Mission Bay

Former Mission Bay Visitor Center Gets New Life as Coffee Shop, Rental Center, Small Vineyard

“We saw this building sort of sitting dilapidated and just had a vision to restore it,” said Bradley Schnell, CEO of the Mission Bay Beach Club.

NBC Universal, Inc.

Easily identified by the tall, white spire that shoots from the conch-shaped building’s roof, the former Mission Bay Visitor Information Center is ready to serve a new purpose. 

The structure sits on East Mission Bay Drive in San Diego, just a few steps from the water. It was built in the late 1960s by a local architect, but after years of serving as a way to welcome visitors to the area, it eventually sat vacant.

“We saw this building sort of sitting dilapidated and just had a vision to restore it,” said Bradley Schnell, CEO of the Mission Bay Beach Club, when he recalled the property catching his eye while on a walk with his dog.

After years of working with local departments on permitting, Schnell and his business partner finally got the green light to begin redevelopment.

“We have put great effort into sort of maintaining the character of the original building, as well as trying to enhance the environment around it,” said Schnell, who emphasized that they are focused on improving what is already there rather than creating something new.

The waterfront location is now home to a vegan café called Superbloom that serves up a variety of coffee drinks and cold-pressed juices, an ice cream cart called Summer Afternoons, and a rental shop with beach cruiser bikes and stand-up paddleboards called Beach Bunny.

“The more time we spent here in Mission Bay, we realized what an incredible asset Mission Bay Park is,” said Schnell, smiling as he looked at people enjoying the newly-opened space.

Schnell, who has a background in design and architecture, shared that the inspiration for the grounds was taken from Northern California’s wine country. They wanted the atmosphere to be both modern and rustic. The building’s original creator, Dick Lareau, is in on it, too. Lareau has been helping as a consultant, which Schnell says has been beneficial since the building is so unique.

“One of the adventures from a design standpoint is trying to figure out how do you work with a building that is sitting on a hill, almost as a beacon,” said Schnell. “There’s not a backside.”

The Mission Bay Beach Club is already getting visitors since opening in early September, including one woman who has lived in San Diego for 40 years. She said she remembers the building when it sat empty.

“I would meet some friends here if we were going downtown and we only wanted to take one car, and there was nothing,” said Karen Lucas. “Now, I am starting to meet some of those same friends here for coffee.”

In addition to what is already up and running, there are also plans for a California-casual pizzeria and wine bar, called Picnic, to open in 2022. One of the goals is to be able to bottle house wine from the grapes grown in the small vineyard on the property.

“This is really just the beginning,” said Schnell, “and we can’t wait to take the next steps.”

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