CIf you ever take your dinghy cruising on San Diego Bay you may want to tie up for a few hours to go walking, visit the Maritime or Midway Museums or Seaport Village or stop to eat. But unless you opt for a meal at Anthony’s, the lone Embarcadero restaurant offering dockage on a first-come, first-served basis, you’re out of luck finding anywhere to tie up, barring a fairly long yet scenic walk.
Dinghy docks should be readily available and conveniently located for cruising boaters to use. The reality, as I recently confirmed when I searched for legal dinghy docks, is that they’re remarkably few in number and often poorly located and maintained.
While dock-and-dine locations have proliferated around San Diego Bay — thanks to savvy restaurateurs and marina managers recognizing the benefits of enticing boating diners through free dockage — secure docks for would-be touring or shopping boaters are limited in number and sometimes a bit sketchy. Here’s a wrap-up of my research, by location:
Embarcadero/Harbor Drive: The Port District of San Diego provides two public docks without time restrictions. The larger dock is located east of the Coast Guard Station and is the closest dock to Anchorage A-9. Signage on the pilings restricts docking to boats under 12 feet. The dock to its east, the Laurel Street Dock, offers a pumpout station (and nearby public heads) and limits dockage on Saturdays 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. because of Coast Guard Auxiliary boat inspections. These docks are your only non-restaurant choices for visiting nearby tourist attractions.
After looking at these docks and feeling concerned about the safety of leaving a small boat so vulnerable, I called the San Diego Harbor Police, who deemed them “safe enough,” assuring me that theft is not a major problem. Only four stolen dinghies were reported in the last year. But, police advise, be sure to secure boats to the dock with a stout chain or cable and sturdy padlock.
Shelter Island: America’s Cup Harbor offers three dinghy docks. The largest is behind the Marine Exchange, with no time restrictions and offering easy access to Shelter Island’s host of marine services, restaurants and nearby shopping. Again, be prepared to secure your boat to the dock with a chain or cable and padlock. Close by, new Intrepid Landing offers two hours dock-and-dine, not tied to any restaurant. Across the harbor, Sun Harbor Marina, site of Jimmy’s American Tavern and Pizza Nova, offers two hours free public dockage. Boats can also pull into the police dock at the west end of Shelter Island, but need to pay for a day’s dockage.
Coronado: Ferry Landing (not to be confused with the actual ferry dock) offers four hours free dockage at sturdy, recently rebuilt docks, first-come, first-served. Signs warn of “rough water.” Be prepared to bounce and tie up securely. The docks adjoin several restaurants and offer your easiest access to grocery stories, a pharmacy and other convenient shopping.
In Glorietta Bay, Seaforth Boat Rentals offers secure dinghy dockage for $5 a day, until 6:30 p.m., and is close to Orange Avenue’s many excellent dining choices and the historic Hotel Del. A rickety but free public dock, located by the boat launch ramp south of City Hall, is slated for rebuilding “soon.”
Mission Bay: Aside from dock-and-dine at Paradise Point Resort and the Hyatt Hotel, your only option for dockage is the public dock in Santa Clara Cove near the Mission Bay Aquatic Center. It’s limited to about two hours, enabling you to walk to Mission Beach restaurants and shopping.
Fortunately, many marinas with restaurants now offer dock-and-dine options. Call your favorite waterfront restaurant to inquire.