La Jolla Cove (Photo by Anzelina Coodey)

San Diego's Best Beaches

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Presidents and the hoi polloi alike retire to the beaches of Southern California to let the stress of their lives evaporate into the salt-laden air. They come to dig their feet in warm sands and hear the rhythm of pounding waves. Amid the distant bark of a bloviating bull seal, they come to spread out under the sun and peals of circling gulls. They come for vibrant sunsets and swelling seas. There are countless reasons to come to the beach, and plenty of reasons to stay. Whatever yours are, here are some of San Diego's best.


Coronado Beach


This dog-friendly and expansive beach is very active, particularly at tide pools.

Situated just east of the North Island Naval Air Station and across the North San Diego Bay from the San Diego International Airport, this family-friendly beach is open to the public year round. The central beach sits before Ocean Boulevard and the kind of beautiful mansions you expect to find in southern California. The beach's sparkling sand adds to the ambiance; grains of mica cause the beach to gleam. The view of the Pacific Ocean is breathtaking, and when the weather cooperates you can see all the way to the Coronado Islands.

  • PROS: Expansive beach. Free street parking. Lifeguards, and dog beach. Sand castle sculptures.
  • CONS: Weekend crowds.
  • REGION: San Diego Metro Area, CA
  • CONGESTION: High
  • DAY-USE/PARKING PASS REQUIRED:Not Required
  • BEACH:Open, sandy beach
  • TIDE POOLS: Yes
  • WILDLIFE: Seabirds


Surfing along Sunset CliffsPhoto by Aron Bosworth

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

An ecologically diverse 68-acre park with animal life, sea caves, and tide pools.

You are just as likely to run into locals as tourists at this ecologically-diverse 68-acre park. People are drawn to the tide pools and sea caves as well as the wide variety of plants and animals that call the park home. Waves crash spectacularly against steep sandstone cliffs, atop from which visitors have an exceptional view of the Pacific Ocean. The cliffs are constantly in the process of changing shape as the waves make small alterations in them. The water chisels off bits of stone, creating unique fissures, caves, and tide pools. A close look at the base of the cliffs reveals shale that has been there for at least 75 million years. Dinosaur enthusiasts will be happy to hear that mosasaurs once populated this area. Check out the San Diego Natural History Museum if you want to see mosasaur fossils in person.

  • PROS: Ocean and sunset views. Great running. Surfing.
  • CONS: Exposed bluff/cliff edges.
  • REGION: San Diego Metro Area, CA
  • CONGESTION: Moderate
  • DAY-USE/PARKING PASS REQUIRED:Not Required
  • BEACH:Rocky Shore
  • TIDE POOLS: No
  • WILDLIFE: Seabirds


Surfer at sunset at Ocean BeachPhoto by Yelena Sukhanov

Ocean Beach

A parrot-frequented beach close to downtown with good restaurants nearby.

Ocean Beach is a perfect go-to summer vacation destination. Located on the Point Loma peninsula, it's a 15-minute drive northwest from downtown San Diego. At the northern edge of Ocean Beach (dubbed O.B. by the locals) lies a large, unfenced dog beach that is adjacent to the San Diego River. Facilities here include a restroom, showers, and water fountains.

  • PROS: Amazing sunsets. Laid back atmosphere. Great restaurants.
  • CONS: Crowded during the summer.
  • REGION: San Diego Metro Area, CA
  • CONGESTION: High
  • DAY-USE/PARKING PASS REQUIRED:Not Required
  • BEACH:Open, sandy beach, Rocky Shore
  • TIDE POOLS: Yes
  • WILDLIFE: Seabirds, Sea Lions


Mission Beach

A boardwalked beach reminiscent of Atlantic City.

Mission Beach offers a unique boardwalk with a vibe reminiscent of East Coast beaches. Lifeguards keep watch over visitors throughout the year as they enjoy a variety of activities including sunbathing, swimming, and surfing. The Wave House features an artificial wave for water lovers who want a more predictable environment. Adventure seekers leave the water behind in favor of Belmont Park, home of a wooden roller coaster called the Giant Dipper that dates back to 1925. The coaster's colorful history features a devastating fire in 1958 and subsequent restorations. Belmont Park also contains an arcade, a carousel, and bumper cars.

  • PROS: Lively beach scene. Nearby urban amenities.
  • CONS: Busy on weekends.
  • REGION: San Diego Metro Area, CA
  • CONGESTION: High
  • DAY-USE/PARKING PASS REQUIRED:Not Required
  • BEACH:Open, sandy beach
  • TIDE POOLS: No
  • WILDLIFE: Seabirds


Tourmaline Surfing Park

No swimmers allowed makes this beach popular with surfers and kite boarders.

Unlike the majority of San Diego's beaches, swimming is prohibited in much of Tourmaline Surfing Park. Lifeguards can point you in the direction of a swimming area if that is your preferred beach activity, but the park, which is comprised of a beach and a free parking lot, is primarily popular among surfers and kiteboarders. For those who prefer to watch, there is plenty of space to sunbathe. It is easy to spend an entire day at Tourmaline Surfing Park enjoying the picnic tables, fire pits, public restrooms, and barbecues. You will want to arrive early if you are planning to snag a fire pit. Make sure to keep your fire in control; stacking wood more than a foot higher than the edges of the pit is not allowed. If you want to bring your dog, you may do so in the early morning and in the evening, but not between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. (note that these hours may change seasonally).

  • PROS: Surfing. Dog friendly after 4 p.m. Shower and bathrooms. Lifeguards.
  • CONS: Dogs prohibited before 4 p.m. Crowds.
  • REGION: San Diego Metro Area, CA
  • CONGESTION: High
  • DAY-USE/PARKING PASS REQUIRED:Not Required
  • BEACH:Open, sandy beach
  • TIDE POOLS: No
  • WILDLIFE: Seabirds, Harbor Seals


Sunset at Nicholson Point ParkPhoto by Anzelina Coodey

Nicholson Point Park

Off the beaten path, a rocky shore best for short explorations.

Just south of the more heavily trafficked La Jolla Cove is a small and unassuming shoreline with lots to see. The smooth rock formations at Nicholson Point Park contain pits, faults, and crevasses that host tide pools and provide resting places for many sea birds. Parking is less crowded along the residential Coast Boulevard than it is in the commercial area to the north. Look for the stairway down to the sandy beach, or maneuver down some sandy trails. Although most of the shore is rocky, there are some soft sandy areas which befit a spread blanket and picnic. If lounging or exploring tide pools isn't your thing, there are also options for surfing, swimming, and scuba diving. Take care to watch the surf, as the rocky shore can be dangerous for the inexperienced. Other activities include fishing and photography; the sunsets from this beach are phenomenal.

  • PROS: Interesting rock formations. Great bird watching. Easy access.
  • CONS: Parking may be limited. Not many sandy stretches.
  • REGION: San Diego Metro Area, CA
  • CONGESTION: High
  • DAY-USE/PARKING PASS REQUIRED:Not Required
  • BEACH:Open, sandy beach, Rocky Shore
  • TIDE POOLS: Yes
  • WILDLIFE: Seabirds


Sunset at Coast Boulevard ParkPhoto by Aron Bosworth

Coast Boulevard

Abundant sea life at this beach, including seals, which commandeer the Children's Pool, a swimming area originally built in 1932 for children.

Coast Boulevard Park is a small stretch of grass and sand overlooking the sea. It is situated between Coast Boulevard and the Pacific Ocean, and if you head north you will quickly come upon beach access. Just steps away is Cuvier Park, dubbed the "Wedding Bowl" due to its popularity as an outdoor wedding venue. The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego is just down the street from Coast Boulevard Park, and Mount Soledad is less than 2 miles away.

  • PROS: Fantastic sunsets. Easy access. Near tide pools and beach. Free parking.
  • CONS: None.REGION: San Diego Metro Area, CA
  • CONGESTION: High
  • DAY-USE/PARKING PASS REQUIRED:Not Required
  • BEACH:Open, sandy beach, Rocky Shore
  • TIDE POOLS: Yes
  • WILDLIFE: Seabirds, Harbor Seals


La Jolla Cove

A destination including one of the most photographed beaches in San Diego County.

La Jolla Cove is renowned for its prime kayaking, scuba diving, and snorkeling. But even if you're a landlubber, the scenic cove is still definitely worth a visit. The beach at the north end of Scripps Park is small, but it has great views and is in fact one of the most photographed beaches of San Diego county. From the small sandy beach, seals and the occasional sea lion are visible, basking on rocks just off-shore. Look out for the occasional Garibaldi, a bright orange fish which is unusually common in La Jolla Cove.

  • PROS: Great wildlife viewing. Ecologically significant. Easy to access.
  • CONS: Parking is difficult. Crowded.
  • REGION: San Diego Metro Area, CA
  • CONGESTION: High
  • DAY-USE/PARKING PASS REQUIRED:Not Required
  • BEACH:Open, sandy beach, Rocky Shore
  • TIDE POOLS: Yes
  • WILDLIFE: Seabirds, Harbor Seals, Sea Lions


Paragliders soar above Black's BeachPhoto by Aron Bosworth

Black's Beach

You'll have to hike a steep trail to this secluded, surfer-friendly beach.

The Gliderport Trail is one of a few ways to reach Black's Beach, including the Ho Chi Minh Hike. Unfortunately, you are in for a steep and relatively short hike no matter where you begin. This particular path is just shy of a mile long and descends 308 feet. The rugged terrain means that it is inadvisable to use the trail after dark, and you may want to lace up your hiking boots even if this is the only bit of hiking you're planning for the day. Partway down the dirt path you will find stairs, some of which are in various states of disrepair. If you have been staring at your feet thus far, take a moment to look out over the beach and across the water. When you reach the beach you can swap out your boots for sandals.

  • PROS: Secluded beach. Surfing. Great trail vistas.
  • CONS: Steep Trail. Dogs not allowed.
  • REGION: San Diego Metro Area, CA
  • CONGESTION: Moderate
  • DAY-USE/PARKING PASS REQUIRED:Not Required
  • BEACH:Open, sandy beach
  • TIDE POOLS: No
  • WILDLIFE: Seabirds


Torrey Pines State Beach

A beach with striped red cliffs and abundant waterfowl.

In 1930, less than a decade after Torrey Pines began to attract flight enthusiasts, Charles Lindbergh graced the area with his presence. He took off from Mount Soledad, gliding toward the juncture of land and sea, before landing in Del Mar. Thirty years later radio controlled model airplanes were swooping through Torrey Pines, and hang gliders had joined them by the 1970s. Modern day visitors are able to go tandem paragliding or tandem hang gliding. There are also classes geared toward thrill seekers who want to glide by themselves. Novices can take paragliding classes to prepare themselves for a solo flight, but those who want to hang glide independently must be at the intermediate level before taking classes at Torrey Pines Gliderport.

  • PROS: Pacific ocean vista. Intimate look at paragliding. Cliffhanger Cafe.
  • CONS: Can get windy.
  • REGION: San Diego Metro Area, CA
  • CONGESTION: Moderate
  • PREFERABLE SEASON(S):Winter, Summer, Fall
  • DAY-USE/PARKING PASS REQUIRED:Not Required
  • POINTS OF INTEREST:Viewpoint
  • DOGS ALLOWED: No

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