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La Jolla Cove, San Diego
Photograph: Flickr/Wade48

The 22 best San Diego beaches

How do 70 miles of beautiful coastline sound? Oh yes, oh yes. These are the best San Diego beaches

Written by
Kai Oliver-Kurtin
Contributors
Garrick Ramirez
&
Krista Diamond
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San Diego has a lot of beaches. There, we said it. The metropolis and its surroundings boast a whopping 70 miles of beautiful coastline, featuring some of the best beaches not just in California, but on the whole planet. If you’ve ventured towards the so-called Birthplace of California in search of sand, sun and surf, you’re not going to be struggling for results.

Of course, 70 miles of beaches throws up plenty of options, and separating the good from the great is no easy task. Luckily, we’ve done the hard yards (the sunbathing, but that can be dangerous work) and have identified the best of the best beaches in San Diego, for your sun-kissed pleasure. This place has a standard forecast of 70 and sunny, with seemingly perfect weather year-round, so you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy. San Diego also happens to have a fantastic culinary scene and some seriously good craft beer options, if you weren’t entirely convinced by the whole “America’s Finest City” thing.

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Best San Diego beaches, ranked

Anchored by the grand Hotel del Coronado, this iconic white-sand beach is a local gem that literally sparkles. Flecked with the gold-like mineral mica, this lustrous beach is arguably San Diego’s most alluring. Gentle waves encourage frolicking in the shore break, while a vast sandy expanse—which never feels crowded—invites sandcastles and kite-flying. The beach was immortalized by Marilyn Monroe in “Some Like it Hot,” and you can play the role of a starlet with a stay at The Del which gains you access to retro, candy-striped loungers and swanky cabanettes plunked on the sand.

Like a SoCal Coney Island, this waterfront hub features a seaside amusement park, bustling boardwalk, and wide sandy beach. Linked to P.B. via the vibrant boardwalk, Mission Beach sports the same wide stretch of sand as its fun-loving neighbor, but doubles down with thrill rides and midway games at timeless Belmont Park. Just take a spin on the dizzying Giant Dipper coaster before indulging in too many corn dogs.

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Gentle waves, swimmable surf and scenic day-use areas make this a destination beach for the minivan set. Locals refer to this wide, sandy expanse as Tamarack Beach, referencing the easily accessible stretch at the foot of Tamarack Avenue—a small nearby pay lot fills early on warm days. Long, rolling waves invite swimming and surfing, but if you prefer to simply stroll the coastline, this is your spot. A four-mile paved walkway extends along the shore and brims with joggers, inline skaters and cyclists.

Experience seaside perfection in this upscale, aptly-named beach town. With something for everyone, it’s little wonder Del Mar is a San Diego favorite. The two-mile beach is divided by a pair of beach parks—Powerhouse Park and Seagrove Parkwith picnic areas and play structures. The northern half offers easy access, primo swimming, and a dedicated spot for leash-free pups. Backed by coastal bluffs, the southern expanse is less accessible but offers greater solitude. Shops and eateries are a short stroll away, but most never make it past the waterfront dining and sunset drinks at Poseidon on the Beach or Jake's Del Mar

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Dive in to this snug, golden sand beach cove with oversized scenery. Along the shores of La Jolla Village, you’ll discover a striking coastline of sculpted cliffs, sandy coves, and scores of sea life. You needn’t strap on a scuba mask to catch sight of the many garibaldi fish darting about turquoise waters. On the bluff above, palm tree-lined Ellen Browning Scripps Park delights with a grassy waterfront expanse. Nearby, The Cave Store hides a 145-step tunnel that leads to the mesmerizing Sunny Jim Sea Cave.

Pass the Sun Bum, brah, this is San Diego’s wildest beach scene. The best introduction to P.B.—the local term for this wide sandy shore and its boisterous, surrounding neighborhood—is the Pacific Beach Boardwalk. The 3.5-mile waterfront promenade swarms with skaters, cyclists and pedestrians basking in spirited beach town vibes. Enjoy a relaxed stroll along Crystal Pier lined with historic beach cottages, or let loose at the raucous beach bars just a Red Bull can’s throw away.

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This secluded, clothing-optional beach—California’s first—is popular with sunbathers and expert surfers. Tucked beneath the rugged blufftop forests of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, this hidden beach is reached via steep cliffside paths including the Torrey Pines Gliderport Trail. Birthday suits are welcome on the northern section, but skinny-dipping in powerful swells is best left to expert surfers.

From street level, it's easy to walk right past the entrance to Beacon's Beach. Tucked down below is a dirt path with several switchbacks that slowly leads you down to the sand. This local spot is tucked away in a residential area, which helps to keep the crowds at bay. Beacon's wide swath of beach is a great spot to stretch out in Encinitas. 

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North County surfers flock to Grandview for early morning surf seshes. Getting its name from the sweeping view from cliffs overlooking this beach accessible by staircase, Grandview is one of San Diego's most picturesque beaches. If you're looking for a serene spot for a beach walk, look no further than this tucked away Leucadia spot. 

This lesser-known Solana Beach gem is an ace up your sleeve on busy beach days. You’ll rack up your Fitbit numbers descending the lengthy staircase, but, once you reach the sand, you’ll delight in a laid-back, uncrowded beach cove. Fairly smooth sand and a large underwater shelf make wading a breeze. The pleasant beach is best enjoyed at low tide when you can stroll to adjacent Fletcher Cove, and explore tide pools at the shore’s north end.

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Let Fido run free at San Diego’s premier dog beach. Leave the leash in the car; friendly pups are welcome to freely chase balls, sniff pals and splash in the surf all day at this dedicated patch along the mouth of San Diego River at Ocean Beach. You’ll find trash cans and bags at the entrance, and, for especially sandy hounds, the Dog Beach Dog Wash a few blocks away.

A vast shorefront park across from Mission Beach features swimmable beaches, waterfront BBQs, and countless water sports. Comprised of a sheltered bay and surrounding coast, this 4,300-acre aquatic park offers water play without the riptides. Bay waters teem with jet skis, kayaks and paddleboards rented from numerous waterfront vendors. Swimming is best along the sandy shores and gentle waters of Playa Pacifica, while Ski Beach hosts lively family BBQs with fire pits, volleyball nets and picnic shelters.

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This waterfront park provides pleasant access to Solana Beach’s central shorefront. The recently refreshed, palm-lined park features a grassy lawn, picnic tables, play structure and basketball court—all with knockout ocean vistas. The centerpiece is a wide paved path that leads to a mellow beach cove. After your fill of sand, stroll nearby Cedros Avenue for fun après-beach stops.

Better known for its scenic blufftops than a handful of small coves, this wedding ceremony-worthy locale is where you want to be at sunset. Sculpted coastal bluffs hide cozy beach coves below and dazzling ocean vistas above. The scenic blufftops also offer an exceptional vantage point for spotting migrating gray whales. Yet, most visitors are here for the dramatic sunsets. Pick up grub from nearby Mike’s Taco Club or Hodad’s, find a comfortable perch, and watch for the elusive green flash as the sun dips into the Pacific.

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Pack the boogie boards and s’mores fixings for a fun day at the beach. Wide-open sand, gentle surf and a handful of fire pits make La Jolla Shores a popular, all-day beach destination for families. Sunny days see a virtual sea of sun umbrellas, novice surfers practicing their stances, kayakers setting out to explore nearby sea caves—and cars circling for parking.

This scenic, relaxed surf spot is marked by its famous palm-shrouded beach shack. Just out of sight from the La Jolla throngs immediately north, this beach offers solitude and a strong surf scene. Author Tom Wolfe detailed a band of surfers who made Windansea their home in his 1968 book “The Pump House Gang.” Today, you can watch pros shred the gnar from the shaded palapa-like structure which has stood in some form since 1946. Non-surfers will enjoy tide pools at low tide, and swimming along the southern shore.

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This legendary surf break sits below a bluff-lined shore in Encinitas. Swami's is a destination surf beach that took its name from the swamis of the Self Realization Fellowship who teach meditation on the palm-lined blufftop above. Yet, you’ll find that gazing out upon surfers and the crashing waves proves plenty meditative. Also, where there’s surf there are usually reefs, which means Swami’s offers excellent tide-pooling at low tide.

This laid-back beach and adjacent hippy village exude vintage SoCal beach vibes. Explore a funky old-school beach ‘hood that feels undisturbed by time, including a sandy shorefront and main drag lined with a motley assortment of shops and eateries plastered with surf stickers. A small, grassy waterfront park hosts Lululemon-clad yoga circles and VW-bound beach bums. Rent bikes and zip along a path that runs inland along the adjacent San Diego River, or stroll the Ocean Beach Pier that extends half a mile into the seatouted as the west coast's longest concrete fishing pier.

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Encinitas’ premier beach is a local fave with sunny day essentials and evening bonfires. This popular North County shore handily ticks off the list of coveted beach amenities: easy access, snack bar, fire pits, bathrooms and landlubbing recreation including beach volleyball and play structures. Year-round lifeguards keep watch over swimmers along the gently sloping shore and boogie boarders sloshing through the whitewater. Though named for the popular midnight picnics of the early 1900s, the city shuts down the party at sunset.

This North County beach features soft, white sand, a lengthy pier and a lively boardwalk. Known by locals as The Strand, this wide-open beach is backed by a popular boardwalk lined with pocket parks for beachfront picnics. Stroll the nearly 2,000-foot wooden pier—the longest of its kind on the West Coast—out to a retro diner. Drop in to the nearby California Surf Museum and spy some famous surfboards, including those of Eddie Aikau and Duke Kahanamoku.

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Pleasantly warm waters and a famed surf break attract both families and surfers to Cardiff State Beach. South of Elijo Creek, this family-friendly North County spot features soft, clean sand and waves that break well offshore. Kelp beds lure divers, while a pair of reefs create popular surf breaks—the beach is the site of frequent surf contests and the famous Cardiff Kook, a frequently festooned surfer statue. Pups are allowed on-leash at the beach and along the nature trails of nearby San Elijo Lagoon.

Whether you’re pitching a tent or parking the RV, this is the beach for overnighters. The narrow stretch of sand adjoining Cardiff State Beach is a perfectly pleasant spot to spend the day, but the primary draw here is the beachfront camping. Nearly 180 campsites line bluffs overlooking the Pacific—and book up months in advance. A seasonal beach store stocks camp and beach essentials, from boogie boards to s’mores fixings.

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