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Barefoot Bar & Grill, six decades and counting

Free parking, and cheeseburgers in Paradise Point

A cheeseburger in Paradise Point, served by the Barefoot Bar & Grill, 60 years this summer.
A cheeseburger in Paradise Point, served by the Barefoot Bar & Grill, 60 years this summer.

Idling into the golden hour of another sunny afternoon on Mission Bay, we sat down to dine at a prime table, only a few feet from the water. “What’s popular here?” I asked, out of food writer habit.

As most servers do these days, ours pointed out a couple of the menu’s premium offerings first: in this case, the Baja Crab Louie (add shrimp) and a top sirloin served with blue cheese. He also pushed the brussels sprouts appetizer, which I think has become casual dining’s answer to “Do you want fries with that?”

Place

Barefoot Bar and Grill

1404 Vacation Road, San Diego

Speaking of which, he finished with another bona fide classic: “We’re kind of known for our burgers….” It’s a claim I’ve heard many times over, except here it holds weight. Because, as of June, Barefoot Bar & Grill has been known for its burgers a full 60 years.

It sits at the western edge of the Paradise Point Resort, and its 44 acres of manmade island, smack in the middle of the bay. Built by a movie producer, inspired by the Hawaiian islands, the midcentury resort has seen plenty of changes over the years. When it opened, back in the summer of 1962, the resort went by an entirely different name: Vacation Village. But its casual bayfront restaurant was called Barefoot Bar & Grill from day one.

Given that it overlooks a small lagoon and marina, Barefoot’s focus is understandably on the view from its patios. However, its simple architecture reflects the maudlin humor of those times: it’s nestled into a small hillside, bunker style, designed to resemble a bomb shelter.

Built like a bunker, early in the nuclear age

It wasn’t only tourists gathered around the bar area when we showed up for dinner. Plenty of San Diegans have caught on to the Barefoot Bar in six decades, I just haven’t been one of them. And I have to admit, it took a free meal to get me here.

In my life outside of Feast, I work part time as a travel book author, which occasionally affords me a complimentary stay at nice hotels in the name of research. When that landed me in a Paradise Point bungalow for a couple nights, the stay included a free meal.

Since I didn’t pay, I won’t remark too much about the food, except to say the “Classic barefoot burger,” topped with caramelized onions and American cheese, presents a worthy excuse to come enjoy the outdoor dining and view, even at $19. Plus, my wife enjoyed her Crab Louie, and the crispy brussels tasted fine.

The real reason I decided to write about Barefoot, other than its 60 year milestone, is to talk about two mistaken impressions that kept me away from the place so many years.

A Funcat, as featured on the Action Sports Rentals web site

Number one would be parking: I assumed only hotel guests were permitted in resort parking lots, but that’s not the case. Because this whole island took shape when the city created the modern Mission Bay during the 1950s, the resort’s main parking lots are free and open to the public. You can park here to visit the restaurant, to visit the beach, or to find boat and paddle board rentals at the marina beside the restaurant. We took a spin in what they call a Funcat, a small, electric boat that looks like someone put a lounge chair on an catamaran, and cuts through the water with all the grace and power of a lazy boy recliner.

The other thing keeping me away was a maybe outdated aversion to resort restaurants. I’m trying to be less snarky about such things these days; to embrace the idea that sometimes, properties like this serve decent food, and most times, they possess some of the city’s best dining spaces.

That said, it looks as though my snark will be put to the test here, pretty soon. Vacation Village/Paradise Point is due another name change, and within a couple years it will be rebranded as a Margaritaville. Yes, Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville.

Baja crab louie ($20), with shrimp added for $10

When that happens, it’s all too easy to imagine the Parrot Head powers that be, taking a look at Barefoot Bar & Grill, and deciding to revive the old Cheeseburgers in Paradise chain. But word is, that’s not going to happen. Margaritaville will bring an updated poolside bar and other upgrades, but this little restaurant, known for its burgers, will continue to be known as Barefoot Bar & Grill, as it has for sixty years and counting.

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A cheeseburger in Paradise Point, served by the Barefoot Bar & Grill, 60 years this summer.
A cheeseburger in Paradise Point, served by the Barefoot Bar & Grill, 60 years this summer.

Idling into the golden hour of another sunny afternoon on Mission Bay, we sat down to dine at a prime table, only a few feet from the water. “What’s popular here?” I asked, out of food writer habit.

As most servers do these days, ours pointed out a couple of the menu’s premium offerings first: in this case, the Baja Crab Louie (add shrimp) and a top sirloin served with blue cheese. He also pushed the brussels sprouts appetizer, which I think has become casual dining’s answer to “Do you want fries with that?”

Place

Barefoot Bar and Grill

1404 Vacation Road, San Diego

Speaking of which, he finished with another bona fide classic: “We’re kind of known for our burgers….” It’s a claim I’ve heard many times over, except here it holds weight. Because, as of June, Barefoot Bar & Grill has been known for its burgers a full 60 years.

It sits at the western edge of the Paradise Point Resort, and its 44 acres of manmade island, smack in the middle of the bay. Built by a movie producer, inspired by the Hawaiian islands, the midcentury resort has seen plenty of changes over the years. When it opened, back in the summer of 1962, the resort went by an entirely different name: Vacation Village. But its casual bayfront restaurant was called Barefoot Bar & Grill from day one.

Given that it overlooks a small lagoon and marina, Barefoot’s focus is understandably on the view from its patios. However, its simple architecture reflects the maudlin humor of those times: it’s nestled into a small hillside, bunker style, designed to resemble a bomb shelter.

Built like a bunker, early in the nuclear age

It wasn’t only tourists gathered around the bar area when we showed up for dinner. Plenty of San Diegans have caught on to the Barefoot Bar in six decades, I just haven’t been one of them. And I have to admit, it took a free meal to get me here.

In my life outside of Feast, I work part time as a travel book author, which occasionally affords me a complimentary stay at nice hotels in the name of research. When that landed me in a Paradise Point bungalow for a couple nights, the stay included a free meal.

Since I didn’t pay, I won’t remark too much about the food, except to say the “Classic barefoot burger,” topped with caramelized onions and American cheese, presents a worthy excuse to come enjoy the outdoor dining and view, even at $19. Plus, my wife enjoyed her Crab Louie, and the crispy brussels tasted fine.

The real reason I decided to write about Barefoot, other than its 60 year milestone, is to talk about two mistaken impressions that kept me away from the place so many years.

A Funcat, as featured on the Action Sports Rentals web site

Number one would be parking: I assumed only hotel guests were permitted in resort parking lots, but that’s not the case. Because this whole island took shape when the city created the modern Mission Bay during the 1950s, the resort’s main parking lots are free and open to the public. You can park here to visit the restaurant, to visit the beach, or to find boat and paddle board rentals at the marina beside the restaurant. We took a spin in what they call a Funcat, a small, electric boat that looks like someone put a lounge chair on an catamaran, and cuts through the water with all the grace and power of a lazy boy recliner.

The other thing keeping me away was a maybe outdated aversion to resort restaurants. I’m trying to be less snarky about such things these days; to embrace the idea that sometimes, properties like this serve decent food, and most times, they possess some of the city’s best dining spaces.

That said, it looks as though my snark will be put to the test here, pretty soon. Vacation Village/Paradise Point is due another name change, and within a couple years it will be rebranded as a Margaritaville. Yes, Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville.

Baja crab louie ($20), with shrimp added for $10

When that happens, it’s all too easy to imagine the Parrot Head powers that be, taking a look at Barefoot Bar & Grill, and deciding to revive the old Cheeseburgers in Paradise chain. But word is, that’s not going to happen. Margaritaville will bring an updated poolside bar and other upgrades, but this little restaurant, known for its burgers, will continue to be known as Barefoot Bar & Grill, as it has for sixty years and counting.

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