The History of Mission Bay
Mission Bay rests on the south end of Pacific Beach in the city of San Diego. It is best known as a recreational and aquatic park comprised of about 4,400 acres, with 27 miles of shoreline, and 14 miles of bike paths. The annual attendance is approximately 15 million people, consisting of visitors and locals alike.
Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, a famous European explorer, named the tidal marsh “False Bay” in 1542. It is assumed by many that he and explorers mistook the marshland for the entrance to the San Diego Bay. Although this wetland was previously described by some to be a swamp, there have been many vicissitudes to the estuary over time and today we know it as Mission Bay. In 1852, the United State Army Corps of Engineers constructed a dike to ensure the San Diego River would no longer flow into the San Diego Bay, changing the face of the bay forever. The dike was built to limit the silt build up within the bustling bay and in the process, transformed Mission Bay into an estuary. During the late 1800s some recreational development began in "False Bay," including the building of hunting and fishing facilities. These buildings were destroyed by flooding that occurred years later.
According to the San Diego History Center, in 1944, a Chamber of Commerce committee recommended development of Mission Bay into a tourist and recreational center to help diversify the City's economy (which was largely military at the time). The property remained a shallow water marsh for many years prior to dredging projects beginning in 1946. The City of San Diego had been planning to develop within Mission Bay as early as 1930. The dredging was finally completed in 1962 and new islands were created with the dredge material, the marsh was officially converted into a bay. Nearly twenty-five millions cubic yards of silt and sand were dredged to create the land areas of the existing park. New construction immediately began along the shoreline.
Besides habitat loss and the introduction of invasive species, not much native habitat has changed within the Bay. Technically speaking, today Mission Bay is an estuary, and the drainage of Rose Creek into the nearby lagoon creates a unique wetland environment. Marine habitats, sandy bottom, mudflats, tidal marshes, eel grass beds can all be found in this diverse ecosystem. The San Diego River no longer drains to the ocean through Mission Bay (other than a weir located at the entrance to Mission Bay) and the flow on the north and south side is constrained by levees.
The City of San Diego website states that approximately one half of the park was once state tidelands. Mission Bay Park was transferred to the City of San Diego with several restrictions, some of which were adopted by the Citizen of San Diego for adoption into San Diego City Charter with others implemented as part of the California Coastal Commission's oversight of local planning and land use decisions. Among the limitations are:
This assures that most of the acres making up Mission Bay Park are available for public recreational use. You can learn more about the Mission Bay tour schedule by clicking on our San Diego tab!
- a ban on permanent residential development or any private ownership of land within the tidelands, and
- a limit on commercial development of leaseholds of no more than 25% of the land area and 6.5% of the water area for private purposes.
Written By: Emily Hauck