’s fishing hub

We hoped to catch a glimpse of a famous face, or at least get a peak inside a rig, or just talk to a roadie, but we never got quite that lucky.

There were times, though, when there were four or five of these million dollar motorhomes parked in front of Humphreys, their generators humming.

Big tree on Shelter Island

Shelter Island has lots of huge and elegant trees

Several hundred yards away, the fishermen were lined up on the fishing pier, poles reaching out over the water, their ice buckets and coolers at their feet.

Jungle gym slide on Shelter Island

Little kids have their own place
on Shelter Island too.

Shelter Island’s captivating view looks straight across the bay at downtown San Diego, but it is the enormous trees towering over the shore that will always remain etched in my memory. These mammoth trees seem to reach for the sky, and they have shaded decades of parties and gatherings under their branches.

Bougainvillea trellis Shelter Island

Trellises covered with bougainvillea dot the walking paths


The little jungle gym in the middle of the island was always full of kids playing on the swings and slide.


Bell of Friendship from Yokohama to San Diego

Yokohama’s “Bell of Friendship” was given to San Diego in 1960.


At the far end of Shelter Island there is a Japanese monument, complete with a little red roofed structure that houses a very special “Bell of Friendship” along with a huge hanging mallet to strike it. This bell was presented to San Diego in 1960 by her “sister city,” Yokohama, Japan.

Morning mist on Shelter Island

Morning mist on Shelter Island

The whole monument faces right out to the open Pacific ocean beyond San Diego’s protected bay, and there is a longing and almost haunting quality to it.

Marvelous Muffins on Shelter Island Drive

Marvelous Muffins are MARVELOUS!

Although the afternoons were usually bright and sunny, the mornings were often very misty and foggy, and we often woke to the sound of water dripping from our boat’s rigging onto the deck. That’s when we would to head to Marvelous Muffins, a sweet little muffin shop that was warm and cozy and smelled yummy inside. The shop’s owner Sophie would greet us with a huge smile, and despite having hundreds of customers, many of whom have been coming daily for years, she soon knew our names and our favorite order: a cranberry bran muffin and a blueberry bran muffin.

Yoga on standup paddle boards

Morning yoga exercises in the bay

We liked to think that starting the day with a bran muffin was fairly healthy, but one morning as we nibbled our treats, we were quite taken aback when we saw three people doing yoga on their stand-up paddle boards out in the bay.

San Diego's Festival of Sail

San Diego’s Festival of Sail

Wow! Where else would you see something like that? Another day we wandered across from the marina to see the Festival of Sail, a fabulous tall ship parade.

New and old ships in San Diego

The NEW and the OLD!

People set up their chairs on the lawn and pulled out their binoculars and cameras to watch the ships sailing past. What a fun show. Historic ships of all kinds ghosted past, all sails flying. I loved seeing the ultra modern design of a race boat next to the salty lines of an old wooden schooner. What a contrast. Each boat harnesses the wind for propulsion, but in such totally different ways.

Tall ships of every kind sailed past

Tall ships of every kind sailed past

Tall ship in San Diego

These beautiful ships sailed towards downtown.

Tall ships in San Diegp

Tall ships and sailboats on San Diego Bay

Wanna race?

Local boaters got close to the action, sailing between the tall ships, and many of the local charter boats took their customers out for a view from the front row.

Tall ship cannon blast

Cannon blast!







This was a beautiful parade that moved past in silence and slow motion.

Tall ship at sunset

A tall ship catches the light at sunset

Some of the tall ships had been war ships in a bygone era and had been armed to the teeth in their day.

Several of them broke the silence with cannon blasts as they went by. These explosions evoked a shout of excitement from us onlookers standing in the grass.

But how frightening it must have been to be caught in a skirmish — a true dance macabre — between ships like these back when the coasts were untamed.

Fishermen statue

San Diego celebrates all the ways people enjoy the sea

San Diego has one of the most accessible waterfronts of any big city, and the statues all along the waterfront pay homage to the many ways that people enjoy the sea.

We loved this statue of three fishermen reeling in their catch, and after we both tried many different angles on it, Mark captured this beautiful shot at dusk.

The wonderful thing about Shelter Island is that even when there isn’t a formal tall ship parade going by, there is always something happening on the water.

Big cruise ships come into San Diego on a regular basis too. What a sight it is when one passes by, all lit up like a Christmas tree from stem to stern.

A cruise ship lights up the bay as it sails towards downtown

A cruise ship lights up the bay as it sails towards downtown



It was a gift to be able to live on Shelter Island where everything from car shows to boat parades to little kids playing on swings to folks casting for fish to people walking and jogging along the waterfront all happened right in our own front yard.

We relished all the action, but were always glad to be able to retreat at the end of the day to Shelter Island’s back yard of marinas where the the sunsets became ever more spectacular as the summer slipped into fall and then early winter!

Sunset on Harbor Island

The sunsets became ever more dramatic as Fall progressed.

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