The Coast News Group
Guests at Tower23 Hotel in Pacific Beach can take complimentary beach cruisers for a ride along 3.5 miles of uninterrupted boardwalk and beach, from North Pacific Beach to South Mission Beach. Photo by E’Louise Ondash
ColumnsHit the Road

A bike and boardwalk: North Pacific to South Mission, cruise the beaches minus the car

The structure underneath the Pacific Beach’s historic Crystal Pier is almost more interesting than the view from the top.

True, from above you can see the grand stretch of sand that extends 3½ miles from North Pacific Beach to South Mission Beach, dramatic, weathered, striated sandstone bluffs, and bazillion-dollar homes lording over it all.

But beneath the pier, there is an almost-dizzying play of wood, water and waves that you won’t see unless you venture down there. It catches me by surprise — an unexpected bonus on our beach walk during our 46-hour girls’ getaway just 30 minutes south of Carlsbad.

My friend Wanda and I are headquartered in the recently remodeled Tower23 Hotel in the heart of Pacific Beach. The 44-room boutique hotel is named for the nearest lifeguard tower, or it was until a heavy storm necessitated its relocation further south. Nonetheless, the name of the hotel, the complimentary beach cruisers, the outdoor dining and the large bronze pelican standing watch at the main lifeguard station tells us that we’ve arrived at one of Southern California’s iconic beach scenes.

Our goal: to park the car and leave it until it’s time to return to the real world.

The superstructure of Crystal Pier, just south of Tower23 Hotel, creates a masterpiece of geometric patterns. Built in the mid-1920s, the pier and its arched entry have become iconic to Pacific Beach. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

It doesn’t take long to forget the frenzy of the 5, just a couple miles to the east, when we gaze south to that long stretch of beach and west to an endless horizon.

It’s been eons since I last set foot on Mission Beach, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I had never explored Pacific Beach.

Both areas are much transformed from the 1970s when small bungalows occupied the real estate just east of Ocean Walk, the boardwalk that runs the three-plus miles from North Pacific Beach to South Mission Beach.

Upscale condos have mostly replaced those humble, hip dwellings, but there still are plenty of watering holes, restaurants and souvenir stalls with beach tchotchkes and tie-dye T-shirts concentrated in a couple of blocks south of Crystal Pier.

One global change is the booze ban enacted in 2008 for all San Diego city beaches. Yes, the atmosphere is tamer than in 1975, but today’s spring breakers and 20-somethings still cruise the boardwalk — shirtless guys and bikini-topped gals who also keep it lively in the bars and restaurants. 

Those beyond this demographic can have fun, too.

Our 46 hours included time spent cruising the beach and boardwalk via foot and blue-and-white beach cruiser. The extra-wide handlebars on the cruisers felt a bit awkward initially, but we got the hang of it (mostly) and no collisions ensued — an accomplishment considering the portion of the ride that took us through the dense pedestrian parade just south of Crystal Pier. We emerged on the other side unscathed, and it was free-wheeling for the next three miles.

A yoga class on the bluff at North Pacific Beach is silhouetted against a late afternoon sky. The class is just one of the many activities and lifestyles that visitors encounter as they walk the 3.5 miles of uninterrupted beach that stretches to the South Mission Beach Jetty and Mission Bay Channel. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

We parked at the South Mission Beach jetty (I’d like to thank the vintage surfer from Ocean Beach who helped us adjust our bicycle seats while we were there) and explored on foot the small neighborhood of tightly packed homes on the point.

Each dwelling claimed a unique design; one 4,100-square-foot, architecturally bizarre bungalow lists a price tag of $6 million-plus.

Back on the bikes, it was easy sailing back to Tower23 Hotel.

We dined at the in-hotel contemporary, ocean-view restaurant JRDN, where from the patio, we watched early evening activity on the boardwalk and shared a Caesar salad, charred broccoli, excellent sashimi and delectable (gluten-free) lobster risotto. Chef Stephen Gage and staff are tuned in to special-needs diets.

In the end, we surrendered to a sinful, gluten-free Apple Miso Cheesecake, the work of pastry chef Christiane Molle.

Time to get on those beach cruisers again.

For more photos and conversation, visit