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Mission Beach

Mission Beach is one distinctive neighborhood. Of course there's the roller coaster, but I'm thinking of a completely different distinction. I mean that Mission Beach cuts quite the geographical figure. It is a true promontory, an actual peninsula, a mere spit, an almost isthmus, a gestural jut of land that, at its thinnest, could be transnavigated by the throw of a stone. Pretty distinguishing. Pretty cool. And then there's the unique infrastructure: only one single road — Mission Boulevard — threads north-south through the neighborhood, and that boulevard's crisscrossed by 60 tiny courts and places named for waterside communities in other areas: Nantasket, Portsmouth, Redondo, Rockaway, even Venice. Predominantly, Mission Beach is a maze of alleyways and patios angling between two beachside boardwalks.

I don't know about you, but I'm always hard-pressed to say precisely where something is in Mission Beach. "Um, it's on the left side, before the roller coaster, about halfway down." And I never drive there, not if I can help it, not unless I'm ready to crawl in traffic. Anyway, the only way to really see the place, to get the true feel of it, is to walk or skateboard, to Rollerblade or ride your bicycle.

Actually the best view in Mission Beach, and therefore the best perspective from which to see it all, is afforded from the top of the Giant Dipper at Belmont Park. It's one of those ancient, rattling, wooden coasters, and its 80th anniversary (notwithstanding the 14 years it was shut down) will be next Fourth of July.

Mission Beach also boasts the Plunge, which was once the largest indoor saltwater pool in the world. Years later, after they switched it over to freshwater, it was the largest indoor pool in Southern California. Nowadays it's just a nice big indoor pool.

It's a fact that there are almost no cheap houses in Mission Beach. This reality dates back to the original 1914 plan that drew up the neighborhood as a resort community. That plan won honors at the Second Annual Exhibition of Landscape Architects in 1925. Even today, a height-control mandate has kept all the architecture in Mission Beach under 30 feet. That's why no building in the whole vicinity is taller than three stories.

Somehow Mission Beach has been lucky enough to avoid the clipped nomenclature that afflicts its neighbors to the north and south. There's the often misunderstood "P.B." and the suggestive and atrocious "O.B.," but you'll never hear anyone mention "M.B." Wonder why that is?

As far as Mission Beach's claims to fame go, even this community's name reminds us of a piece of San Diego's history, of the mission that Father Junípero Serra embarked upon in 1769 to establish the first Spanish church in Alta California. And in 1927 Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis passed directly over Belmont Park — which, at the time, was called the Mission Beach Amusement Center. In archival aerial pictures of this event, you can see old Mission Beach, proudly glittering with its dinosaurian roller coaster slicing a figure far below.

I like Mission Beach most of all, I think, for the sheer option of shoreline. It's the one place in San Diego where I can stake a wide swath of sand and have it all to myself all day. Or, if it's too cool and windy on the ocean side, there's always placid Mission Bay, a stone's throw away.

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