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La Jolla Cove, San Diego
Photograph: Flickr/Wade48

The 20 best beaches in San Diego

'America's Finest City' has a lot of coastline to choose from, but these are our very favorite beaches in San Diego

By Garrick Ramirez and Krista Diamond

If sand, sun and surf are the first things that come to mind when you think of San Diego, you're not wrong. The city features over 70 miles of beautiful coastline, stringing together the best beaches in San Diego. Let's be real though, these are also some of the best beaches in California and the world! With everything from secluded coves to buzzing hotspots, each sandy spot offers a distinct flavor and personality. Ditto the adjoining neighborhoods that ooze enviable beach town vibes and boast some of the best restaurants in San Diego. Thankfully, it’s tough to go wrong. So break out the beach tote and slather on the SPF; Whether you’re in need of a fun thing to do with kids or looking to catch some waves or just some rays, the following sunny destinations are a shore thing.

RECOMMENDED: The best things to do in San Diego 

Best beaches in San Diego

Hotel del Coronado
Photograph: Courtesy

1. Coronado City Beach

Anchored by the grand Hotel del Coronado, this iconic white-sand beach is a local gem that literally sparkles. Flecked with the the gold-like mineral mica, the lustrous beach is arguably San Diego’s most alluring. Gentle waves encourage frolicking in the shorebreak, 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 starlet with a stay at The Del which gains you access to retro, candy-striped loungers and swanky cabanettes plunked on the sand.

Cruise Coronado Island on a Segway.

2. La Jolla Cove

Dive in at 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.

Kayak to a La Jolla sea cave.

Del Mar City Beach
Photograph: Shutterstock/ Kyle Sprague

3. Del Mar City Beach

What is it? Experience seaside perfection in this upscale, aptly named beach town.

Why go? 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 with 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 patio and sunset drinks at Poseidon on the Beach.

Pacific Beach surfing near Crystal Pier
Photograph: Brett Shoaf

4. Pacific Beach

Pass the Sun Bum, brah, this is San Diego’s hottest 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.

Rent a stand up paddle board.

Belmont Park
Photograph: Minh Tra

5. Mission Beach

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.

Save on top San Diego attractions.

Mission Bay Park
Photograph: Shutterstock/Gabriele Maltinti

6. Mission Bay Park

A vast shorefront park across from Mission Beach features swimmable beaches, waterfront BBQs, and a 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.

Take a stand up paddle board lesson.

Torrey Pines State Reserve
Photograph: Courtesy

7. Black’s Beach

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, the hidden beach is reached via steep cliffside paths including the Torrey Pines Gliderport Trail. Birthday suits are welcome on the northern section, but resist the temptation to skinny dip. Powerful swells are best left to expert surfers.

8. Carlsbad State Beach

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.


9. Dog Beach

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.

San Diego, CA
Photograph: Shutterstock

10. Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

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.


11. La Jolla Shores

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 it 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.

12. Windansea Beach

This scenic, relaxed surf spot is marked by its famous palm-shrouded beach shack. Just out of earshot of the La Jolla throngs immediately north, this beach offers solitude and a strong surf scene—Tom Wolfe detailed a band of surfers who made Windansea their home in his 1968 “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.

Check out this self-guided audio tour of La Jolla.


13. Ocean Beach

This laid-back beach and adjacent 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 fishing pier that extends half a mile into the sea.

Moonlight State Beach
Photograph: Shutterstock/Sherry V Smith

14. Moonlight State Beach

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.


15. Oceanside Beach

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.

cardiff state beach san diego
Photograph: Yelp/Dakine Kane

16. Cardiff State Beach

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.


17. San Elijo State Beach

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. 171 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.

18. Fletcher Cove Beach

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 including home decor shop Solo and craft beer fave Culture Brewing Co.

Swami’s Beach
Photograph: Shutterstock/Simone Hogan

19. Swami’s Beach

A legendary surf break at bluff-lined shore in Encinitas. The destination surf beach 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 tidepooling at low tide.

Tide Beach Park, Solana Beach
Photograph: Shutterstock/Sherry V Smith

20. Tide Beach Park

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 makes 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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