San Diego’s Embarcadero, the place of departure and arrival for vessels as small as fishing skiffs and as large as ocean liners, defines the city’s connection to the watery worlds of San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The unquestionably spectacular views of today are somewhat marred by a preponderance of all-too-wide thoroughfares given over to car traffic, parking lots, and hulking military buildings dating from decades ago.
All that is changing and will change over the next decade or more as several major redevelopment phases, most under the banner of the “North Embarcadero Visionary Plan,” come on line to spiff up the waterfront with wide walkways, grassy parks for picnics and entertainment events, more restaurants and retail outlets, and a remade skyline immediately inland.
On most days, parking space is an issue along the Embarcadero. Metered parking spaces are usually more abundant along the bay front north of Hawthorn and Grape streets. Keep in mind that Sunday parking is free.
As you follow the winding concrete bayfront path south, you’ll pass the 30 or so monumental “Urban Trees” sculptures that seemingly grow out of outsized flower pots. The “Urban Trees” exhibit, sponsored by the Port of San Diego, is now in its seventh “edition” and is updated on a more-or-less yearly basis. Many of the older sculptures eventually find new homes on public and private properties all around San Diego. “Urban Trees” line the Embarcadero to as far as the Broadway Pier.
As you stroll south, the sidewalk widens and you pass the collection of antique watercraft comprising the Maritime Museum of San Diego. The museum’s signature attraction, the 1863 iron-hulled sailing vessel Star of India, currently qualifies as the world’s oldest active ship. Occasionally she can be seen tooling around San Diego Bay.
Next, on the right side (bay side), are three major piers. The B Street Pier for cruise ships allows no pedestrian access. The Broadway Pier has a brand-new auxiliary terminal for cruise ships, and pedestrians can wander about when ships aren’t docked there. Navy Pier, the southernmost of the three, has found a newer use as a parking lot for the USS Midway aircraft carrier (now a museum), which is permanently berthed there. Smaller docks on either side of the Broadway Pier host vessels carrying tourists on bay excursions and whale-watching expeditions.
After Navy Pier, the sidewalk promenade widens to include Tuna Harbor Park. If you are inclined, take a short side trip over to various public art exhibits with World War II themes and a viewpoint where you can look straight west toward the modern aircraft carriers at anchor alongside the North Island Naval Station. On the southwest side of Tuna Harbor Park lies a slightly gritty pier for commercial fishing boats. Walk out there to get a flavor for San Diego’s working waterfront, complete with lobster traps and nets being repaired by commercial fishermen.
Resuming your travel south, you’re quickly immersed in tourist nirvana, with the shops and restaurants of Seaport Village on the left and a whitewashed smooth wall on the right where you can sit and contemplate the whole of San Diego Bay’s south arm, flecked with sailboats on windy days. The graceful arch of the San Diego–Coronado Bay Bridge vaults over the scene.
Make a fitting far end to your Embarcadero hike by following the looping sidewalk around the north section of Embarcadero Marina Park, just south of Seaport Village. The 360-degree vista from this grassy space encompasses the bay, a small-boat harbor jammed with pleasure craft, glassy hotels, and the nautically themed San Diego Convention Center.
When you return to Seaport Village, retrace your earlier steps, with the exception of earlier side trips.
Enjoy bay and city views from San Diego’s “front porch.”
Distance from downtown San Diego: 0 miles
Hiking length: 3 miles round trip • Difficulty: Easy