Best beaches in San Diego
What is it? Anchored by the grand Hotel del Coronado, this iconic white-sand beach is a local gem that literally sparkles.
Why go? 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
What is it? Dive in at this snug, golden sand beach cove with oversized scenery.
Why go? Along the shores of tony 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.
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.
What is it? Pass the Sun Bum, brah, this is San Diego’s hottest beach scene.
Why go? 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.
What is it? Like a SoCal Coney Island, this waterfront hub features a seaside amusement park, bustling boardwalk, and wide sandy beach.
Why go? 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.
What is it? Vast shorefront park across from Mission Beach features swimmable beaches, waterfront BBQs, and a countless water sports.
Why go? 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.
What is it? Secluded, clothing-optional beach—California’s first—is popular with sunbathers and expert surfers.
Why go? 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.
What is it? Gentle waves, swimmable surf, and scenic day use areas make this a destination beach for the minivan set.
Why go? 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.
What is it? Let Fido run free at San Diego’s premier dog beach.
Why go? 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.
What is it? 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.
Why go? 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.
What is it? Pack the boogie boards and s’mores fixings for a fun day at the beach.
Why go? 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.
What is it? Scenic, relaxed surf spot is marked by famous palm-shrouded beach shack.
Why go? 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.
What is it? Laid-back beach and adjacent village exude vintage SoCal beach vibes.
Why go? Funky old-school beach ‘hood feels undisturbed by time with 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.
What is it? Encinitas’ premier beach is a local fave with sunny day essentials and evening bonfires.
Why go? 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.
What is it? Humming North County beach features soft, white sand, lengthy pier, and lively boardwalk.
Why go? 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.
What is it? Pleasantly warm waters and a famed surf break attract both families and surfers.
Why go? 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.
What is it? Whether you’re pitching a tent or parking the RV, this the beach for overnighters.
Why go? The narrow stretch 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.
What is it? Waterfront park provides pleasant access to Solana Beach’s central shorefront.
Why go? 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.
What is it? Legendary surf break at bluff-lined shore in Encinitas.
Why go? 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.
What is it? Lesser-known Solana Beach gem is an ace up your sleeve on busy beach days.
Why Go? 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.