Seventy miles of coastline means that there are multiple San Diego beaches to choose from. Our beaches differ in important ways, so you may want to drive to a beach that piques your interest versus selecting the one closest to you. Or, how you plan to spend a day at the beach may determine which of the San Diego hotels on the beach you choose.
With that in mind, I’ve put together a guide to the best beaches in San Diego, listed from north to south. I live in San Diego, so I have also indicated my favorites and why.
Are San Diego Beaches Open?
Yes, San Diego beaches are open. However, sometimes, the ocean can close for swimming in certain parts of San when bacteria levels test too high. The ocean water is tested multiple times daily up and down the coast.
You should check sdbeachinfo.com to see which beaches are closed for swimming. These are usually the ones closest to the Tijuana border or river mouths that drain into the ocean after a big storm. Children’s Pool in La Jolla, where the seal rookery is, Dog Beach, and some parts of Mission Bay or San Diego Bay with stagnant water can test higher than normal as well sometimes.
Top Picks By Activities and Features
1. San Onofre State Beach
A staggering 2.5 million visitors annually make San Onofre one of the top 5 most visited state parks in California. You’ll find San Onofre State Beach north of Oceanside, past Camp Pendleton, in the northernmost part of San Diego County, and partially in San Clemente, Orange County.
It’s also famous for the no-longer-active San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) and epic Trestles surf break.
It’s also a sacred site for the Acjachemen, the native people who inhabited the area over 8000 years ago, called “Panhe.” It is still a significant ceremonial and cultural area that locals, the state, and San Onofre Parks Foundation strive to protect.
San Onofre State Beach is made up of three parts.
San Onofre Bluffs
The Bluffs has day-use parking and camping adjacent to the sandstone bluffs and Old Highway 101. Six dirt trails run from the cliffs above to the beach below. The bathrooms are via chemical toilets only.
- Address: 5200 S. Pacific Coast Hwy, San Clemente, CA, 92672 (Map)
San Mateo Campground
This campground is 1.5 miles inland from beaches but connected by a nature trail to Trestles Beach. Because the San Mateo Creek flows to the ocean on one side of the campground, there are wetlands with rare and endangered species here. Make reservations to camp well in advance.
- Address: 830 Cristianitos, San Clemente, CA, 92672 (Map)
San Onofre Surf Beach
San Onofre has several surfing spots. Some have easy access, while others are harder to reach. Some are gentle enough for beginners, while others, like the world-famous Trestles, have been thrilling surfers since the 1940s.
- Trestles: It’s inaccessible by car. Getting there requires a walk on a nature trail from either the north or south end, running under the namesake Trestles Bridge.
- Church: Located near the Camp Pendleton Beach Resort, Church is primarily for bird watchers and sunbathers.
- Surf Beach: There are three breaks here, including The Point, Old Man’s, and Dogpatch. This entire beach area is covered by a rock reef, making walking in or out of the surf challenging.
- Trails: Trails is the most southern of surf spots here.
- Address: Old Pacific Highway, San Clemente, CA 92672 (Map)
The freeway exit off I-5 for the beaches is Basilone Road (3 miles south of San Clemente), while the exit for the campgrounds is Cristianitos in San Clemente.
2. Oceanside Beaches
Oceanside has 3.5 miles of sandy beaches that are good for the typical array of beach activities. Beachgoers can swim, sunbathe, bodyboard, play volleyball and Frisbee, go surfing, and more.
The beaches north of Oceanside Pier have a lot more sand and, therefore, a lot more space for visitors than those further south of the pier.
Oceanside beaches are divided into seven separately named beaches staffed with lifeguards. For our purposes here, I’ll highlight three areas.
Adjacent to the Oceanside Harbor, north of Oceanside Pier, Oceanside’s largest beach offers a wide range of amenities, including volleyball, a snack bar, fire pits, barbecue grills, showers, and restrooms. There are even three lifeguard towers that patrol the area.
Nearby, The Jetties is a well-known surfing area, especially popular with surfers in the summer. It’s where the San Luis River meets the Ocean, so a sandbar often forms here which creates a surf break.
Breakwater Beach is a family beach located south of Harbor Beach, where no surfing is allowed in the summer months. It’s one of San Diego County’s least crowded family beaches because it’s a further walk from public parking than Harbor Beach.
- Address: N Pacific St, Oceanside, CA 92054 (Map)
The Strand (Top Pick)
The Strand is a one-way, southbound, pedestrian-friendly street that runs parallel to the beach on both sides of the Oceanside Pier.
As a result, it’s the local namesake for the adjacent beaches and boardwalk (Pier View North and Pier View South beaches). Oceanside’s most famous beach spot south of the pier is regularly scheduled events at the Oceanside Pier Amphitheater.
It’s busier also thanks to a convenient location near downtown shops and restaurants in addition to the public amenities like restrooms, covered picnic tables, fire rings, vending machines, and more. The north side of the pier has more sand though fewer amenities, but it’s much quieter.
These beaches are excellent beachgoing areas for families with kids, partly because several small parks dot the boardwalk, including a playground by the Pier. Leashed dogs are allowed to walk on The Strand.
- Address: The Strand North & The South Strand, Oceanside, CA 92054 (Map)
Other Oceanside Beaches South of the Pier
Of course, there are multiple smaller Oceanside beaches to check out south of the pier.
During the summer, Oceanside Boulevard Beach has areas designated for swimmers, i.e., no surfers. Sunbathers like Buccaneer Beach, as do families with younger kids just getting used to the water. Bathrooms and showers are available here. Cassidy Street Beach is south of Buccaneer Beach and is the southernmost beach in Oceanside. But it has no bathrooms.
Parking in Oceanside for beach-goers is a mix of free, paid, and metered, much of which is time-limited. So make a point to check the relevant signage. Free parking is available on residential streets.
3. Carlsbad Beaches
The five miles of pretty sandy Carlsbad beaches are often quieter than those in the south because in most parts the bluffs provide some privacy from city life.
North Carlsbad Beaches
This stretch of beach from the Oceanside border south to Pine Avenue, near Carlsbad Village, is co-owned by the state of California and the local property owners.
As a result, these beaches are open to the public, but they do not have lifeguards or restrooms. These often-quieter beaches can be accessed via various entry points on residential streets.
- Address: Access these beaches at Carlsbad Village Drive, Grand Avenue, Christiansen Way, Beech Ave, and Rue des Chateaux.
Tamarack Beach (Top Pick)
This is the main beach of Carlsbad, as it’s close to the downtown area. Carlsbad State Beach, more commonly known locally as “Tamarack Beach,” runs from Tamarack Avenue to Frazee Beach, near Carlsbad Village Drive.
Here, the mile-long Carlsbad Seawall runs from Carlsbad Village drive to Cannon, separating the beach from Highway 101. It’s paved and scenic (including very notable sunset views), making it a popular destination for cyclists, joggers, and walkers.
The beach is great for families with young kids. Many of the usual beach activities are available, like swimming and surfing, as are scuba diving, kayaking, fishing, and other possibilities. There are lifeguard towers and picnic tables here as well.
As for parking, there is a small paid lot where Carlsbad Boulevard intersects Tamarack Avenue. (There is a restroom here, too.) Street parking is a better bet.
- Address: Carlsbad Blvd & Tamarack Ave, Carlsbad, CA 92008 (Map)
South Carlsbad State Beach
South Carlsbad State Beach extends from Palomar Airport Road to La Costa Avenue. It runs below some rugged cliffs and is not as easily accessible as other Carlsbad beaches, which means there can be fewer crowds.
This is also the location of the bluff-top South Carlsbad Beach Campground that overlooks the beach and has stairs running down to it.
While the beach offers few amenities, the beautiful sand makes it ideal for beach strolling and jogging.
This section of South Carlsbad State Beach includes Terramar Beach and North Ponto Beach. Terramar is the stretch of beach south of the Carlsbad power plant and north of Palomar Airport Road. There are no public restrooms or lifeguard stations, but lifeguards patrol in vehicles. It’s primarily a spot for local surfers, but south of the campground can be popular with families in the summer. Here, there are no restrooms and only street parking.
- Address: Carlsbad Blvd. and Highway 101, Carlsbad, CA 92008 (Map)
South Ponto Beach
South Ponto Beach is technically part of South Carlsbad State Beach but deserves its own mention because it’s so popular.
It’s one of the few beaches in Carlsbad with public restrooms and showers. It’s also one of the widest beaches in the area, making it popular with families in the summer though winter surf washes cobblestones up onto the sand.
It borders a rare, undeveloped part of town, so it has a bit of a rustic feel to it also thanks to some cool sand dunes. (Batiquitos Lagoon, on the opposite side of the highway at the beach’s northern end, is one of the few remaining tidal wetlands on the coast of Southern California.)
Surfing events are held here periodically as well. It’s known for its great sunset views and has a small parking lot. Otherwise, try the pay parking lot at South Carlsbad State Beach.
- Address: Carlsbad Blvd north of La Costa Blvd, Carlsbad, CA 92008 (Map)
4. Leucadia State Beach
North of downtown Encinitas, the three small beaches of Leucadia State Beach lie at the base of seaside cliffs.
Three entry points along Neptune Avenue lead down to each beach, and they can be difficult for those unfamiliar with the area to find. Look for access at the end of El Portal Avenue (stairway to Stonesteps), Leucadia Boulevard (the trail to Beacon’s), and Grandview Street (stairway to Grandview Beach).
These laid-back beaches are locally known primarily as surfing spots. The City of Encinitas operates Leucadia State Beach. Many locals refer to the whole beach as simply “Beacon’s.”
There is plenty of free parking along nearby residential streets, but no bathrooms or lifeguards.
Address (Beacon’s): 948 Neptune Avenue, Encinitas, CA (Map)
5. Encinitas Beaches
Encinitas has six beaches (including the above Leucadia State Beach) covering six miles of coastline, headlined by one of our most popular San Diego beaches, Moonlight Beach, as well as Swami’s, a locally famous surf spot with some memorable public art, great views, and a lot of local stories.
Downtown Encinitas along Highway 101, nearly adjacent to the beaches, retains some of its 1960s Southern California beach town charm with boutique shopping, new restaurants, and yoga studios mixed in.
As already noted above, Swami’s is a locally famous surfing spot, with great views along the beachside cliffs, as well as tide pools during winter low tides. Public amenities include restrooms, picnic areas, and a parking lot.
Swami’s takes its name from the Self-Realization Fellowship ashram built nearby in 1937. During normal times, the public can walk through the Meditation Gardens (free).
- Address: 1298 S Coast Hwy 10, Encinitas, CA 92024 (Map)
Moonlight Beach (Top Pick)
Located where Encinitas Boulevard intersects Highway 101 at the coast, Moonlight Beach has it all in terms of facilities. In fact, it’s a beach of choice for some concierges at Carlsbad hotels, even though it’s a bit further south than Carlsbad beaches.
Moonlight Beach has a parking lot, restrooms, showers, volleyball courts, a playground, fire rings, beach rentals, a snack bar, and lifeguards. It is also ADA-accessible.
The well-rounded offerings make it one of the best family San Diego beaches though it can get very crowded in the summer. No dogs are allowed.
- Address: 400 B St, Encinitas, CA 92024 (Map)
A rocky beach south of Moonlight Beach that, as a result, is a surfing spot and not a sunbathing and play spot. No restrooms, but street parking is available.
- Address: D Street and S Coast Hwy 101, Encinitas, CA 92024
6. Cardiff State Beach
Cardiff State Beach is known for some excellent surfing spots. Low tides at Cardiff State Beach reveal tide pools in the exposed reef. The kelp beds here also make for some good diving. The beach in front of the campground here, with its gently sloping sand, is popular with families.
Lifeguards are seasonal but present in the summer. Parking is available, but you must buy a pass at the ranger station at the campground if you can’t find free parking along Highway 101.
Cardiff State Beach also has public bathrooms, showers, and beach wheelchairs. It’s the only state beach in San Diego County that allows on-leash dogs.
- Address: 2504 S Coast Hwy 101 Cardiff By The Sea, CA 92007 (Map)
7. Solana Beach
The 1.7 miles of beaches in Solana Beach are divided into four main but small beach parks.
Tide Beach Park
Tide Beach Park is approximately 1/2 mile north of Fletcher Cove at Solana Vista and Highway 101.
The beach is primarily known for its large reef, or “Table Tops,” and its San Diego tide pools. Lifeguards are on duty there during the summer months. There are showers there, but no restrooms. The access point is a stairway at the end of Solana Vista Drive.
- Address: 302 Solana Vista Drive, Solana Beach, CA 92075 (Map)
The main beach in Solana Beach is Fletcher Cove, aka “Pillbox” (because a WWII gunnery installation is there), located where Lomas Santa Fe Boulevard meets the coast and just across Highway 101 from the Solana Beach train station.
There are public restrooms and showers, picnic tables, and a basketball court on the bluffs above the beach. Lifeguards are on duty from 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. during the winter months and from 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. during the summer months.
A small public parking lot is located nearby in addition to free street parking on surrounding streets.
- Address: 111 S. Sierra Avenue, Solana Beach, CA 92075 (Map)
Seascape Surf lies about a 1/2 mile south of Fletcher Cove. It has wide sandy beaches for typical beach recreation and is also a favorite surfing spot. Lifeguards are on duty only during the summer months.
Find public showers above the beach access, but there are no public restrooms. Free parking is available at a public parking lot across the street from the beach access in addition to free street parking.
- Address: 501 S. Sierra Avenue, Solana Beach, CA 92075 (Map)
Del Mar Shores
Located at Solana Beach’s southern border with Del Mar, Del Mar Shores Beach is below a condominium complex of the same name. Public access to this beach is via a long stairway.
There is free street parking and three free parking lots located nearby. Lifeguards are on duty at Del Mar Shores only during the summer months, and that’s it for public amenities on this quiet beach. People typically surf here and use it for walks, jogs, and general beachgoing.
- Address: 180 Del Mar Shores Terrace, Solana Beach, CA 92075
8. Del Mar Beaches
The two miles of stunning sandy Del Mar beaches are divided into three parks. All are family-friendly, and one is particularly dog-friendly.
North Beach (Dog Beach or The Rivermouth)
This is one of the best San Diego beaches for dogs. It starts north of 29th Street, where the San Dieguito River meets the ocean. Off-leash dogs are permitted between the day after Labor Day and June 15. Between June 16 and Labor Day, dogs must be on-leash between 8 a.m. and dawn.
This family-friendly strip of beach is good for walking regardless of whether Fido is with you. The water is shallow and typically without too many waves, so it’s popular with kids and dogs. Poles for beach volleyball nets are located here, but you must bring your own net.
Free street parking is available, though spaces on Camino Del Mar here are metered. But, as with other Del Mar beaches, parking during peak times in the summer is tough.
- Address: 3200 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar, CA 92014 (Map)
Del Mar Main Beach (Top Pick)
Del Mar Main Beach starts at the north boundary of Powerhouse Park and continues north to Dog Beach. Nearby 15th Street is a central and main street in Del Mar, meaning popular shops and restaurants are also steps from the beach.
This is one of the best San Diego beaches for family-style beach recreation. Powerhouse and Seagrove public parks, with their lovely grassy areas and playground, are here, too.
There is a lifeguard tower at 17th Street, as well as restrooms and showers there. If you were to stay at Fairmont Grand Del Mar, The Grand Beach Services brings hotel guests to this San Diego beach at 18th Street.
- Address: 1700 Coast Blvd, Del Mar, CA 92014 (Map)
Del Mar South Beach
South of Seagrove Park and 15th Street, the beaches become quieter and narrower. It’s possible to walk from here (assuming the tide isn’t too high) all the way down to Torrey Pines State Beach, at roughly 6th Street. You can walk your dog on a leash here year-round.
- Address: Stratford Court and 11th Street, Del Mar, CA 92014
9. Torrey Pines State Beach
Open at 7:15 a.m. every day and closed again at sunset, Torrey Pines State Beach is between Del Mar and La Jolla.
As you pull in, take the low road directly to the adjacent beach. This San Diego beach has lifeguards, restrooms, and showers and is popular with families. People go for swimming, surfing, fishing, sunbathing, and general beachgoing activities.
The high road leads up to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve on the bluffs overlooking the beach. In addition to another day-use pay parking lot, the Natural Reserve has a network of picturesque, coastal, hiking, and nature trails. The steep Beach Trail leads down to the beach below the cliffs (remember you’ll have to walk back up).
The two pay parking lots fill up quickly during peak season. Free street parking is available, though the street is quite busy.
No dogs are allowed (even in cars) into the Torrey Pines State Beach or Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.
- Address: 12600 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla, CA 92037 (Map)
10. La Jolla Beaches
From the towering 300 ft. sea cliffs below the Gliderport to the sandy beaches of La Jolla Shores, the coastline varies dramatically in La Jolla.
There are two primary recreational beaches in La Jolla (La Jolla Shores and La Jolla Cove), but Black’s Beach also deserves mention for its waves. I’ve also written in detail about the smaller La Jolla beaches (like local favorite Windansea Beach) that you’ll stumble upon, especially if walking along the boardwalk in the Village and continuing south.
This two-mile strip of secluded beach below the cliffs of the Torrey Pines Gliderport (adjacent to the UC San Diego campus immediately south of Torrey Pines State Beach) is known for two things: (i) nude beach and (ii) surfing.
The beach is named for the Black family, who formerly owned a farm on the cliffs above. They later sold the farm, and it was developed into the expensive residential homes of La Jolla Farms.
Getting to Black’s Beach requires some effort. The access trail down from the Gliderport (which usually has ample free parking) is the most popular way to get there. However, it is also long and steep. If you’re surfing, surfers typically use the Salk Canyon road to access the beach from UCSD. It, too, is long and steep. You can also access Black’s Beach from Torrey Pines State Beach, but it’s a 2-mile walk (tides will also need to cooperate).
It is one of nine beaches in San Diego with a permanent lifeguard station. Other than that, there are no amenities to speak of.
Be aware of stingrays in the water here when the water temperature rises above 50 degrees.
- Address (Torrey Pines Glider Port): 2800 Torrey Pines Scenic Drive, La Jolla, CA 92037 (Map)
La Jolla Shores Beach (Top Pick)
The mile-long La Jolla Shores beach is my favorite of all San Diego beaches. The San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park offshore creates unique opportunities for water sports while (usually) limiting the size and strength of the waves. However, its designated surfing area is quite popular.
In addition to sunbathing and enjoying the ocean, kayak tours, snorkeling tours, surf lessons, stand-up paddleboarding tours, and scuba diving tours all launch from here. Visible sea life can include sea lions, Garibaldi (our state fish), rays, and much more. The most significant annual aggregation of leopard sharks (harmless) happens each summer in the warm water here, so it’s not uncommon for them to swim near you in knee-deep water.
The Scripps Pier at the north end of the beach is where many locals come to take family photos (I recently took some pictures there with a Flytographer vacation photographer).
Two beachfront hotels, the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club and La Jolla Shores Hotel, provide epic beach vacations for guests, while the shops and restaurants of La Jolla Shores are a few blocks away. There is also a beachfront playground and a substantial grassy area called Kellogg Park.
It is also one of the nine San Diego beaches with a permanent lifeguard station. The substantial parking lot here fills quickly during peak days. Street parking also fills up. During those days, it’s best to come early or come late or take an Uber. Public restrooms and showers are also available, as are fire pits on a first-come, first-served basis.
- Address: 8200 Camino Del Oro, La Jolla, CA 92037 (Map)
See also: 20 Reasons Why La Jolla Shores Is One of the Best San Diego Beaches
La Jolla Cove
La Jolla Cove is also part of the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park, so no surfboards, boogie boards, or inflatable devices are permitted. It is among San Diego’s most popular spots for swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, and kayaking. Indeed, it is widely regarded as the best snorkeling spot in San Diego.
The small white sand beach is popular with families. The waves are usually very small or often nonexistent in the cove, which is great for young kids.
A rather large congregation of sea lions usually hang out on the rocks above the sand. While nothing separates humans from the La Jolla sea lions (I’ve seen plenty of people take selfies with them), please keep your distance from these fun-to-watch wild animals.
Ellen Browning Scripps Park above the beach is also a favorite spot for picnics and Frisbee and the like.
Public restrooms and a permanent lifeguard tower overlook the beach. Outdoor showers are also available, as is street parking.
- Address: 1100 Coast Blvd., La Jolla, CA 92037 (Map)
Children’s Pool Beach
Keep walking south from The Cove, and you’ll wind up at Children’s Pool Beach. It’s impossible to miss because you’re looking for the big lifeguard station and seawall protecting a little sandy beach area.
And that sandy beach is important because it’s a recognized seal rookery. Between December 15 and May 15, the beach closes to humans so California harbor seals can have a place to give birth to and rest with their new pups.
The seals are a huge attraction and fun to watch. The lifeguards usually keep the seawall open so you can walk on it for a closer view of the Pacific Ocean and the seals. Wear steady shoes as it’s uneven terrain and slippery.
Why is it called Children’s Pool Beach? The original intent of the seawall was to create a safe swimming space for kids. Over time, the La Jolla seals discovered the protected area and have since, somewhat controversially, taken it over.
- Address: 850 Coast Blvd, La Jolla, CA 92037 (Map)
11. Pacific Beach
A generation (or two) ago, Pacific Beach (or PB) was a residential, beachside community of young families. Over the last 30 years, PB has become synonymous among locals with college students and young adults partying in the area’s many bars, clubs, and restaurants.
At the same time, Pacific Beach has three excellent San Diego beaches (including one many La Jolla families frequent), two of which are very popular with the tourists who keep Pacific Beach hotels and motels full many months a year.
Tourmaline Surfing Park
At the border of La Jolla and Pacific Beach, the end of Tourmaline Street leads to a rocky beach popular with surfers and beachgoers who walk dogs, jog, or enjoy sunsets (not necessarily swimming).
These are regulars who often congregate in the parking lot to socialize in between surf sessions. The small, free public parking lot fills up during peak times but usually has available spaces during non-peak days and times. Amenities include a public bathroom (not the greatest), showers, and several small picnic areas.
- Address: 601 Tourmaline Street, San Diego, CA 92109 (Map)
North Pacific Beach
Running south from Tourmaline to Crystal Pier, this wide stretch of beach is calmer and has lifeguard towers at Law and Diamond Streets. North Pacific Beach is popular with tourists, as well as with locals, during peak summer days.
The bathroom facilities at Law Street were recently renovated and are relatively nice (for beach bathrooms). This is where we often go to the beach, if not at La Jolla Shores. Law Street is the start of the Ocean Front Walk boardwalk that runs all the way to the end of Mission Beach.
Local kids also often take surfing lessons here as the waves are usually quite good for beginners. Parking in the residential streets in the area is fairly plentiful but fills up quickly in the summer.
- Address (Law Street Beach): 671 Ocean Blvd #601, San Diego, CA 92109 (Map)
Running from the Crystal Pier to Pacific Beach Drive, this is the biggest stretch of sandy beach in Pacific Beach and is among the most popular beaches in San Diego.
There are also bathrooms and small parking lots at Grand Avenue and Pacific Beach Drive, in addition to lifeguard stations. Bike rentals, beach bars, ice cream stands, and coffee shops dot the fun beach boardwalk that runs along this entire area.
- Address: Mission Beach and Grand Avenue, San Diego, CA 92019 (Map)
See also: Things to Do in Pacific Beach
12. Mission Beach
Mission Beach is a one-mile stretch of beach bounded by Pacific Beach to the north and terminates at the South Mission Beach jetty with Ocean Beach on the other side.
The broad sandy beach is popular with families, tourists, swimmers, surfers, volleyball players, and others. The people-watching here can have a Venice Beach-like aspect as well.
The oceanfront boardwalk continues from Pacific Beach and is lined with ice cream shops, beach bars, restaurants, and vacation rentals. Several lifeguard towers dot Mission Beach as well.
Near the midway point, at the intersection of Mission Boulevard and West Mission Bay Drive, a beachfront amusement park called Belmont Park features a wooden roller coaster called the Giant Dipper (originally built in 1925), carnival games, restaurants, and other rides. It’s a local icon with a free parking lot on each side.
South of Belmont Park, Mission Beach becomes quieter as the restaurants and bars transition to vacation rentals. Volleyball courts dot the beach here, with a rather large grouping of courts at the beach’s end near the jetty, where people like to go fishing.
Also, the calmer waters of Mission Bay are a short walk across Mission Beach’s main street, Mission Boulevard. SeaWorld San Diego is located on Mission Bay.
- Address: Mission Boulevard and Ventura Place, San Diego, CA 92019 (Map)
13. Ocean Beach
Immediately south of Mission Beach, Ocean Beach (or OB as it is universally known locally) is sort of the last stand in San Diego of the 1960s and 1970s Southern California beach town. (Though gentrification has gradually eaten away at that over the last 25ish years.)
As you drive west toward the beach down Newport Avenue, Ocean Beach’s main commercial thoroughfare, you will first pass a string of locally renowned antique shops, then a series of beachside bars and taco stands mixed amid organic restaurants, pottery, and craft shops, the original home of what many consider San Diego’s best hamburger, Hodad’s, and OB’s pseudo head shop, a multi-generational local institution called The Black, and past a youth hostel.
You will eventually end at the Ocean Beach Pier, where skateboarders, locals, hangers-on, homeless, and tourists congregate. Most people come away from a day in OB feeling that the day was unique, fun, and quirky, maybe with a couple of people watching stories mixed in.
If you dissect Ocean Beach, one may identify nearly a dozen beach spots. But for the casual visitor, there are just two.
Newport Avenue hits the beach at the end of the OB Pier, and the road curves right to the north. If you follow that road north a short distance, you will come to the Original Dog Beach.
Its northern border is the Mission Bay Harbor Channel and the jetty, so if you’re driving, you can’t miss it by driving past it. Dogs (and other pets) may run around here at any time without a leash. There is also a public parking lot.
- Address: End of Voltaire St, Ocean Beach, CA 92107 (Map)
Newport Avenue Beach (Ocean Beach Pier)
The most popular beach spot is the Ocean Beach Pier. Surfers can surf the south side of the pier but just yards north of that is a broad sandy beach that, in the summer, is full of beachgoers, sunbathers, families, swimmers, and bodyboarders.
As an aside, it is worth walking up on the pier itself, but it is temporarily closed for maintenance. When it’s open, it’s free and the panoramic view from the end is excellent. (It’s also usually dotted with people who are fishing.)
Street parking is also available on Newport Avenue and the surrounding residential streets. Just a few yards north is a lifeguard tower with public restrooms and showers, as well as beach volleyball courts.
- Address: End of Voltaire St, Ocean Beach, CA 92107 (Map)
14. Coronado Beaches
When most people think of Coronado, the iconic Hotel del Coronado, and the picturesque Coronado Bridge come to mind. Others probably also think of the US Navy. But Coronado’s long sandy beaches are consistently voted some of America’s best.
See also: Detailed Guide to the Best Coronado Beaches
Most day visitors to Coronado who want to go to the beach typically head for Coronado Central Beach, in front of the Hotel del Coronado. Locals and dog owners may head north of that to dog-friendly North Beach instead.
Like other excellent San Diego beaches, finding a parking spot (on the street or in a lot, free or paid) anywhere near the beach areas of Coronado can be a challenge. There is a pay parking lot adjacent to the Hotel del Coronado that fills up quickly even though it is pricey.
CORONADO BEACH TIPS & ALERTS
- A more sensitive ocean water testing system was implemented in San Diego County recently that triggers closers of the ocean for swimming when bacteria levels are considered high.
- The ocean beaches most impacted are from Coronado to the Mexico border.
- Closures are most likely to happen after rainfall, but there have been a few occasions in 2023 when closures were triggered with no rain.
- I am unsure how to advise people visiting in summer 2023 — the water should be fine, but no one can say for sure lately. We haven’t had complaints yet about staying at The Del during ocean closures because the beach itself is still open, and there’s still so much to do!
- You can check the latest status at sdbeachinfo.com (updated once per day), or @SDBeachH20 Twitter feed seems to have more recent updates. Multiple Coronado beach areas are tested. The station in front of the Hotel del Coronado is Coronado Lifeguard Tower. If that is green/open, you’re good to swim in front of the hotel.
Coronado Central Beach (Top Pick)
Coronado Central Beach is a 1.5-mile-long beach along Ocean Boulevard, anchored by Hotel del Coronado at the southern end. The beach is famous for the historic hotel, of course, but also because scenes from Some Like it Hot with Marilyn Monroe were filmed on the sand here.
This San Diego beach is popular with swimmers, sunbathers, and beachcombers. The beach is flat and wide, making it easier to find your place in the sand, which glimmers due to the presence of a mineral called mica. Tide pools also appear in front of The Del at low tides.
Find public restrooms and showers near the Central Beach Lifeguard Tower and a handful of fire rings and beach volleyball courts. Lifeguards are on duty here from 9 a.m. to sunset. Free street parking is available along nearby Ocean Boulevard. Beach wheelchairs are available at the main lifeguard tower.
- Address: Ocean Blvd and Isabella Avenue, Coronado, CA 92118 (Map)
The western part of this dog beach is leash-free year-round, as indicated by signs that run along Ocean Boulevard from Sunset Park to the U.S. Naval Station. It offers excellent views of the Hotel Del Coronado and Point Loma and tends to be less crowded.
Street parking is available along Ocean Boulevard, but it’s a bit of a walk to the beach from there.
- Address: Ocean Court and Ocean Boulevard, Coronado, CA 92118 (Map)
Coronado Ferry Landing Beach
The Coronado ferries to downtown depart from and arrive at the pier at Ferry Marketplace Landing. You’ll find a lovely bay beach with a grassy area on the west side of the pier. It’s a popular place to wait for your ferry, appreciate the downtown San Diego skyline view, or take a dip in the calm waters of San Diego Bay.
Note that this beach is on the opposite side of Coronado from Hotel del Coronado. It takes about 30 minutes to walk to the hotel from Ferry Landing Marketplace. A free summertime shuttle takes guests from the Ferry Landing to the other side of the island.
- Address: 1201 First Street, Coronado, CA 92118 (Map)
Silver Strand State Beach
This beautiful beach area is located 4.5 miles south of Coronado Village along the 7-mile isthmus called The Strand, the spit of land that connects Coronado to the mainland. A pedestrian tunnel underpass at Silver Strand State Beach enables access to a bayside beach and picnic areas and even Loews Coronado Bay Resort.
Here, visitors enjoy camping, boating, fishing, volleyball, kayaking, biking, sunbathing, and more. It’s less busy and a bit more rustic down here, so it’s also an excellent spot for shelling. A concession stand opens during summer.
Lifeguards are on duty, and the day-use parking lot holds 1000 cars at a price of $10-$15, depending on the day.
- Address: 5000 Highway 75, Coronado, CA 92118 (Map)
15. Imperial Beach
Just 5 miles north of the Mexican border, the 4-mile stretch of beach in Imperial Beach is the southernmost beach in all of California. In addition to the traditional day-at-the-beach-type activities, Imperial Beach offers excellent surf spots, fishing opportunities, beach volleyball courts, and even coastal horseback riding trails.
The Imperial Beach Pier, a few blocks south of Evergreen Avenue, boasts panoramic views of the ocean and shore, as well as of Mexico’s Los Coronados Islands (where a Prohibition-era casino was once located). Like other local beach piers, it’s a favorite spot to fish and watch the sunset.
An outdoor public art project around the pier named the Outdoor Surf Museum has also become a locally iconic image of Imperial Beach.
The area of the beach around the Pier, the most popular stretch of beach in Imperial Beach, has year-round lifeguards, as well as public restrooms and showers.
The City of Imperial Beach also operates seven public parks adjacent to or near various beach areas. These parks offer a mix of playgrounds, picnic areas, volleyball courts, restrooms, and more.
The Tijuana River National Estuary, where the Tijuana River’s fresh water meets the Pacific Ocean’s saltwater, is located in Imperial Beach. It is the largest saltwater marsh in Southern California and is among the best bird-watching spots in San Diego.
The downside is that sewage from Tijuana flows down the river and into the ocean prompting beach closures, but authorities keep an eye on this. Fixes and funding have been implemented to help mitigate the issue, but it is ongoing.
The annual Sun & Sea Festival in Imperial Beach is locally famous for its incredible sandcastle competition.
There is a mix of residential street parking and lot parking available around the beaches of Imperial Beach.
- Address (Pier): 10 Evergreen Ave, Imperial Beach, CA 91932 (Map)
FAQs About San Diego Beaches
Learn even more about where to go to the beach in San Diego and why they make my list of top things to do in San Diego.
What is the best beach to go to in San Diego?
La Jolla Shores Beach is the best beach in San Diego because not only is there a wide stretch of sand for general beach-going, but it’s also an access point to the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park.
This human-made ecological reserve is home to abundant sea life with unusually clear water for California. This means it’s a popular spot for snorkeling, diving, and kayaking. The reserve causes waves to (usually) break gently in front of the beach hotels here.
The beach is also divided for swimming and surfing, with lifeguards on duty year-round. See my guide to La Jolla Shores.
What is the best beach in San Diego for families?
La Jolla Shores is the best beach in San Diego for families. The ocean has a sandy bottom here, lifeguards are on duty year-round, the bathrooms run on the nicer side for a public beach, the sand is lovely, and there is a beachside playground.
Also, you can walk into the La Jolla Shores business district for sunscreen, snacks, and anything else you may have forgotten to pack or book yourself into one of the beachfront La Jolla hotels. See my guide to La Jolla Shores.
What is the most beautiful beach in San Diego?
The Coronado beach in front of the Hotel del Coronado is the most beautiful beach in San Diego. There is a mineral in the sand called mica that makes the water’s edge and sand throughout the beach sparkle with gold. See my guide to Coronado beaches.
What are the top beaches near downtown San Diego?
Downtown San Diego does not have beaches as it is on San Diego Bay. If you’re staying in a downtown San Diego hotel or have a quick airport layover, the best choice is to hop on the Coronado Ferry and head over to the Coronado beaches. Or, take a quick Uber to Newport Avenue Beach in Ocean Beach.
How far is the beach from San Diego?
San Diego County has 70 miles of coastline, so you’re never really far from the beach. From the airport, the closest beach is Ocean Beach to the north, about a 10-minute drive away.
What are the best swimming beaches in San Diego?
The ocean between La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Shores is one of the best spots for ocean swimming in the world. There are buoys marked at 1/4 and 1/2 mile points for serious ocean swimmers, but like anywhere else, it’s important to understand ocean conditions and your personal limits before heading out. Consult on-duty lifeguards.
Moonlight Beach, Del Mar City Beach, Coronado Central Beach, Mission Beach, and North Pacific Beach are also fantastic San Diego beaches for swimming.
Do you need a wetsuit to swim around beaches in San Diego?
A wetsuit is advisable between September and May (though many skip it) when ocean temperatures drop from summer highs. You can rent wetsuits from various surf shops around town, even in kids’ sizes.
Are San Diego beaches free?
Yes. San Diego beaches are free to enjoy. State beaches like Silver Strand in Coronado and Carlsbad State Beach charge fees to park in the lots. However, you may need to park in a public paid lot near any beach during peak season, as free lots and street parking do fill up.
What is the warmest beach in San Diego?
A sunny day is going to feel fantastic on any San Diego beach. To me, the wide sandy beaches along the boardwalk from North Pacific Beach down to South Mission Beach feel the warmest.
There aren’t any tall buildings, hills, or coves to interfere with direct sunlight, which heats the sand and everyone sitting on it (bring an umbrella). The same goes for Del Mar City Beach.
Can you drink alcohol on San Diego beaches?
Alcohol is prohibited on any San Diego beaches except for Del Beach, part of the Hotel del Coronado, and the private beach in front of the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club.
How is parking at San Diego beaches?
Parking at San Diego beaches is challenging during summer, school breaks, and sunny weekend days from late spring to early fall. Either arrive early or late or take an Uber. If you drive, be sure to bring shoes or sandals because the walk from your car to the beach may be a significant one.
What San Diego beaches have fire pits?
The beaches in San Diego with fire pits that are available on a first-come, first-served basis include:
- Oceanside Harbor Beach
- Pier View South
- Moonlight State Beach
- La Jolla Shores Beach
- Tourmaline Surfing Park
- South Mission Beach
- Ocean Beach (just south of Dog Beach)
- North Beach Coronado
- Silver Strand State Beach
Or, you can contact various services around town to set up bonfires. No permanent fire pit is required. You can reserve a Beach Roast through Hotel del Coronado also, complete with adult beverages and s’mores.
What beach is best for whale watching?
Unfortunately, our best places for whale watching in San Diego are not on the beaches. It’s possible, but somewhat difficult, to spot whales from the cliffs above some beaches early in the gray whale migration season when whales swim closer to shore.
You can try Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve and Cabrillo National Monument — at the very least, you’ll be treated to ocean views and great hiking trails. Otherwise, it’s best to take a boat tour out into the Pacific Ocean.
What is San Diego ocean quality like?
To check for ocean closures and conditions, check the always up-to-date County of San Diego Beach Water Quality website.
It’s important to note that our beaches are always open, but if the ocean water tests higher for bacteria levels than is deemed safe, the county will put out signage to warn swimmers from going into the ocean.
What are the best beaches between San Diego and LA?
Huntington Beach is one of the best beaches between San Diego and LA for a taste of surf culture, beachgoing, and amenities like concessions and rentals. The beach is enormous, with waves to surf but also to swim and boogie board.
You may also want to check out Laguna Beach, famous for its 30 small beaches, each with its own character, from waves to surf to tide pools to private coves. Main Beach is where the action is at and is best for general beachgoing.
Which do you think are the best San Diego beaches?