Vessel is the flagship restaurant of Kona Kai Resort & Marina on Point Loma’s Shelter Island. When the waterfront restaurant underwent a major makeover, it included snaring new Executive Chef Roy Hendrickson, who works his magic creating coastal dishes with a sophisticated twist. He serves New American cuisine using seasonal and sustainable local ingredients. The soothing aesthetics of a startlingly beautiful bayside location add to the magic of Vessel’s dining experience. Guests can choose to eat indoors in the stylish new restaurant with a view, or in the fresh air of the outdoor patio. Vessel serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch; the restaurant often features live music.
The recently renovated dining room at Vessel is casual chic. A semi-circular wall of windows offers epic views of the restaurant’s outdoor dining space, Kona Kai Marina, and the enchanting Point Loma hillside. The neutral color palette includes weathered wood walls, dark wood flooring, taupe, brown, and white geometric patterned window coverings, and a sand-colored ceiling with recessed lighting. One wall features rotating video images of local landscapes. Vibrant abstract paintings splash the walls with color.
The circular dining room wraps around a stunning 360-degree illuminated bar. Contemporary hurricane lanterns with Edison lights are suspended from a round turquoise tray ceiling above it. Weathered wood shelves with blue and green sea glass bottles and vases are stacked above flat-screen TVs facing four directions just above the central bar. Wood tables with comfortable sand or turquoise-colored padded chairs surround the bar. There is a similarly styled semi-private dining area to one side with access to the outdoor patio.
Chef Roy’s culinary philosophy is cooking good food well, releasing the natural flavors and aromas innate to the ingredients, and making a joyful connection between chef and diner. Breakfast at Vessel reaches every palate from oatmeal with brown sugar and sun-dried cherries to huevos ranchero or pulled pork benedict to banana buckwheat flapjacks or Belgian waffles. There are à la carte items, Zoka coffees and breakfast teas, and assorted juices.
There are a number of delectable small plates on offer at lunch from chicken or shrimp lettuce wraps to lobster sliders. In the mood for a fresh salad? Try the frisée with smoked bacon lardon, manchego, and almond mustard vinaigrette. For heartier appetites, there are specialty sandwiches or large plates. Try the fish & chips with Baja slaw and tartar sauce.
Dinner at Vessel ups the ante with expanded choices of small plates, salads, large plates, sides, and sweets. Diners love the mussels in white wine, chili, and garlic; tuna tataki with cucumber, soy, and avocado; and the lobster mac n cheese with cheddar fondue, panko, and chives. Two large plate favorites at Vessel are skirt steak with leek and potato gratinée, or sea bass with confit peewee potatoes.
The kid-friendly resort restaurant provides a children’s menu with breakfast entrées like sand dollar pancakes or raisin French toast. Lunch and dinner offerings include mac and cheese, chicken fingers, burgers, hot dogs, and spaghetti with or without sauce. Sides are french fries or fruit.
Vessel at Kona Kai is open from early morning to late night. Sangria Saturday and Sunday Funday brunch is served on weekends early morning to mid-afternoon, and Sunday brunch features live entertainment. Brunch includes bottomless Bloody Marys and Mimosas. Daily Happy Hours include reduced prices on well drinks, Hawk’s Cabernet and Chardonnay, domestic bottled beers, and Pacifico on draft. Cheap eats include Rueben or Kona beef sliders, cheddar mac & cheese, pork or fish tacos, flatbreads, quesadillas, and seafood poke. The classy, but casual restaurant is ADA accessible, kid-friendly, and good for groups too. Vessel has a fun kids’ menu. They take reservations and offer take-out. Abundant parking includes free street parking or validated valet; bike parking is also available. The restaurant provides complimentary Wi-Fi to diners. Check in with Yelp and receive a free glass of wine with your entrée.
Shelter Island has plenty to see and do after breakfast, lunch, or dinner at Vessel. Shoreline Park is across the street and has great walking paths that run the length of the island, providing outstanding views of San Diego Bay. The park also features a children’s playground, benches for relaxing – some with bougainvillea-covered trellises, and Shelter Island fishing pier. Concrete bathrooms are also in the park.
The historic Yokohama Friendship Bell and “The Girl in the Red Shoes” statue are both gifts from San Diego’s sister city Yokohama, Japan. Located in front of Kona Kai Resort, they are cultural highlights on the island representing lasting friendship between the two cities. The bell is rung each New Year’s Eve, and on other special occasions.
There are a number of seasonal activities on Shelter Island. It’s one of the best places to watch San Diego’s annual Big Bay Boom fireworks display on the Fourth of July. In September, YachtFest – a superyacht extravaganza teams up with the San Diego Maritime Museum for epic on-the-water entertainment. December brings the annual Parade of Lights where boats trimmed in holiday lights stream through San Diego Bay.
Shelter Island is connected to the affluent Point Loma neighborhood by a causeway. You’ll find lots to appreciate here including great history, art, culture, and shopping at revitalized Liberty Station on the peninsula’s north end. In the opposite direction, Cabrillo National Monument, Old Point Loma Lighthouse, and Point Loma tide pools entertain visitors on the southern tip. Sunset Cliffs Natural Park has great surfing and stunning sandstone cliffs for watching the sunset on Point Loma’s Pacific side. The San Diego International Airport and Downtown San Diego are also both conveniently nearby.