Shelter Island San Diego, California

Where the locals come to sail away

Explore the hidden gems of our tucked away island including a world-class concert under the stars or an urban beach and boat lunch to escape into a fishing trip in an instant. Whether you want to relax in front of the fire pit or head out to the deep sea – Shelter Island is the place to start.

Shelter Island is a waterfront neighborhood of Point Loma, located just West of downtown San Diego, California. In reality it is peninsula and actually not an island since it is connected to the mainland by a strip of land. Shelter Island was originally a natural sandbank in San Diego Bay that was visible only at low tide. In 1934, this sandbank was built up into an dry island using material dredged from the bay. In the 1950s the island was developed for commercial use for marinas, boat chandlers, hotels, restaurants and public parks.

Shelter Island is 1.2 miles long and just a few hundred feet wide. Shelter Island Drive, runs the length of Shelter Island and also connects it to Point Loma via a causeway which is lined with marine-related businesses.  

Shelter Island is owned and managed by the Port of San Diego, providing police and other public services. The business on Shelter Island lease their location from the Port Authority and under California law, properties on Shelter Island cannot be sold nor can permanent residences be on the island under the law governing public tidelands.

Shelter Island was first recorded on a United States coast and geodetic map as a "mudbank". It was gradually formed by deposit of soil and sand from the San Diego River. The sandbar was used to dump materials from dredging of San Diego Bay for US Navy requirements in World War II which required a deepening of the harbor channel, further building it up. In the late 1940s The San Diego Harbor Commission undertook a dredging program that provided a new entrance to the yacht basin, and the dredged material was used to connect Shelter Island with Point Loma, and to further raise the island 14 feet above low tide; then another project raised it 7 feet above high tide. 

In 1960, the media described Shelter Island as "something from nothing", "a testimonial to human ingenuity", and "a man-made wonderland of sub-tropical splendor”.   Per a special city overlay zone, all buildings on Shelter Island are supposed to follow a "Polynesian" theme, which was very popular in the 1950s when the area was first developed and attracted a concentration of multiple exotically themed restaurants and tiki bars. 

Still operating since 1954, the famous Bali Hai restaurant has a tiki bar and its own yacht dock; in its early days it had Polynesian floor shows. The Half Moon Inn, with its attached Humphrey’s restaurant and summer concert venue, also retains a Polynesian theme. The Kona Kai Club still exists but has been remodeled.  

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