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For cyclists, skaters, walkers, and runners, the vast Mission Bay Park features something quite hard to find in our topographically wrinkled county: dead-flat terrain. Now that fine new or refurbished concrete sidewalks snake around South Shores, Sail Bay and Crown Point, you can circle the entire bay (11 miles at minimum -- less than two hours of easy riding or skating) with only about 15 percent of your travel alongside any kind of motorized traffic. This isn't a ride or a skate for speed demons. You'll be sharing parts of the route with groups of people on foot, some of whom seem to move in random, unpredictable ways.

A good place to begin is near the Visitor Information Center at the foot of Clairemont Drive on Mission Bay's east shoreline, where parking space is available in several lots, but scarce on busy weekends and holidays. Head south along the meandering sidewalk at the bay's edge. After less than two miles you pass the entrance to Fiesta Island. A newer bike path continues along the bay's south shore toward Sea World Drive. When you reach the parking lot at South Shores Park, veer left, cross Sea World Drive, and pick up the bike path running west along the north bank of the San Diego River flood channel. This is a prime birdwatching stretch, especially when the tide is out. Look for egrets, herons, terns, curlews, and sandpipers — to name a few.

The path crosses under two bridges and connects with Quivira Way. Turn right and curve north and west (continuing on Quivira Road) to the traffic light at West Mission Bay Drive. Turn left and cross over the water via the wide bridge, alongside traffic on the westbound side.

Once over the bridge your choices multiply: you can loop south to Mission Point, head straight east to the crowded Ocean Front Walk, or (shortest option) head north on the quiet Bayside Walk, accessible just beyond the Bahia Hotel. Bayside Walk runs all the way around Sail Bay, rounds the nose of Crown Point, and ends just below Crown Point Drive and Lamont Street. Continue north on Crown Point Drive, passing a well-fortified fence which protects intrusion on a small wildlife reserve -- the only patch of natural mudflats remaining Mission Bay's shore. Turn right (east) on Pacific Beach Drive, left on Olney Street, and finally right (east) on busy Grand Avenue.

Two blocks ahead, on the far side of the Rose Creek inlet bridge, turn right on a narrow pathway going south and east (around a ball field and a golf course) to join East Mission Bay Drive at De Anza Cove. Continue east and pick up once more the bayside sidewalk. After a short mile, you'll have completed the loop around the bay.

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