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Here’s a bicycle ride that’s practically a land-based equivalent of the harbor cruise covering north 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.

Start at or near the foot of Broadway (Broadway and Harbor Drive), where parking may be easy to find if you arrive during favorable early-morning hours. Wend your way north along the Embarcadero, passing the Maritime Museum’s Star of India sailing ship. According to the city’s North Embarcadero Visionary Plan, this entire stretch of waterfront will be transformed into a pedestrian and picnic-friendly park several years from now. For now, at least, the right-of-way for pedestrians and bikes consists of a meandering concrete pathway next to concrete seawalls.

A somewhat noisy stretch follows as you continue west toward the airport. The gently curving pathway threads between busy Harbor Drive and a Coast Guard base and rent-a-car facilities. Just south of the airport, the path angles toward hotel-dotted Harbor Island — itself not a true island but rather a long, thin artificial peninsula built of sand dredged from the bottom of San Diego Bay. Take a spin around the entire peninsula, using the lightly traveled Harbor Island Drive to do so (the sidewalks on both sides of the road are for pedestrians only). From this vantage, San Diego’s downtown skyline — ever more befitting of a major city — emerges gray and somber in the morning mist and gleams in the afternoon sunshine.

Back at the Harbor Island entrance, resume your travel west on the bike path/sidewalk. After about one more mile, scoot over to the sidewalk on 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. At your earliest convenience, pick up the sidewalk that curves left along the bay shore, passing boat docks and sportfishing terminals.

Work your way around to Scott Street, and then down Shelter Island Drive toward Shelter Island. As on Harbor Island, there’s a mix of hotels and pedestrian sidewalks, and again you must ride on the roadway itself in order to cover the island’s complete length.

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

San Diego Bay bike ride
Enjoy some of urban San Diego’s best vistas on the tried-and-true spin to Harbor and Shelter islands.
Distance from downtown San Diego: 0 miles
Biking length: 16 miles round trip
Difficulty: Moderate

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