Last Updated on June 22, 2023

Sometimes we need that weekend getaway where we can discover a different side of the place we call home. My husband’s and my stay on Shelter Island in San Diego proved the perfect tropical getaway with the spirit of aloha thrown in for fun.

And this time, we didn’t have to take a six-hour flight over the Pacific from our home in San Diego for the experience.

History of Shelter Island

Shelter Island in San Diego 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 no more than two-stories. 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 aloha spirit of the Pacific Islands.

Humphrey’s Half Moon Inn

Entrance to Humphrey's Half Moon Inn.
Entrance to Humphrey’s Half Moon Inn. Photo courtesy of Humphrey’s Half Moon

Humphrey’s Half Moon 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 made 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 providing guests a feeling of privacy. The Inn borders the lapping waters of the San Diego Bay on one side and a private marina on the other.

Mexican birds of paradise and tall green bamboo groves dance 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 one morning, I unexpectedly heard a voice from nowhere say “hello.” Looking around, I didn’t see anyone. It happened again, only this time more like a long drawn out and louder meant to get your attention “hellloooo.” I turned around to see the noisy salutations were coming from two beautifully-colorful plumed macaws playing in their outside jungle.

A wandering path through the verdant grounds lead to the inn’s 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 picturesque waterfront setting.

Lush grounds of Humphrey's Half Moon Inn on Shelter Island in San Diego.
Lush grounds of Humphrey’s Half Moon Inn on Shelter Island in San Diego. Photo by Noreen Kompanik

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 a simple elegant island-inspired 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 on Shelter Island in San Diego, including its friendly staff, made for an unforgettable experience. And to think, we were just a few miles from the airport and some of the city’s most popular attractions.

Book your stay at Humprey’s Half Moon Inn

Bali Hai Restaurant

Famous Tiki Bar at Bali Hai Restaurant.
Famous Tiki Bar at Bali Hai Restaurant. Photo by Noreen Kompanik

Few things in San Diego can compare to our evening dining experience at Bali Hai, Shelter Island’s Polynesian restaurant. Known for its world-famous Mai Tais, fresh seafood and 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 it opened in 1954. During the last multi-million-dollar renovation, the addition of massive 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, dress in Hawaiian shirts. Hawaiian music played softly in the background. Our server John proudly proclaimed that he’d been with Bali Hai for an incredible 40 years. He was friendly, engaging and of no surprise, 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 Cuisine

Executive Chef Ben Lieberman wanted to share some of the restaurant’s favorites with us so in lieu of selecting an entrée, he prepared several signature dishes for our enjoyment. Every island-inspired offering was delectable. Our hands-down favorite from the raw menu was the Bali Hai Tuna Poke served on a bed of seaweed salad with avocado, masago, mango and wontons.

For a main entrée, Chef Morales presented 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 declared he’ll never again utter the words “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 with share one of the restaurant’s signature desserts, The King, a banana cake with caramel mousse, peanut butter, chocolate, and yes, bacon. 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 interact with one another in this gaily festive and laid-back setting. One may enter as a stranger, but you’ll leave as hoaloha (Hawaiian for friend).

On our drive back home from Shelter Island in San Diego, 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 see us paying that feeling forward.

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