Admiring the views, surfing the waves, glimpsing the wildlife and more await San Diego beachgoers.
The best San Diego beaches are all special in their own way. Some are known for their stunning natural scenery, while others are perfect for water sports like surfing or paddleboarding. Which San Diego beach should you visit? That depends on the type of day you hope to have, whether you plan to bask in the sun surrounded by wildlife or stay active with a game of beach volleyball or surfing. To help you plan your next California beach getaway, U.S. News selected the best private and public beaches in San Diego.
Stretching nearly 2 miles long, Mission Beach is San Diego’s version of the classic boardwalk beach town. Here, visitors will find the standard boardwalk amusement park one would expect, all kinds of shopping, miniature golf, bumper cars and a thumping nightlife scene that comes to life after dark. During the day, the laid-back Southern California beach is ideal for biking, sport fishing, whale watching and surfing. If you’re looking for a place to hang your hat, the Bahia Resort Hotel and Paradise Point are located nearby.
San Diego’s Pacific Beach is home to 3 miles of boardwalk lined with restaurants, bars and nightclubs for the younger crowd. The northern side of the beach boasts calm waters and lifeguard-supervised swimming areas, as well as facilities like bathrooms and showers. This beach is also home to Tourmaline Surfing Park, which offers up gentle waves perfect for amateur surfers, windsurfers and kiteboarders. Several of the best hotels in San Diego are stationed here, including the Pacific Terrace Hotel.
San Diego’s Ocean Beach is known for its pier, which is currently partially closed for renovations. When in full operation, this pier extends a half-mile into the Pacific Ocean and allows visitors to fish without a license. Other standout features on Ocean Beach include its many restaurants and bars, its swanky boutiques and surf shops and its lifeguard-supervised swimming and surfing areas.
La Jolla Shores
At approximately one mile long, La Jolla Shores Beach is one of the longest beaches in the area. Swaying palm trees tower over soft brown sand, and local wildlife, including birds and sea lions, call the area home. This beach is popular for swimming, kayaking and surfing, and it sits directly in front of a park with grassy areas perfect for beach picnics. Popular hotels in the area include La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club and Hotel La Jolla, Curio Collection by Hilton.
Home to the iconic Hotel del Coronado, which was the backdrop in Marilyn Monroe’s 1958 film “Some Like it Hot,” Coronado Beach has some of the most beautiful sun-kissed scenery in the San Diego area. The mineral mica in the sand makes this beach sparkle, and the 200-foot-tall Coronado Bridge serves as a memorable focal point. After a day at the beach, visitors can visit the nearby Orange Avenue shops and restaurants or take a ride on the Old Town Trolley Tour.
San Diego’s Dog Beach was one of the first dog-friendly and leash-free beaches in the United States, so it’s the perfect place to bring your well-behaved pet. This San Diego County beach sits at the northern end of Ocean Beach, and it is consistently teeming with four-legged friends content catching balls and playing in the waves.
Flat Rock Beach
Located at the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, Flat Rock Beach is a hike away from other major sites. However, this Southern California beach is worth the trek thanks to its uniquely flat rock formations and hidden sea caves that are only visible when the tide is low. Visitors can marvel at the original Flat Rock (also called Indian Bath Tub Rock), which is a freestanding rock formation that has been used as a Native American bathtub, a human sacrificial altar and a place to catch fish. Consider The Lodge at Torrey Pines or the Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines if you’re looking for convenient accommodations.
La Jolla Cove
Located at the northeast end of Ellen Browning Scripps Park, La Jolla Cove beach is home to birds and seals galore. Thanks to its mostly calm surf and clear waters, this beach is a hot spot for scuba divers, snorkelers and swimmers who want to marvel at the underwater wildlife. Keep in mind that fishing and the collection of ocean objects is prohibited here.
Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
Sunset Cliffs National Park sprawls across 68 acres and extends for more than a mile along the Point Loma peninsula’s western shoreline. It’s brimming with unbelievable natural wonders, including the stunning cliff formations that inspired its name. Plenty of ocean caves can be found along this stretch of coastline, and the beach itself is popular with surfers and nature lovers who love dramatic ocean views.
As the southernmost beach town in California, Imperial Beach is a popular destination for fishing, surfing and stunning overwater sunsets. This 4-mile stretch of coastline has its own impressive pier, and is also home to the Tijuana River National Estuary. This makes it ideal for spotting endangered birds and other wildlife like reptiles.
South Carlsbad State Beach
South Carlsbad State Beach is known as a spot for camping, riding bikes and walking along the coast. With well-designed walkways and plenty of facilities, including restrooms and showers, the beach here is not only beautiful but also accessible. Plan a daytrip if you want to spend the day surfing or sunbathing. And if you’d like to hang your hat here, there are more than 200 campsites.
Moonlight State Beach
In the early 1900s, local residents were known to flock to this beach in the city of Encinitas for late night picnics. Today, Moonlight State Beach is popular for fishing, swimming and surfing. It’s also home to volleyball and tennis courts, restrooms, fire rings and a snack bar for those who prefer to stay on land.
Marine Street Beach
Marine Street Beach is a public beach that’s located in a residential area in La Jolla, thus it is often packed with locals enjoying the sand and surf. This beach is as picturesque as they come with towering bluffs, large sea rocks and tall swaying palm trees. Marine Street Beach is also popular with experienced surfers thanks to its powerful waves.
Whispering Sands Beach
Also located in La Jolla, Whispering Sands Beach is incredibly scenic thanks to its huge rocks and amazing tidepools. This beach is commonly used for beach combing, swimming and sunbathing, as well as watching for local birds, sea lions and seals. This beach is also popular for surfing as well as viewing migrating whales from December through April.
As its name implies, Shell Beach teems with shells of all shapes and sizes. Visitors head to this beach to comb the tidepools for unusual natural creations, and to enjoy the sights and sounds of the crashing waves. While Shell Beach is not as deep or as wide as some of the other top San Diego beaches, it’s within walking distance of other popular beaches like La Jolla Cove. Plus, the Pantai Inn, Grande Colonial and La Valencia Hotel are all located within a short stroll of the shoreline.
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