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San Diego is a well-known vacation destination, but even in a city that is celebrated for family travel, there are still a few secrets left to uncover. One such secret is Shelter Island, located just across the channel from the neighboring island of Coronado.
Shelter Island was originally built in the 1950s as a “tropical getaway” for wealthy San Diego residents, hence the Hawaiian design elements and facades. But as travel to Hawaii from San Diego became more affordable, this substitute for Hawaii became unnecessary, and Shelter Island came into its own as a coveted Southern California destination.
At the tip of Shelter Island is Kona Kai Resort and Marina, offering both marina and bay views as well as one of California’s few privately owned beaches. Kona Kai is also close to many of San Diego’s marine attractions, including the USS Midway Museum, Seaport Village, San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld and Historic Old Town.
Located just a few steps from the resort is the Kona Kai Marina. This 518-slip marina — the closest of its kind to San Diego Bay, Point Loma’s inlet and the Pacific Ocean — is home to the world-famous America’s Cup racing yacht Stars & Stripes USA-11, which offers daily three-hour sails departing at 12:00 p.m. in the winter and at 1 p.m. during daylight savings time. Sails can be booked directly through the hotel at a rate of $100 for adults and $50 for children under the age of 13.
Hotel guests can also enjoy water sports such as kayaking, jet skiing and stand-up paddleboarding in the Marina and San Diego Bay. For those who prefer to explore on land, beach cruisers and Segways are available for rent at hourly rates. Guests should note that some rentals have a minimum age requirement. Additionally, the resort features a state-of-the-art fitness center, which niceties such as private fitness instruction, locker room facilities, steam rooms and spa services.
The resort’s $22 million dollar renovations have upgraded its lobby, which features Spanish Colonial architecture accented in gold and turquoise to emulate the San Diego sun and sea. While the lobby’s traditional design includes crystal chandeliers and classic furnishings, it also incorporates modern technology with framed video art depicting the nearby ocean that moves slowly throughout the day.
Further construction and upgrades to the property and its 129 guestrooms are planned to take place over the next several years, including updates to Vessel, the freestanding onsite restaurant that opened in 2013. According to Kona Kai’s food and beverage manager Sean Tiarks, Vessel — which offers regional coastal fare incorporating local, seasonal and sustainable ingredients — will soon have a 360-degree bar area and glass “garage doors” leading out to the patio that will allow diners to take full advantage of spectacular views. Vessel also has happy hour specials, live music and a delicious Sunday brunch complete with a Bloody Mary bar.
For many families, returning to the peaceful Kona Kai Resort and Marina is the perfect way to wind down after a busy San Diego day. With that in mind, the Kona Kai presents a variety of family activities, including beach parties, poolside “dive-in” movies and s’mores nights.
While providing easy access to all of the activities and attractions San Diego has to offer, this charming beachside resort also gives families a peaceful alternative to the busier and more crowded adjacent properties.