The Best Beaches in San Diego
La Jolla Cove
It only makes sense that San Diego is rife with gorgeous beaches for playing, surfing, sunbathing and swimming: California’s second largest city enjoys year-round sunshine, mild temperatures, and more than 70 miles of dazzling coastline. Here, we've rounded up the best of the best: San Diego County's top ten beaches. Happy exploring!
First up, La Jolla Cove: Nestled between sandstone cliffs, this tiny jewel of a beach gives way to a deep, gorgeous blue-green bay, where snorkelers and scuba drivers can explore waters teeming with marine life, including orange Garibaldi fish, thanks to the area’s inclusion in the La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve.
La Jolla Shores
Just north of La Jolla Cove, this mile-long stretch of sand is known for its gentle surf, so it’s an ideal spot for beginner surfers, SUP aficionados, and families with young swimmers. It’s also a great spot for boaters, as it’s the only beach in city limits with a boat launch.
There’s a reason Swami’s gets a shout-out in The Beach Boys’ summer anthem Surfin’ U.S.A.: Surfers have long flocked to this break at the southern end of Encinitas, a freewheeling surf town 25 miles up the road from San Diego. If you’re not ready to hit the waves yourself, find a spot at the bluff-top park to take in the scenery and the world-class surfers hanging ten below.
Carlsbad State Beach
Sunset-chasers can catch a stunning view of the sun sliding into the Pacific from this beach, which is popular with families and surfers alike. As for the best seat in the house? It’s a toss-up between the bluff at the beach’s northern end and the grassy park that runs parallel to the mile-long seawall that stretches the length of the beach.
Moonlight State Beach
In the early 1900s, locals ventured to this sandy expanse for midnight picnics, giving the popular Encinitas beach its alluring moniker. These days, the park’s dawn-to-sunset hours contain the fun to daylight, but there’s still plenty to do: volleyball and tennis courts give the sports-loving set room to play, and water babies can dive into the swimming- or surfing-designated areas. The beach park also plays host to a summer concert series and the annual Wavecrest Woodie Meet in September, the world’s largest gathering of the wooden-bodied cars that have become practically synonymous with surf culture.
Del Mar City Beach
This two-mile-long strand in the tiny city of Del Mar is considered one of San Diego’s best for a number of reasons: excellent swimming, two beachside parks equipped for picnics and play, and good surfing to boot. A dirt trail on the bluffs that line the southern half of the beach is ideal for runners and walkers looking for a car-free route.
Whatever you’ve envisioned as a classic SoCal beach – Pacific Beach is it. The funky little beach town is especially popular with the younger crowd, who flock to the sundrenched spot for its lively bar scene. The city’s mile-long beach is buzzing with activity, too: Crystal Pier, a 1927 wooden pier known for the charming hotel cottages perched atop it, marks one end of the beach, while a 3.5-mile boardwalk dotted with shops and restaurants marks the city-side edge of the beach.
If the wide, mile-long reach of sand and the swimming and surfing here aren’t enough to draw you to Mission Beach, then maybe the old-fashioned beachfront amusement park next door will. Opened in 1925, Belmont Park blends the best of classic boardwalk attractions (think a 1920s wooden rollercoaster called the Giant Dipper and a hot dog stand called “Hot Dog on a Stick”) with the more modern, like FlowRide, a simulated surfing platform that’s got a nonstop wave.
Water babies, if you have time to explore only one of San Diego’s beaches, make it Mission Bay, though taking advantage of all this beach has to offer is a big task in itself: the 4,200-acre park is the largest waterpark of its kind in the world, with 27 miles of sandy shoreline and a wealth of waterways, inlets, and islets to explore. Get your feet wet with a wide range of watersports, from stand-up paddle boarding to sailing. And if you’re feeling especially adventurous, you can book wakeboarding or wakesurfing lessons at Mission Bay Aquatic Center.
A bridge across San Diego Bay delivers sun-seekers to Coronado and its pristine beaches. The best of them is Coronado Beach, a mile-and-a-half strand of white powdery sand that sparkles in the sun, thanks to the presence of the mineral mica. The beach’s host of activities shine, too: From fishing in front of the glorious Victorian-era Hotel del Coronado, to flying kites on the beach’s southern end, to making s’mores around fire pits, Coronado Beach is primed for family fun.