Splish Splash: 8 Secret Lakes & Ponds in San Diego

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San Diego is known for its coastal beaches, but you don’t always have to go to the ocean to play in the water. If you go inland and look between our hills and canyons you’ll find tons of freshwater lakes and ponds to splash around in for a fun-filled day. Scroll down for in-the-know watering holes that tend to be less crowded and more secluded—you might even be the only ones there! We’ve paired each waterway with a food hot spot nearby to grab some coffee, sandwiches or snacks for your lakeside adventures.

Evan’s Pond

This one is at the top because it’s one of the most secret ponds on this list. It’s right across the street from its more famous “Big Brother” Lake Miramar and it’s tucked behind the Scripps Miramar Ranch Library next to its parking lot. It’s a small pond with a cute flat trail that will take littles about 20 minutes to walk around, longer if they stop to feed the ducks or throw rocks into the water.

Insider Tip: The library sells duck food from its gift shop inside, cash only.

Food Hot Spots: Check out Gong Cha for teas & boba, Somisomi for soft serve or Paris Baguette for pastries & coffee

Evan’s Pond
10301 Scripps Lake Dr., Scripps Ranch
858-538-8158
Online: sandiego.gov

Discovery Lake

Plan to spend several hours here because your kids won’t want to leave. After you walk or stroll on the lower flat paved loop trail for about 40 minutes (or you can take the upper hiking trail), you can choose to visit the small fishing dock, the new forest-themed playground or run around in the splash pad!

Food Hot Spots: You’ll discover a new favorite at the Old California Coffee House & Eatery, which has vegan and gluten-free options and even fire pits outside.

Discovery Lake
650 Foxhall Dr., San Marcos
760-744-1050

Lower Otay Lake

Get inspired at this Olympic-approved lake which serves as the training lake for rowing sports from the U.S. Olympic Training Center across the street. Even if you don’t have Olympic aspirations, you can rent a boat and feel like one for the day. You can also rent fishing gear and buy live bait from the Rocky Mountain Recreation Company on-site to fish from the dock. They also sell ice cream, drinks, snacks and picnic supplies. Bring your bikes or go for a long walk on the quiet out-and-back trail that hugs the lake.

Insider Note: The lake is only open on Wed, Sat & Sun and it’s closed the 2nd Wednesday of each month.

Food Hot Spots: Starbucks, IHOP, Islands Burgers and more nearby

Lower Otay Lake
1500 Wueste Rd., Chula Vista
619-668-2050
Online: sandiego.gov

Model Yacht Pond

Bring your remote-controlled water toys to zip around on this hidden pond on Mission Bay. It’s primarily used for sailing small model yachts, so while it seems inviting, there is no swimming allowed here. However, a model yacht club meets regularly, and if you’re lucky enough to be here when they are, it’s a really nice group, and some will even let your kids sail their boats for a few minutes! When the kids are done watching, there are trees to climb, sandy beaches nearby with shaded picnic tables, bathrooms, and fire pits for bonfires.

Food Hot Spot: Walk next door to Paradise Point Resort to grab a coffee from their Island Grinds Coffee shop or order pizza from their Barefoot Bar & Grill on the water. This is also a fun spot to walk around, find their native bird habitat lagoons, buy duck food from their gift shop and climb to the top of the lookout tower!

Model Yacht Pond
2800 Ingraham St., Mission Bay
619-235-1169
Online: sandiego.gov

Heritage Park Pond

Spend the entire day here with over nine options for fun! Choose from the playground, skate park and walking trails to run out some energy. For more action, bring a ball for the basketball courts or soccer field or a frisbee for the large open spaces. Grab a picnic table for lunch and use the barbecue grills and bathrooms. Check the schedule for concerts at the amphitheater or recreation classes at the community center. To keep it simple, kids will love just running around the hills and walking around the duck pond. When you need a break from all the activity, walk across the street for lots of food options.

Food Hot Spots: Walk across the street to DK Che Fruit for smoothies, raspados and tortas (sandwiches).

Heritage Park Pond
1339 E Palomar St., Chula Vista
Online: chulavistaca.gov

Lindo Lake

Play at the only natural lake in San Diego County with loads of activities to choose from. Start at the playground near the library or hit the skate park, walk or bike around the loop trail that circles the lake, and then go find the butterfly garden. If you’re feeling sporty, bring your rackets for the tennis courts, play catch at the softball fields or throw some horseshoes in the pits. You’ll also find 17 fitness stations for a free workout on the southwestern part of the lake. Kids will enjoy doing the TRACK Trails program, where you complete an educational scavenger hunt and log them online for prizes. Check the park ranger schedule online to go for a guided hike.

Food Hot Spot: Mary’s Donuts & Coffee is a nearby locals favorite and their lunch and breakfast sandwiches are also a big hit.

Lindo Lake
12660 Lindo Ln., Lakeside
619-443-1666
Online: sdparks.org

Webb Lake

Tucked behind some office buildings and next to the Courtyard by Marriott hotel, you’ll find this quaint little lake that’s more of a pond. It’ll take kids about 10 minutes to run around it, but they’ll probably go around a few times. Bring little trikes and scooters for them to practice on the flat paved loop around. Stop to find the koi fish, turtles and ducks swimming around. There’s also a small waterfall that’s fun for kids to watch and a little bridge to run over next to the Veteran’s Memorial. Trees keep this area shaded and it’s a great picnic spot, so stop at a nearby restaurant or BYO lunch (no bathrooms here so plan ahead).

Food Hot Spot: Starbucks & Peet’s Coffee are nearby and lots of restaurant options down the street.

Webb Lake
11666 Avena Pl., Rancho Bernardo
619-222-9248

Lake San Marcos

Rent a boat on this small private lake for a relaxing morning or early evening family time. You can rent electric Duffy boats or pontoons for cruising or fishing. If you want more of a workout, you can rent SUPs, kayaks or pedal boats. The water is calm because there are no wakes, so it’s ideal for little kids and beginners to enjoy. If you want someone to row you around, hire a guided gondola tour from Black Swan Gondola Company, they might even sing to you!

Pro Tip: Turn this into a relaxing stay-cation and get a room at the modern Lakehouse Hotel.

Food Hot Spots: Eat dockside at the Amalfi Marina Bar for out-of-this-world pizza or walk across the street to D’liteful Chocolat for crepes, breakfast and of course chocolate.

Lake San Marcos
1025 La Bonita Dr., San Marcos
760-621-0006
Online: lsmmarina.com

—Bonnie Taylor

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