All Things Mission Beach
History, Places to Go, Things to Do, and Reader Stories from the Last 40 Years
San Diego Reader
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An Insider's Travel and Visitor Guide to San Diego's Mission Beach Neighborhood
Things to do Places to go News & stories about Mission Beach from the last 40 years
It is the curse of native Californians to remember when – and what has happened since. Old time San Diegans recall when Mission Valley was cow pastures and occasional barns. Old time residents of Mission Beach recall an end point, spit of land where a warping wooden boardwalk separated modest shacks from the wide blue giant to the west. They remember when outsiders needed a reason to come that far and parking was never a problem.
In 1954, long before movies like Gidget and Ride the Wild Surf turned California’s coastline into Hoedad Heaven, Mission Beach was about as definitive a beach community as they came. That year, 24 longtime friends formed the Old Mission Beach Athletic Club, aka OMBAC, to this day one of the proudest five letters in San Diego.
They joined to sponsor volleyball tournaments. That same year they hosted the first ever OMBAC World Championship Over the Line Tournament. Sixteen teams competed in the sand west of Redondo Court, where the trolley made its final stop at Asher’s Bath House.
They played a version of softball. The batter stands on one side of the plate; the pitcher, a teammate, kneels on the other and lobs the ball up in the air. About 100 spectators watched the batter try to belt the ball as it fell toward the plate.
OTL has since evolved into an adult version of spring break. Lost amid the crack of pop-topped libations, topless women, and the beach equivalent of the annual bikers’ rally at Sturgis, South Dakota, are the better teams’ skills. Some are world class.
Having one of the widest beaches in the region helped make the raucous tournament possible. But sometimes overlooked: for those who prefer peace and quiet in a waterfront, just a few blocks to the east, the Bayside Walk along Bonita Cove and Mariners Basin can feel downright serene.
Mission Beach bloomed late. During the first decade of the 20th Century, San Diegans felt little urge to drive to a beach. Getting to one was a bumpy jaunt, and they could swim in the bay, or ferry across to Coronado, and enjoy the Silver Strand.
To increase visitors and land values, in 1923 John D. Spreckels began selling small lots. But Mission Beach was still too out of the way, and building a home on sand (most were tents), made it prohibitive. In 1925 Spreckels completed construction of his electric railway to Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, and La Jolla. On the fourth of July, 1925, the “sugar magnate” opened the Mission Beach Amusement Center. Now called Belmont Park, it included a fun house (with a creepy “sliding walk”) and the Natatorium (aka the Plunge). At 60’ by 175’, its 400,000 gallons made it the largest saltwater pool in the world at the time.
“To enter the pool,” recalls former resident Todd Blakesley, who lived above the Crystal Palace, “you had to walk through a trough with a chemical that killed foot diseases (I guess they weren’t concerned about other bodily diseases).”
The park’s centerpiece: the Giant Dipper, a wooden roller coaster offering a one-minute 45-second “ride through the clouds.”
Lack of fresh water still kept homebuyers away. When they solved that problem, Mission Beach became one of the most densely populated areas in the region.
Today Mission Beach boasts a restored Belmont Park and Sea World and tall hotels. But the shacks are gone. Gentrification has redeveloped the once funky playground for the free of spirit. Most of the houses along the concrete boardwalk have absentee owners who pay the mortgages off vacation rentals.
The curse of native Californians: ah, but remember when.
Read about the most important annual events, landmarks, and institutions that make Mission Beach what it is. Plus 30 original nonfiction stories.
Ideal for visitors and locals alike!