Sometimes we need that weekend getaway where we don’t have to drive or fly far, where we can discover a different side of the place we call home. Our weekend on San Diego’s Shelter Island proved to be the perfect tropical getaway with the spirit of aloha thrown in for fun. And this time we didn’t have to fly over the Pacific for the experience.
History of Shelter Island
Shelter Island isn’t truly an island, but rather part of the Point Loma Peninsula, connected to the rest of San Diego by a narrow strip of land. A shoreline promenade spans the bayside length of the island complete with grassy areas for picnics, a public fishing pier, boat launching ramp and sweeping panoramic views of the Bay and San Diego skyline.
During World War II, the San Diego Bay was dredged deeper and wider to accommodate its larger Navy ships. Deposits from the dredging created a 1. 2 mile island with a protected marina and a short connecting causeway, now known as Shelter Island. Thanks to special city zoning, all buildings on the island were limited to a two-story height limit. When “Polynesian” and “Tiki” themes became the rage of the 1950s, zoning required structures to match this theme. Thankfully for San Diego, Shelter Island became synonymous with the Pacific islands.
The Spirit of Aloha in San Diego
Humphrey’s Half Moon Inn
Approaching our hidden tropical oasis, Humphrey’s Half Moon Inn, we’re already feeling that “throwback Hawaiian feel”.
Humphrey’s secluded location gives off a South Pacific vibe with palm trees swaying in the breeze. Flickering tiki torches, volcanic rock walls draped with colorful flora and soothing waterfalls make us feel thousands of miles away from busy San Diego proper.
Rooms and suites are located in long, tiki-like hut structures scattered throughout the lushly landscaped property. The Inn borders the lapping waters of the San Diego bay on one side, a private peaceful marina on the other.
Mexican birds of paradise and tall green bamboo groves sway in almost perfect rhythm to the soft music resonating through the grounds.
Believing I was the only person checking out the property’s many amenities, I unexpectedly hear a voice from nowhere saying “hello”. Looking around, I don’t see anyone. It happens again, this time more like a long drawn out, meant to get your attention “hellloooo.” I turn around to see these salutations coming from two beautifully-colorful plumed macaws playing in their outside jungle.
A wandering path through the verdant tropical grounds leads to the pool and spa with ample lounge chairs, umbrellas and a poolside bar. From April through October, top name stars representing rock, jazz, blues and other venues fill the outdoor stage at Humphrey’s by the Bay. Audiences get to hear their favorite stars in an up front and personal waterfront setting.
The Junior Luxury Suite
The design of our 450-square foot junior luxury suite, located on the second floor of the resort, provided comfort with simple elegant décor. We loved the separate spacious living area and private balcony facing the San Diego Bay. All in all, Humphrey’s seemed to master the perfect tropical spirit of aloha in a place we call one of San Diego’s “best kept” secrets.
Everything about Humphrey’s, including its friendly helpful staff made for an unforgettable experience. And to think we were just a few miles from some of San Diego’s most popular attractions.
Bali Hai Ambience
Few things in San Diego can compare to our dining experience at Bali Hai, Shelter Island’s Polynesian restaurant. Known for its world-famous Mai Tais, fresh seafood, enchanting water views, it also boasts a private dock where boaters can tie up to dine island style.
Bali Hai has been a San Diego staple since 1953. During the last multi-million dollar renovation, the addition of floor to ceiling windows changed everything.
Spectacular 180-degree views of the harbor, Coronado’s North Island and the twinkling lights of the downtown skyline are visible from nearly every seat in the restaurant, which resembles a Hawaiian ceremonial house. The famed Tiki Bar, a crowned jewel of the eatery, is one of the most beautiful in the world.
Wait staff, not surprisingly, dressed in Hawaiian shirts. Hawaiian music played softly in the background. John, our server, has been with Bali Hai for an incredible 40 years. He was friendly, engaging and extremely knowledgeable about the entrées and the history of the restaurant.
He recommended we start with one of the restaurant’s signature cocktails. As a Mai Tai fan, I had to try the traditional Mr. Bali Hai Mai Tai served in a take-home souvenir Tiki mug. My spouse ordered another original cocktail libation, the Paralyzing Puffer fish, a pleasing blend of rum, vodka, passion syrup, pineapple juice and lime.
Bali Hai’s Food
Bali Hai’s menu definitely hits the mark on its entrees and their Polynesian-inspired preparation. The organized and easy to follow menu provides perfect descriptions of each culinary offering.
Executive Chef Dion Morales wanted to share some of the restaurant’s favorites with us. So in lieu of us each choosing an entrée, he prepared several signature dishes for our enjoyment. Every island-inspired offering was delectable. But our hands-down favorite from the raw menu was the Hawaiian Tuna Poke, served with avocado, seaweed salad, masago (fish roe) with wontons.
For a main entrée, Chef Morales prepared a magnificent trio of Oma Sustainable Salmon, a tender, melt-in-your mouth Ribeye steak with mushroom gravy, topped with a fried egg and Korean Chicken in a house-created sweet sesame sauce.
The astonishing side of Thai Brussel Sprouts with Chinese Sausage completely won over my spouse who will never again say “I don’t like Brussel sprouts.” He’s now a huge fan thanks to Bali Hai.
Certain our tummies couldn’t hold another bite, John insisted we share the Lemon Tart, prepared with lemon curd, raspberry meringue and coulis, spiced raspberries in an almond-coconut tart shell topped with vanilla ice cream. Somehow, we found room. Keoke Coffee, the finishing touch, was the best dessert coffee we’ve ever tasted- a masterful blend of Kahlua, brandy and crème de cacao.
For us, Bali Hai was an ideal date-night venue. Though the restaurant also caters to families, large groups and has outside deck dining with heat lamps. No matter, patrons happily interacted with one another in this gaily festive and laid back setting. One may go in as a stranger but leave as hoaloha (Hawaiian for friend).
Point Loma Café
While it doesn’t completely subscribe to the Hawaiian theme, breakfast at Point Loma Café was a special treat and one identified as a “not-to-be-missed” experience with its own unique tropical-feel ambience. Embracing the spirit of ohana (family), the café is a mere jaunt from Shelter Island. Point Loma café has been a Point Loma mainstay family restaurant since 1991.
General Manager Lynn Caron is often the first to greet customers with a big smile. She knows many patrons on a first-name basis. She has been with the café since May 1991, as has Chef Jose Sanchez. Longevity doesn’t often happen in today’s restaurant business.
The breakfast menu alone is impressively extensive. Mario, the café’s head server has been with the café for 17 years, starting as a bus boy. He thankfully assisted us with entrée choices. We decided on the daily special- a Hearty Breakfast Plate with pancakes, eggs, choice of meat item and fresh fruit. We asked ourselves “How can everyday home-style breakfast food taste so darn good”? But the entire breakfast was satisfyingly delicious in every way. A word to the wise that portions here are quite generous.
Driving home, we fittingly saw a bumper sticker that read “Be the Aloha you wish to see in the world.” After a wonderfully relaxing, restful weekend in a piece of San Diego paradise, it wasn’t hard to pay that feeling forward.
You can read more about Humphrey’s Half Moon Inn on Trip Advisor, a MilesGeek affiliate.