It's been a mellow decade and a half for Belmont Park's Giant Dipper Roller Coaster. Since its debut in 1925, the Mission Beach landmark has caused repeated drama. In 1926, a man died while attempting to jump from one car to the next during one of the ride's drops; in 1955, it caught on fire, killing its operator; in 1976, the park and coaster were shut down due to back rent; 1982 saw the formation of the "Save the Coaster Committee;" and finally, by 1990, the coaster, now belonging to the city, reopened to the public along with Belmont Park.
Now, for the wild and wacky part of the National Historic Landmark's history: In 1997, local radio station, Star 100.7, hosted the Whirl Till You Hurl competition, making national headlines. CNN reported that over 11, 12-hour days, 2,900 consecutive rides took place, narrowing the competition down to three non-pukers, who each won a new car. The event was such a hit that Star repeated the event the following year, when five contestants were forced to split the 50 grand jackpot, because the structural integrity of the old coaster was at stake after 70 straight days of riding.
Sadly for us gawkers, there have not been any such competitions since.
Today, Belmont Park remains the most iconic beach side attraction in San Diego. Coaster hours from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays; it's closed during rain.
Between all of the park's features, including the much-beloved fake waves at Wave House and the boardwalk-whose Mission Beach stretch runs about 2 miles-there's plenty of people watching to be had in this picturesque neck of the woods. Being that Mission Beach sits on a sandbar between Mission Bay and the Pacific Ocean, water sports, and beach cruising here, reign supreme.
No gear? No prob.
Cheap Rentals, open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, is the place to borrow everything you'll need for fun in the water, on the sand, or cruising the boardwalk. If you're an ultra-cruisey type, check out a hybrid bike for $20 a day. You can even get a free surf lesson with a board rental at this bargain beach shack; check their website for group discounts and more special offers. 3689 Mission Blvd.
More neighborhoods to explore
Anza Borrego, Balboa Park, Coronado, Del Mar, East Village, Encinitas, Fiesta Island, Golden Hill, Hillcrest, La Jolla, Linda Vista, Mission Beach, Mission Hills, North Park: Part 1, North Park: Part 2, Ocean Beach, Point Loma, San Carlos, South Park, University Heights
There's no better neighborhood in San Diego to shop for bathing suits than Mission Beach. Try these two shops before the season kicks into full swing:
The venerable Gone Bananas bathing suit shop boutique has been at it since 1975. With 2,500 square feet of beachwear and accessories, it's been a favorite among locals to nab that perfect suit or cover-up. 3785 Mission Blvd. gonebananasbeachwear.com.
Almost directly across the street, Pilar's Beachwear-open since 1970-carries over 200 brands of women's clothing and beach gear, and specializes in making the often stressful process of shopping for a suit a pleasurable one with its excellent customer service.
The official footwear of San Diego is undoubtedly flip-flops. Though it's a faux pas to wear them out to dinner in downtown, in Mission Beach, locals sport 'em 24-7. The next time you're strolling Mission Boulevard among the most densely packed residential neighborhood in town, stop by La Sandale World of Sandals. Friendly service will help you find your size among the huge inventory of Havaianas, Reef, Rainbow and many more. 3761 Mission Blvd. (858) 488-1134.
Beans, bites and beers
Wake up for a day at the beach, or on the Bay, at Better Buzz Coffee's MB location, The Lab. From pour-overs to iced blended drinks and organic teas served hot or iced, linger here at counter facing garage-style windows that open up to Mission Boulevard.
Rubicon Deli serves some mean sandwiches on eight varieties of fresh baked bread. The Dapper Dipper is a favorite, made with sliced prime rib, Swiss cheese, horseradish sauce and yes, a side of jus for dipping. It's big, juicy and just right for a picnic at Mission Point Park, or South Mission Jetty after a surf.
Draft is the latest sports bar in Mission Beach at Belmont Park. The space is gargantuan, but we prefer sitting on the patio, which butts right up to the boardwalk, to enjoy a refreshing craft brew with 69 taps from which to choose.