Looking for big splashy fun to cool down the summer heat?
Consider a weekend jaunt to breezy San Diego. It’s more than just a pretty bay. Turns out, San Diego’s waterfront is loaded with all types of ocean adventures, from speedboating with sea lions to fine dining and mai tais. And it’s all only a two-hour drive south.
Whether you’re planning a family outing, couples retreat or a singles getaway, here are a few ideas:
Snorkeling with sharks
You don’t have to travel to Tahiti for a shark soiree — they’re as close as La Jolla. And you can snorkle alongside large groups of them.
“At the height of the summer, you may be swimming with as many as 100 leopard sharks,” said Marcella DiMichieli, president of Bike and Kayak Tours Inc. (www.sandiegobikeandkayaktours.com), which offers seasonal leopard shark encounters.
Beginning in late spring, these harmless bottom-dwellers migrate to the calm, shallow waters of the La Jolla Ecological Reserve and Underwater Park, where they cruise along the flat, sandy sea bottom.
“It’s an amazing experience to be floating above these beautiful creatures,” DiMichieli said. “They range from 3- to 6-feet in length —- but don’t worry, they’re totally harmless.”
A leopard shark’s mouth is as small as a quarter, and they’re afraid of everything. “Snorkelers have to literally stay still or the sharks will disappear,” she said. Underwater sightings also include rays and shovel-nosed guitar fish.
Snorkel with the Sharks tours are offered daily through September. Reservations are required.
Blue whale watching
With Navy SEALs big news, the experience of skimming across the water in an authentic Navy SEAL Rigid Inflatable Boat seems more thrilling than ever. The R.I.B. is small and fast — 30 feet long and racing up to 35 knots. Think James Bond hitting the waves for a white-knuckle chase scene.
Now you can feel the rush and watch blue whales at the same time with Adventure R.I.B. Rides (www.adventureribrides.com), which offers one of San Diego’s only whale-watching excursions.
Four blue whale pods are congregating 10 to 15 miles offshore and will stay there from June through August, said Ken Manzoni, owner of Adventure R.I.B. Rides.
“The blue whales are getting to know us,” he said. “And while we keep the lawful distance, the leviathans -— along with humpback, fin and minke whales — often swim over to see us.”
Adventure R.I.B. Rides also offers dolphin-watching tours and many other types of excursions, including picnic and lunch adventures. You can even cruise over to Humphreys Concerts by the Bay and rock out on the water, from June 7 to Oct. 25. Headliners include stars such as Billy Idol (www.humphreysconcerts.com).
Speedboats for two
You’re in the captain’s seat — literally — on San Diego Speedboat Adventures’ self-driven harbor tours (www.speedboatadventures.com). It’s the first narrated harbor tour where participants drive their own two-passenger speedboats, said company owner Chris Boone.
“You steer it like a car and zip around San Diego Bay following the lead speedboat,” he explained.
Their small size — just 13 feet long — allows thrill seekers to carefully maneuver under the flight deck of the USS Midway, and come within just a few feet of the massive sea lions hanging out at the bait barge inside the harbor.
“The sea lions are huge favorites,” Boone said. “We’ll see 50 to 80 of them, sunning, swimming and playing on the barge. And we see dolphins daily.”
Tours are offered five times a day. Reservations are recommended.
If ocean serenity is your pleasure, the Mission Bay Aquatic Center (www.mbaquaticcenter.com) offers a new twist on Stand-Up Paddling. Its new SUPCore Program features SUPYoga and SUPFit — yoga and fitness exercises done on a floating paddleboard.
Ninety-minute SUP sessions can be booked, but advance registration by phone is required (858.488.1000).
Voyaging into history
Swashbuckling good times are in order at the waterfront Maritime Museum of San Diego (www.sdmaritime.org), home to historic vessels including the Star of India, the world’s oldest active sailing ship, and the HMS Surprise, a replica of an 18th-century British frigate featured in the movie “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.” Overnight stays aboard the Star of India can be booked July 23 to 24 or Aug. 13 to 14.
The new Voyages to Paradise art exhibit at the Maritime Museum takes you on a fantasy sail to the South Pacific, with works including a recently rediscovered Tahitian wood sculpture by Paul Gauguin. Running through Jan. 1, the show features more than 100 oil paintings, engravings, prints and carvings created by the official artists on voyages of James Cook, Herman Melville and Gauguin.
Mai tais and moonlight
In the evening, the waterfront fun continues with sunset drinks and dinner, surrounded by Polynesian pleasures and sweeping harbor views.
Renovated last year, Bali Hai Restaurant (www.balihairestaurant.com) on Shelter Island mixes midcentury tiki chic with “world famous mai tais and 300-degree harbor views,” according to Larry Baumann, co-owner of venerable Bali Hai.
“We use the original Trader Vic’s mai tai recipe,” Baumann said.
Peohe’s (www.peohes.com) on Coronado Island is another hot spot for spectacular harbor views and contemporary Hawaii-style cuisine. David Bland, the new executive chef, said the pupu platters and grilled Chilean seabass are very popular.
—Barbara Beckley, Custom Publishing Writer