Sun Outdoors San Diego Bay Signals New Era for Chula Vista Tourism

Come on a unique South Bay journey to an RV Resort, wildlife refuge and casino

The Sun Outdoors San Diego Bay RV Resort is the first step in Chula Vista's Bayfront Master Plan. (courtesy photo)
Chillaxing in the RV lifestyle.

Sun Outdoors San Diego Bay is a brand-new, pristine, post-pandemic RV Resort in Chula Vista. To begin painting the scene, here are brands you’ll encounter that are occupying the property’s 197 extra-wide parking stalls:

Airstream. Coachmen. Discovery. Force. Leprechaun. Sunseeker. Winnebago. Wolf Pack. Some are these road-warrior transport vehicles are self-propelled. Others are pulled by Ram 4X4s, Chevy Traverse LTs or Ford F-150s.

Commingled betwixt parking lots for these high-end behemoths is a mini planned community of 49 vacation cottage rentals (read: 400-square-foot tiny homes).    

Even if you don’t own an RV, you can rent a cottage here and take advantage of the myriad onsite amenities. That’s what I did.

Seem unusual to rent a tiny home within an RV Resort? Consider the additional benefit of two other disparate but proximal attractions.

To the bayside of this Sun Communities destination is the environment-friendly Living Coast Discovery Center. To the east: the boutique gaming and dining experiences of Seven Mile Casino.

No, RVs, casinos and wildlife refugees are not prototypical components of one vacation agenda.

However, at just a 12-minute freeway drive south from downtown San Diego, Sun Outdoors is seeded to become a major visitor destination.

The RV Resort is a big step forward in activating the Chula Vista Bayfront Master Plan. Sun Outdoors is adjacent to the Sweetwater Bicycle Path & Promenade, a link in the larger Bayshore Bikeway.

And, future plans include a billion-dollar Gaylord Resort and Convention Center and about 200 acres of parks, open space, a shoreline promenade, walking trails, shopping and dining.

Sun Outdoors San Diego Bay

The Sun Outdoors San Diego Bay pool. (courtesy photo)

At the entrance to Sun Outdoors San Diego Bay is the check-in area that doubles as a well-stocked general store. It’s the gateway to all the property has to offer.

The stellar, heated, family-friendly pool complex offers a sweeping view of San Diego Bay. An ample supply of loungers and tables is complemented by cabanas for rent and a pair of extra-large hot tubs.

A burger joint at the swimming-pool compound was not quite finished during my stay. People watching was nonetheless delicious. And there are two large hot tubs and a large-screen TV that let us monitor the ongoing success of the San Diego Padres.

Scattered around the site are: a sizeable fitness room, pool tables, and a video arcade with an air hockey table, a video shooting range and good ol’ Galaga.

Other sporty areas are designated for horseshoes, bocce ball, basketball and pickleball—an up-and-coming sport that resembles people playing tennis on a badminton-sized court with an oversized Ping Pong ball.

Tiny Home Sweet Tiny Home

The promenade through the Sun Outdoors cottage rental village. (courtesy photo)

There are two paths that lead from the pool to my vacation cottage.

One path goes past RV metropolis. To the tune of Jerry Reed’s “East Bound and Down,” I was wide-eyed while walking this route. Every barbecue was flaming. Each RV space was stocked with personal toys like e-Bikes and scooters. There were also gravity chairs, baby strollers and all sizes of gear wagons.

Bulldogs, retrievers and chihuahuas populated the asphalt. Flapping atop RV flagpoles were signs promoting the Padres, the Los Angeles Dodgers and one advocating the “Don’t Tread On Me” credo.

The other direct route from the pool to my tiny-home-away-from-home was down a postcard-picturesque promenade lined by palms, magically illuminated at night by string lights.

Spending two nights in a 400-square-foot cottage was akin to being a kid with access to the best backyard tree fort ever. I was in a near-constant, child-like state of glee. Imagine hanging on the set of a movie spinoff called “Honey, I Shrunk The House.”

Despite the minimalism, no comfort feature was missing from the cottage. The bedroom included a queen bed and stowage space. The kitchen was filled with a fridge, shelving, sink, dishwasher, a microwave oven and a Keurig coffeemaker.

The sofa in the living room/dining room was a pullout. In tandem with a second-floor loft with two more mattresses, you could ostensibly sleep six people.

If you do the math, half a dozen people per night here would max out at 66 square feet per person. It would be cozy, but know there are also patios in the front and back of the cottage. And, each unit comes with a personal BBQ, and classic Adirondack chairs that encircle a fire pit.

Yes, we brought Graham crackers, Hershey bars and marshmallows. We put the fire pit to use and seared up a Top Chef-worthy batch of s’mores.

Living Coast Discovery Center

A burrowing owl at the Living Coast Discovery Center.

Bounded by Sun Outdoors, the bay and a pair of marinas to the north and south is the saintly and much-under-appreciated Living Coast Discovery Center.

The 34-year-old nonprofit zoo and aquarium sits on 3 acres inside the Sweetwater National Wildlife Refuge on San Diego Bay. Its mission is to inspire visitors to connect with and care about the coastal environment.

In non-quarantine years, the center attracted 80,000 annual visitors. Guests can get hands-on with rays and a few other sea animals. There are also spiders and snakes, not to mention eels, skinks and jellyfish, to ogle.  

A gorgeous array of birds—many of whom have been injured and saved by staff—are on display in outdoor exhibits. Betsy Ross is a regal, 20-pound bald eagle. Be on the lookout for a variety of hawks, a turkey vulture named Walter and a roadrunner dubbed Chevy.

A frenetic, blue-billed ruddy duck was enthralling. In contrast, a Burrowing Owl watched visitors with apparent Zen. And I was serenaded by Mariah, the singing American kestrel. 

The center’s tour guides are well-intentioned, good-hearted people who care about the zoo inhabitants, strive to maintain the surrounding wildlife refuge and aim to spread a message of global conservation.

Seven Mile Casino

Go all in across the street from Sun Outdoors at Seven Mile Casino.

Just across E Street, on the inland side of Sun Outdoors, is the small-but-mighty Seven Mile Casino. Texas Hold-em is played on nine poker tables. There’s also blackjack, baccarat and pai gow.

Seven Mile’s gaming license is legally grandfathered in under state law.

Until early June, due to COVID restrictions, gaming had been relegated to an outdoor tent. As the pandemic seemingly winds down, poker players are back indoors to bet the flop, call a raise and see the river.

If you’re a Sun Outdoors guest interested in action at Seven Mile, know that the card room is open 24/7.

The casino’s full-bar and kitchen operations, which lean toward upscale, get high marks.

Seven Mile Casino is home to the closest sit-down restaurant outside the gates of the RV Resort. From the Seven Mile menu, the tacos are crunch and tasty, and the salt-and-pepper shrimp is cleverly prepared and served.

Yep, we experienced the spectrum of activity visiting bayside Chula Vista. I’m going to bet you won’t find a better destination for the quintessential gaming-imbued, wildlife-conservation-driven, RV-lifestyle niche getaway.  J&J

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