Mission Bay: Almost Paradise
BY Diane Anderson-Minshall
February 04 2013 1:20 PM ET
Every year for the last several, my copilot and I have managed to make it to the Caribbean: the Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos, Riviera Maya, Belize, Cozumel, and the Bahamas. Our favorite by far has been Club Med in Cancún, an all-inclusive five-star resort on the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. It’s a place where we can snorkel for hours, drink endless piña coladas, bodysurf, learn how to do Cirque du Soleil–style acrobatics, eat any hour of the day, go sailing, hear comedians and live bands, and then take a siesta on the hammocks near our room — all without having to whip out a credit card, make reservations, take a bus someplace, or worry about things like time, money, and supplies. They take care of all of that, and everything is within walking distance of your room.
So yeah, Club Med Cancún is perfect, except for two things. Like many high-end resorts in Mexico today, it has military-style armed guards posted all around, just to ward off potential attacks from drug traffickers — a sad but necessary reality in a country where crime rates are escalating even in usually safe tourist areas (don’t even think about going to Acapulco). But perhaps more important to danger-lovers like me, even if you wanted to jet down to Cancún regularly, international flights have become increasingly expensive lately, prohibitively so for some travelers.
I wondered, though, was it possible to re-create that all-inclusive Caribbean resort feel without actually leaving the U.S.? I went on a quest and can report back: The answer is a resounding yes.
In 1962, Jack Skirball, a movie producer who was behind a number of notable films including Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, discovered Tierra del Fuego, a newly manmade 44-acre island nestled within the vast Mission Bay area near San Diego. He decided to build a fantasy island that would attract both families and the rich and famous from nearby Los Angeles. He filled it with many artifacts from Hollywood (the porpoise fountain from Cleopatra) and history (the island is home to the state’s largest collection of original mission bells from along El Camino Real, the California mission road that became the first highway in the U.S.). Celebrities soon came to play, including Natalie Wood and Paul Newman.
Today the island is much more than Skirball could have imagined. Located about 120 miles south of L.A., it’s a gorgeous mixture of South American–style jungle canopy and Southern California palms. There is greenery everywhere except at the shore, which offers a different micro-ecosystem depending on which side you are on.
The whole island is now called Paradise Point Resort and Spa, a AAA four-diamond bungalow-style resort that’s like a beautiful, exotic enclave in the heart of San Diego, an easy escape that’s insulated but not isolated. In fact, during our weekend stay, only once, when I glanced behind me from the water and noticed the traffic on the bridge connecting the island to the mainland, did I remember we were minutes from the city. We could have been anywhere, and that was the beauty of it.