October 2023 – We recently made a quick weeklong RV trip to San Diego and had an absolute ball. As soon as we got there and set up camp at Sweetwater Summit Regional Park Campground, we made a beeline for Shelter Island, our all-time favorite place in this beautiful city.
It was a foggy morning, but seeing the sailboats bobbing at anchor and hearing the seagulls mournful cries warmed our hearts!
We had been fortunate to live on Shelter Island in our sailboat, Groovy, for two weeks before our sailing cruise of Mexico and for six months afterwards. For us, it is the heart of San Diego, offering truly elegant waterfront living right on the banks of San Diego Harbor.
Shelter Island is a manmade barrier island that was created by dredging some marshy flats and piling up the mud to make a long skinny “island” that parallels the shoreline of San Diego Harbor. It isn’t a true island, however, as a road lined with businesses attaches it to the mainland.
Behind the island — in the dredged area on either side of this access road — there are rows upon rows of boats moored at a series of lovely marinas.
So, being on Shelter Island puts you right in the middle of all the waterfront action of a big city harbor. The “front” side of the island faces San Diego Harbor, with the city skyline in the distance, while the sheltered “back” side of the island is filled with marinas and resorts and is very peaceful and tranquil.
As we drove down Shelter Island Drive onto the island, we had to stop at Marvelous Muffins. When we lived on Shelter Island in our sailboat, Groovy, for 6 months at the end of our Mexico cruise, Marvelous Muffins was a frequent morning stop for us, no matter what we had planned for our day!
Nothing about it had changed. Sophie, the charming muffin maker and shopkeeper, was still there to greet us, and her muffins were as delicious as we remembered them being. Naturally, we bought a few extras to take back to our trailer!
The air was still heavy with fog when we got to the waterfront. San Diego Harbor is a very busy harbor with boats heading to and fro all the time, no matter what the weather! As we watched the goings-on, the Flagship tour boat headed past us on an excursion, the deck filled with eager tourists.
Overhead, Navy helicopters buzzed around constantly. Across the harbor, the Navy runway was very busy with jets that were so loud we couldn’t head each other talk when they took off!
Far out at sea, a really unique looking tri-hulled Navy ship approached. What an unusual beast!
Gradually, the fog lifted and streaks of blue filled the sky. We could see the San Diego skyline in the distance beyond a string of sailboats that were anchored along the edge of the harbor.
The side of Shelter Island that faces the harbor is a wonderful long grassy park. A walking path runs between the grass and the shore. It ducks under flower covered trellises and passes by children’s play areas, picnic tables and statuary along the way.
Down at our feet, we noticed that when the sidewalk pavement was poured, someone drew a stick figure of a sailboat. How fun!
Fabulous enormous trees provide shade throughout this grassy park, inviting all visitors to sit for a spell and enjoy the view.
Buddy thought this place was heavenly and promptly took a snooze!
There are park benches along this walking path too. It is a very romantic waterfront!
The romantic air isn’t just for people either. A pair of seagulls was enjoying a quiet moment of togetherness too.
One of the more famous statues on Shelter Island is the tuna fishermen. These three guys are straining for all they’re worth, pulling up an enormous tuna together. Their fishing rods are anchored in belts around their waists, and the fish is fighting mightily.
A few steps away we saw several fishermen casting their lines. They were after smaller prey and they said they were having pretty good luck!
A seagull kept a close eye on them to see if they might start cleaning their catch and throwing out scraps!
There’s a small beach on the harbor side of Shelter Island, and now that the sun was out, a few sun bathers settled into the sand to catch some rays.
A man came running past with his dog bounding ahead. Leashes are required, of course, but this lucky pooch was given a few minutes of freedom on the beach. He took full advantage, and plunged into the water for a swim. He emerged looking a little bedraggled but very happy!
Shelter Island is home to some truly exquisite resorts that are lined up along the back side of the island. Their fronts faced the grassy lawn park and the harbor. One of these resorts is Island Palms. It looked truly regal under the towering palm trees.
With fancy resorts comes stunning landscaping, and there were glorious exotic flowers of all kinds in bloom everywhere.
The climate in San Diego is very temperate, never exceedingly hot or cold. While we were there in late October the daily highs were 75 degrees F and the nightly lows were 65 degrees.
Unlike the vast southwestern desert that stretches for hundreds of miles right up to the coastal mountains that separate San Diego from its arid inland neighbors, this city sees very minimal temperature swings from day to night.
On the backside of the island there are several marinas, and this is the area we called home for six months. It is incredible that you can live in the heart of San Diego, right on the water, wedged between top flight resort hotels, for the price of a boat and a slip.
When we were there, the country was in the throes of the financial crisis that began in 2008, and although it took several years to make its way into the boating community, when it did, it hit hard.
Before the crisis there was a waiting list for boat slips in the marinas, and the price per month was sky high. However, by the time we lived there, open slips were in abundance and the price was very reasonable. We were blessed with really fortunate timing!
Taking a walk down memory lane, we strolled along the shore and admired the hundreds of boats. We didn’t see any Hunter 44DS sailboats (Groovy’s model), but we did see a Hunter 41DS, the same layout but a little shorter. Then we strolled along the small beach that is opposite the boats. What a place to live!
Kona Kai Resort & Spa is a gorgeous property, and the fire pits just begged for groups of friends to gather around. Meanwhile, the swimming pool looked sooooo inviting!
Down on the beach there were some shade ramadas with cushy seating for intimate gatherings. There was no shortage of places to relax around here!
What a place to call home for a while. While we lived at Kona Kai Marina, we were allowed to use the gym facilities at the resort. Needless to say, the minutes passed a lot faster on the elliptical machine when you were staring out the enormous plate glass windows at all the activity in and around the marina and resort!
If your RV travels take you to San Diego, be sure to swing by Shelter Island. There isn’t an RV park there, but even if you visit for just a few hours, you’ll find that it is a wonderful community unto itself. And for us, it is the true heart of San Diego!
Where to Stay in an RV in San Diego?
On this trip, we stayed at Sweetwater Summit Regional Park, a pleasant park on the southeastern side of the city. The advantage is that it is fairly reasonably priced for San Diego. The disadvantage is that downtown San Diego is a 30 minute drive away via several freeways.
Some of the campground loops were under construction during our stay (October 2023), making it quite noisy during the day. The construction is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2023.
Also, they have a very serious problem with minuscule sugar ants. The ants have been there for years, and they know all the tricks for how to get into your rig. Diatomaceous Earth and Amdro ant granules help, but when you shut down one spot they’ve been getting in, they promptly find another! We had the exact same issue with sugar ants at the KOA in Chula Vista in 2009, so it may be a common problem with many RV parks on the south side of San Diego.
There are lots of other RV park options in San Diego. We enjoyed staying at Campland on the Bay in our popup tent trailer in 2005. It’s family oriented and full of lively activity and kids. Next door, Mission Bay RV Resort is popular with full-timers and snowbirds.
A new RV park that is closer to downtown was very tempting for this trip — Sun Outdoors RV Park. If you look at the rates now, in November 2023, your eyes will pop out of your head. But last summer they were running a special for wintertime advance booking that was right in line with the other RV parks in the area, about 35% more than Sweetwater County Park. Many people seem to have been very happy staying there and we might try it next time if we can snag a good advance booking deal.
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More info about Shelter Island:
- Shelter Island Highlights – Port of San Diego
- Shelter Island Travel Guide – Insider Familiar
- Location of Shelter Island – Google Maps
Other blog posts from California:
- California Coast – Salt Air At Last
- Death Valley, CA – An Exotic Landscape
- Groovy – How We Came to Own a Sailboat
- Mammoth, CA – A big surprise!
- On San Diego’s Shores – Dolphins and more!
- San Diego – Laid Back Mission Bay
- San Diego – Magical Seaport Village
- San Diego – Shelter Island = Boater’s Paradise
- San Diego Anchorages – Boondocking on the Water
- San Diego Anchorages – Glories of Glorietta Bay
- San Diego Treats – Balboa and Sunset Cliffs
- San Diego’s Shelter Island – A Lively Waterfront!
- San Diego’s Shelter Island – Safe Haven!
- San Francisco & LA – The Sailboat Hunt is On!
- Taylor Guitars – Where Passion Fuels Success
- The Baja Ha-Ha 2013 Sails South!
- Untying The Lines – A nautical send-off
- Yosemite National Park, CA – Sheer Beauty
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