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San Diego Cruisers Survival Guide


San Diego is the most tightly regulated harbor we have visited.  They have boating problems and regulations that attack the symptoms.  The problems:

  • Too many boats
  • Very expensive marinas.
  • Water squatters

The city and boating community seem to be swept up with capital "Y" yachting.   Consequently many boaters can't afford marinas.  So they anchor out.  Some of those anchoring out do not maintain their boats,  and some of those boats sink becoming hazards to navigation.  The harbour police are charged with controlling the situation.

But San Diego has many many positives!  It is beautiful,  terrific facilities,  lots to do,  perfect weather,  the people are wonderful.  So,  based on our 3 week experience here,  following are some options and guidelines for cruisers staying in San Diego. 

Cooperate with the harbor police - if you want to anchor, tell them what you are doing and get a permit.  We never actually saw a piece of paper that said "permit",  and system only failed once for us.  The police regularly check the anchorages for "permitted" boats. 

Places to Hang Your Hat for a few Days:

Mission Bay: On your way south you might want to take advantage of the the 3 days you can moor at Mission Bay for free.  It is just north of San Diego,  but is a part of the city and close to the Aquarium and Ocean Beach.

Police Dock:  Right at the entrance to Shelter Island.  You can use these modest but completely adequate facilities for up to 10 days.  Moorage is cheap for the first five days and very reasonable for the second five. Then they boot you out for 60 days.

Yacht Clubs:  Many will offer you reciprocal deals for 1-3 days free mooring.  While clubs may have policies,  the club's Port Captains exercise considerable discretion in allocating space.  A yacht club membership, a good demeanor,  a clean boat and a bit of charm can get you some free moorage. 

Moorage is subject to availability.  Most clubs will ask to see your yacht club membership card.  Some don't bother.  Once your free day's are used up expect to pay about a dollar a foot.  All the yacht club facilities are excellent.  Some clubs we thought were good:

Chula Vista;
San Diego.

But there are lots more clubs to try.  Click here for a list. Our approach was to just show up with the boat, get tied up then inquire about space.  Once you are in they will do their best to accommodate. 

Glorietta Bay:  (A5) A 72 hour anchorage,  located just passed the Coronado bridge.  A nice spot, minimal traffic and good holding in 10-15 feet.

La Playa Cove (A1):  A weekend anchorage,  it gets a little busy,  but it is in the heart of San Diego boating community, close to chandleries and very pleasant for a few days.  Good holding in mud at 15-20 feet.

South Bay: (A8)  No time restrictions but way up the harbor, west of National City.  Be careful in this area as quite a few boats have sunk and not been removed.  The neighborhood is a little rough.  You will see a few masts sticking out of the water. 

Cruiser Anchorage: (A9)  Like the sound of large aircraft taking off and landing?  Then you will love this location.  It will remind you of Richmond. It at the east end of Harbor Island.  This is available to non-residents and is best for those that are hard of hearing.  You can stay up to 90 days in any year.

The anchorage rules seem to be in a state of flux.  New rules were passed by Governor Schwarzenegger while we in San Diego and additional security funding was obtained from Washington.   The habour police are trying to do their job and have been getting more aggressive about impounding boats.

For a tongue in cheek look at this click here.

Places to Buy Goodies for Your Boat

If they have it,  Downwind Marine wins the price and service equation every time.  I liked San Diego Marine Exchange my last visit,  but this time prices seem pretty steep.  Prices aside  they have a good crew and most of them know boats.  QMS is good for engines,  Admiralty Marine - not recommended.

The West Marine in San Diego on Shelter Island Drive is the best equipped all around marine anywhere.  Also seems the most expensive.  But, if you can't find it elsewhere,  you often get what you want.

If you can't find parts locally,  get them Fedexed to Mailboxes Etc on Rosecarins.  Have the package labeled "hold for pickup".  For a nominal charge Mailboxes will look after you.  Address:  Mailboxes Etc.  1220 Rosecrans St,  San Diego, CA 92106.  Phone (619) 222-1230.  I had to get stuff shipped from Hardware Sales in Bellingham and Fisheries Supply in Seattle - among others.

Pump out Station

The police dock has the facilities.  The pump outs on the docks where boats are tied up works best.  The units where the police boats are docked really did suck figuratively that is.  In reality they did not suck very well at all.


Find out who is playing a Humphries,  then dingy over and park in the water just off the club in Half Moon Bay Marina.  You get a peek-a-boo view of the stage,  but the sound is just fine.  We listened to John Mayall play some mean old blues.  Another night Doc Watson surprised us with his blues as well as blue grass music.  Bring a glass of wine and hook your dingy up with the others who will be there.

Aquarium.  At $51 bucks it is not cheap,  but if you haven't seen enough sea creatures on your trip south,  the San Diego Aquarium is one of the best.

Balboa Park.  This place is a wonderful place to spend a few hours or a day.  Walk there after you get your Mexican fishing permit and enjoy the park, the various museums and art displays.

Tijuana.  Jump on the trolley for the short ride to this Mexican border town.  It is nice to get some relief from the San Diego prices and visit a different country.  While our American friends say "Tijuana is not real Mexico" a day trip is fun if you don't let the hawkers bother you.

You can walk from the trolley station across the border to downtown Tijuana.  The bold Mexican colours,  the musicians, the drug stores, the markets.  It is all a nice change.  Pick a bottle of duty free on your return trip.

Ocean Beach.  A trip to Ocean Beach in west San Diego is fun.  On Wednesday they have a farmers market that is spectacular.  It is an "old" California suffer town and you get a trip back to the past.

Beer.  Best place to have a beer - Tijuana.  Corona's a buck a bottle.


San Diego is expensive.  Nowhere have we found prices as good as in Canada - except for booze.  Von's (Safeway partner) is located on Rosecarins, a few blocks east of Shelter Island Drive.   Use your Safeway card from home for discounts.  If you go to Albertson's or Ralph's apply for their cards on the spot to get good discounts.

Trader Joe's is cool kind of a discount, organic, gourmet place.  Good prices and good quality.  With the price of the wines there,  there is no need to indulge in the "Two Buck Chuck".  Baaad wine will rot your brain.


We use our dingy allot.  In So Cal your dingy is called "the dink".  For short duration the Shelter Island gas dock will let you tie your "dink" to the back of their float.  When anchored in La Playa we will often "dink" over to the Police dock for a shower.  

The San Diego Transit system has good service around the Bay.  Take the bus on Roscarins to the "Old Town" transfer station and jump on the Trolleys to get to downtown, National City,  Chula Vista or Tijuana.  $1.75 a ride, transfers good for two hours in any direction and includes the Trolley.


A coin laundry is on Cannon Street just up the street from Downwind.  Drop your partner off at the North west end of San Diego Yacht Club and it is three or four blocks up Cannon street.  From the Police dock use the one of the two at the Koni Kai Yacht Club, a short walk north east up the shore of Shelter Island, the door is always opened..


Hope this saves you some time.