Shelter Island’s Kona Kai a perfect getaway

There’s something relaxing and almost mystical about boats bobbing on the water with the sounds of docks creaking and halyards clanging. The Kona Kai Resort & Spa and its marina, on San Diego’s secluded Shelter Island, provides safe harbor for a couple’s or family getaway.


In 1953, C. Arnholt Smith built a marina on a dredged sandbank that eventually became known as Shelter Island. Later, the exclusive Kona Kai Club opened — members included most of San Diego’s movers and shakers. It was also a place for celebrities to dock and visit. Just a few who sailed in were Clark Gable, Burt Lancaster, Jack Lemmon, Gregory Peck, Jimmy Durante, Dick Van Dyke and Liberace. Long-time San Diegans will also remember C. Arnholt Smith as the first owner of the Padres and the largest bank in town. Eventually, the FDIC, IRS and Department of Justice caught up with him. Smith was indicted, convicted and jailed for embezzlement and bank fraud.

What to do

If lazing by the pool and people watching is not your style, rent a boat, paddleboard or wave runner. Take a beach cruiser and explore Shelter Island.

If you’re a walker, the harbor-side promenade is a treat. There is state-of-the-art cardio and strength equipment in the fitness center. There are also various yoga and aerobics classes offered.

SpaTerre offers a full range of services (my wife claimed it was her best pedicure ever and my massage scored an A). At dusk, head to the private beach and make use of the fire pits and s’more kits.


What’s new? In early 2018, 40 luxury suites were added, along with a new pool, terrace, cabanas and a general freshening up of the resort, including all guest rooms (more than $25 million was spent). There is a resort fee that covers a variety of goodies: high-speed internet, daily one-hour beach cruiser bike rental (helmets included), newspaper, local and long distance calls, private beach access with chairs and towel service. Guests can use the lockers and enjoy the Zen Den, showers and steam room at SpaTerre.

Food and drink

Kona Kai’s Vessel Restaurant is the go-to place for breakfast, lunch, dinner and happy hour. It’s casual waterfront dining, family friendly and outdoor seating is available. Don’t miss the blueberry muffins at breakfast.

Happy hour is a feast — loved the lobster quesadilla and wild mushroom flatbread. At dinner, I ordered two small plates: Kona beef and Reuben sliders. The bar scene is active and a favorite of hotel guests, marina tenants, and locals.


The iconic Kona Kai Club has reopened, offering exclusive membership privileges throughout the resort. The Marina has 600 slips with boats and yachts of all sizes. There are two pools — one for adults and the other with lap lanes. There are 55,000 square feet of flexible indoor/outdoor space for meetings, weddings, etc. The resort is pet friendly and self-parking is free.

The Kona Kai Resort & Spa is operated by Nobel House Hotels & Resorts, part of their portfolio of outstanding properties. For more, go to Logon to or call (619) 221-8000 for reservations.

Let’s Go!



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Howard Hian

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