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Here's a bicycle ride that's practically a land-based equivalent of a harbor cruise on San Diego Bay. Over an out-and-back stretch of 16 miles, you're seldom far from the water, and the ease of gliding over nearly flat terrain lets you concentrate on the sights. Water fountains and public restrooms are available at frequent intervals along the route.

Boats docked in San Diego Bay

Start at or near the foot of Broadway, where parking is easy to come by if you arrive during favorable hours for the ride -- early morning or post-suppertime on Saturday or Sunday. Wend your way north along the Embarcadero, passing the Maritime Museum's Star of India sailing ship. Beyond the stately County Administration Center, the old wood-planked Embarcadero has been replaced by a durable concrete seawall, flower beds, and paved paths that accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians. This is no place for speed, especially when walkers and runners jam the way.

Foot traffic thins as you follow the path (a concrete sidewalk now) west along Harbor Drive toward Lindbergh Field. Opposite the airport, at Harbor Island's entrance, stay left and take a spin around Harbor Island itself. The island -- actually an artificial sandbar -- has a long, linear public park next to its row of hotels and parking lots. Ride on the road surface here; the sidewalk right next to the water is for pedestrians only. San Diego's downtown skyline gleams impressively from this vantage, especially near sunset on sunny evenings.

Back at the island entrance, resume your travel west on the marked bike path. After about one mile, a bike-route sign directs you onto the Harbor Drive bridge, which goes over an arm of the bay. Continue west, passing some Navy facilities and two traffic lights, to a frontage road on the left. Near the defunct Tarantino's Restaurant, jog left and pick up the sidewalk that curves left around the boat docks and sportfishing terminals.

Work your way around to Scott Street, and then down Shelter Island Drive toward Shelter Island. Again there's a mix of private and public development, and again you must ride on the road -- not on the scenic walkway -- to explore the island's length.

The trip back to the foot of Broadway can be quick and more direct. Use Scott Street to reach Harbor Drive, then retrace the marked bike path paralleling Harbor Drive.

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