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Photos by Dori Arrington

San Diego, CA as a Cruising Destination

Boating and San Diego go quite well together—at least that’s what the U.S. Navy thinks. The Southern California port is home to 60 percent of the ships in the Navy’s fleet.


After a tour of duty, many sailors opt to settle in the area for the choice weather and easy access to the Pacific. Dixon and Kiki Smith are a great example. After 37 years in the Navy, Dixon retired as a Vice Admiral. The couple could’ve moved anywhere. They were certainly familiar with their options, having seen most of the world by water during Dixon’s time in uniform. For them to choose to live aboard a boat in San Diego says a lot about the town, not to mention their passion for boating.

When asked why they settled back in San Diego, Dixon said, “it would be easy to say the sand and surf or sunshine and sea breezes, all of which San Diego has in abundance, but it was actually more about the community and the people.” There must be something about the clear Pacific waters riddled with sea lions, the fresh, ocean-scented air and the bright sunshine that’s good for the soul, because San Diego residents continually rate their lives as more satisfying than people in many other cities. While not an inexpensive place to live, residents seem willing to pay the “sunshine tax” to enjoy the healthy benefits of an active outdoor lifestyle.

Traffic congestion can get a little overwhelming in this part of the world. Maybe that’s why boating is so popular. If you boat the same distance you’d travel on the dreaded gauntlet known as Interstate 5 to LA, you’ll find a rugged coastline complete with scenic bays, open beaches and breathtaking views. With a much more laid-back vibe than other big SoCal cities, San Diego is a common destination for boaters from LA, Long Beach and points north.

Originally mapped out by the Spanish rulers of “Alta California,” the 1,400 acres of land were set aside for the public’s recreational purposes. This land included the site of present-day Balboa Park, making it one of the oldest open places in the country dedicated to public recreational use. The park embodies much of what defines San Diego: A walk through Balboa Park on any day will give you a glimpse of the locals’ relaxed spirit. Culture, science and nature collide in the museums, performing arts venues, gardens and trails that make up the park. It is also home to the San Diego Zoo, which consistently ranks as one of the world’s best.

The Navy owns a large portion of San Diego’s waterfront property, which is generally beneficial. The Navy is a good steward to the city and frequently transfers its former properties to local ownership. A good example of this is Liberty Station. Dating back to 1923, Liberty Station was known as the Naval Training Center. After ceasing operations in 1997, the training grounds and its impressive collection of Spanish Revival buildings became city property. Today, Liberty Station is a vibrant community, where commerce, history and the arts flourish.


To live in San Diego is to live outdoors. The heart of the city wraps around San Diego Bay with Coronado Island and Point Loma within sight. Coronado Island is home to the luxurious Hotel del Coronado resort as well as Navy jets—a place where shopping districts and amphibious sea bases happily cohabitate. Point Loma is a breathtaking spit of land protecting the harbor. Visitors to the Point Loma Lighthouse and Cabrillo National Monument on the narrow peninsula drive through the austere lawns of Fort Rosecrans National cemetery. The war veterans interred here deserve the eternal, peaceful ocean view.

From Mission Bay to Imperial Beach, San Diego’s waterfront is one of the most usable urban waterfronts of any coastal city. The area’s marinas and yacht clubs provide access to a Pacific Ocean playground enjoyed by local and visiting boaters. One of the most popular events for the intrepid lot is the Baja-Ha-Ha, a cruiser’s rally departing from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas every October. The rally fleet typically consists of more than 100 boats, ranging from 20 to 80 feet.

From paddle boarding to ocean cruising, from day boating along the picturesque coast to the more adventurous offshore angling, there is something for every type of boater in San Diego.

This article originally appeared in the April 2021 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.