With over 70 miles of coastline, San Diego beaches offer something for everyone. Whether you have your family in tow, a quiet personal day in mind, or plan to catch the best waves, there is surf and sand for any outing. San Diego is a mecca of warm weather, year-round outdoor pleasure, and surround-sound ocean. Here is a list of great beaches to get you started.
Coronado Island’s Central Beach has been voted best family beach in the country and for good reason. It’s pristine expanse of white sand is perfect for families who want to enjoy a day at the ocean. The water is fairly calm here compared to other San Diego surf and there are bathroom and shower facilities as well as a lifeguard, which makes it a great choice when you have kids in tow.
Imperial Beach in San Diego is the southernmost beach in CA and is only five miles from the Mexican border. It has over three miles of coast and beach to enjoy and is a bit lower-key than some of the more popular beaches. So if you like a less crowded, more spacious beach experience for your beach outing, Imperial Beach won’t disappoint.
La Jolla Shores is not the largest of the family beaches but it certainly has its perks. With a mile of gentle waves and inviting sand plus a year-round lifeguard, it’s easy to see the attraction for families.
It also offers stunning views with plenty of places to watch the resident sea lions as well as nearby playground and bathroom facilities. This beach can get fairly crowded on the weekends which makes parking a challenge. Consider visiting on weekdays, especially during the height of tourist season.
Pacific Beach is centrally located in San Diego and has plenty of beach space for play and bodyboarding. There are shower and bathroom facilities as well as permanent lifeguard stations along the entire stretch. With food and drinks nearby, Pacific is the perfect place to stake your umbrella for the day and build sandcastles with your kids.
If you want to bring your four-footed friend along for some beach fun, there are a few San Diego spots just for them.
Dog Beach located in Ocean Beach is an awesome place to bring your dogs since there is no curfew. At the north end of the beach is an area specifically for off-leash play and it’s available for use 24 hours a day.
Coronado’s Dog Beach is on the western end of Coronado’s huge coastline and is easy to find if you follow the signs along Ocean Blvd. It is a wonderful place for dogs and their humans to play with no time restrictions and no leashes. Be aware of the strict leash law in Coronado and only unleash when you’re safely within the limits of the dog beach. As always, be a responsible dog owner and clean up after your pet with the city-provided bags at the beach entrance.
Del Mar’s North Beach offers a great place to let loose in the surf with your dog in north county. Dogs are NOT allowed off-leash from June 16th through Labor Day due to high tourist season, but from Labor Day into mid-June, they are free to roam. Leashed dogs are free to enjoy almost all Del Mar beaches year-round.
Best tide pool beaches
During low tide, San Diego offers some spectacular tide pool viewing for marine life enthusiasts.
Cardiff State Beach Tide Pools in north county are a great place to take the kiddos to see exotic little sea critters. Due to the high volume of rock and reefs in that area, the tide pools are large and plentiful. Best during low tide, of course, and wear water shoes or similar to avoid slipping.
The La Jolla Shores Beach area offers several nice tide pools to explore. If you access the area near The Marine Room restaurant, you’ll find a few pools to ponder. If you walk a bit further south on the La Jolla Cove boardwalk, you will come to Shell Beach, South Casa Beach, and Wipeout Beach. Each of these tide pool areas has something slightly different to offer, and some involve stairs or carefully climbing down a few rocky areas to access these sea treasures.
Terramar Beach in Carlsbad is home to the Carlsbad tide pools and is part of South Carlsbad State Beach. Public access to the tide pools is along Carlsbad Blvd. down the stairs at Cerezo Drive.
Swami’s Beach in Encinitas is a wonderful place to explore dozens of little nooks and crannies in the multitude of exposed reef areas during low tide. A personal favorite of mine for the views, number of places to explore, and perfect perching rocks to watch the surfers do their thing. Five stars for Swami’s in every category…I’m not biased or anything.
Tide Beach Park in Solana Beach (just north of Del Mar) in north county offers some great tide pool viewing if you aren’t afraid of some stairs. Access is at Pacific Avenue and Solana Vista Drive down a long staircase to the cove. Tide pools are exposed at the north end at low tide.
Best surf beaches
Black’s Beach in La Jolla consistently wins best vote for expert and seasoned surfers. It is not for the faint of heart or energy as it requires an extensive hike down to the shore, but for local experts, it’s worth the trek.
Seaside in Solana Beach and Del Mar Shores are solid surfing spots in north county that offer lifeguard services most of the year and bathrooms nearby.
Windansea in La Jolla is for experienced surfers only. It has some of the most consistent and surfable waves in the area.
Oceanside Beach has a huge expanse of beach and surf area with some consistent surf that’s not too challenging for beginners. It can get crowded, so it’s best to try weekday afternoons before the locals head down after work.
Silver Strand Beach on Coronado Island offers gentle surf that’s perfect for the less-seasoned surfer who wants more practice without excessive crowds.
Tourmaline Surf Park Beach is centrally located in San Diego just north of Pacific Beach. This granddaddy of a beach has been holding beginner’s hands and teaching them the ways of the surf for decades. It is THE place to go for a supportive vibe and lots of encouragement and advice from old-timers. With a motto like “Surf Well, Spread Aloha, Share Waves without Judgment,” you can’t possibly go wrong at this spot.
Best walking beaches
The Mission Beach and Pacific Beach Boardwalk offers a 3 1/2 mile walking path with stunning views of the Pacific and lots of things to see and do. A local and tourist favorite.
Carlsbad State Beach in north county is easily accessible from the road and has miles of sand to stroll from one end of Carlsbad to the other. Stop in at Carlsbad Village on the north end and get something cold to drink or peruse the cute shops.
Del Mar City Beach is another beautiful and expansive beach in north county that’s perfect for walking or running. You can head north and hit the beaches toward Cardiff and Encinitas or walk south and end up at Torrey Pines State Beach.
Harbor Beach in Oceanside is north of Carlsbad and has plenty of beach and coastline to provide an excellent bit of cardio or a leisurely stroll. It offers lots with FREE parking and it’s within walking distance of the village shops and restaurants nearby.
Moonlight State Beach in Encinitas stretches for miles for your walking and jogging pleasure. If you walk north, you’ll eventually hit South Ponto Beach jetty, and to the south you’ll eventually run into the Del Mar dog beach.
Best beaches for an evening fire
The following beaches allow beachside fires, but check their websites often for updated information on fire bans etc.
- Pacific Beach
- Ocean Beach Park
- South Mission Beach
- Imperial Beach (City Beach)
- Coronado City Beach
- Moonlight State Beach Encinitas
- Harbor Beach and Pier View South in Oceanside
Fires are only allowed in provided fire rings.
The one and only nude beach
Our beach list wouldn’t be complete without an honorable mention to Black’s Beach. It’s a long beach that stretches along Torrey Pines State Beach underneath the famous Torrey Pines Golf Course to Scripps Beach in La Jolla. The nudity zones are very well defined, so if you’re feeling adventurous, make sure to follow the rules.
There you have it — a partial list of the dozens of beaches that San Diego has to offer. Let us know, in the comments below, what your favorites are and I’ll add them to the list.