01 of 08
Mission Beach: Best for Walking
San Diego beaches are great in any season. Their appeal in summer is obvious, but that's not all. A sunny winter day is a good time to go for a waterfront walk and winter Pacific storms sometimes bring sensational waves.
If you're concerned about water conditions, the San Diego Union-Tribune has the latest surf and water quality reports.
You can browse through this guide page by page, or skip to the last page for ratings from our readers and lists of beaches by type.
The Beach That Isn't In This Guide - and Why
Many travel articles and publications tout Imperial Beach as San Diego's "hidden" beach, saying it's a wonderful find. Its ambiance is charming, but it's not without issues. Imperial and other beaches south of San Diego have problems with water quality, especially after a winter rain, so we don't recommend it.
Mission Beach has everything you'd expect from a stereotypical Southern California beach: volleyball players crashing in the sand, rollerbladers wearing next... to nothing, bicyclists and skateboarders showing off.
This two-mile long, urban beach is sandwiched between houses and a paved "boardwalk." The beach runs from the San Diego River channel to just north of Belmont Park.For a slice of California beach life at its best, take a walk along it. You can access it from any of the walking streets off Mission Boulevard.
The centerpiece of Mission Beach is Belmont Park, a seaside amusement park. It's home to the Giant Dipper, originally built in 1925, a classic carousel and some modern thrill rides. Also at Belmont Park is The Plunge, Southern California's largest indoor heated swimming pool.
The south end of the narrow beach sports a lot of well-maintained volleyball nets.
Mission Beach is a favorite with locals, who enjoy all kinds of activities. Compared to similar beach towns in Los Angeles' South Bay, it's a bit unkempt - but scruffy can be fun.
Mission Beach is best for: Playing beach volleyball or taking a walk.
What is There to Do at Mission Beach?
Besides the amusement park, you can ride a bike, walk, run or rollerblade on the paved path. Bike rentals are available near the amusement park. Visitors also go surfing, swimming or play beach volleyball.
Bonfires are allowed on the south end only. They must be in the provided fire pits - and not between midnight and 6:00 a.m. You can get firewood at the markets in town.
A half mile off the coast are a series of man-made shipwrecks, placed to create an artificial diver's reef.
What You Need to Know Before You Go to Mission Beach
There are no entrance fees and no parking fees.
You'll find everything you need to stay comfortable at Mission Beach, including restrooms and picnic tables. You can find all kinds of food at or near Belmont Park, with several spots that have patios and ocean views.
Lifeguards are on duty daily, year-round at the foot of Ventura Place. On the rest of the beach, they're only around in summer, usually on duty from 9:00 a.m. to dusk
Alcohol is allowed on the sand between noon and 8:00 p.m., but not on the boardwalk or in the parking lots.
Dogs are allowed only during limited hours and never between morning and late afternoon.
How to Get to Mission Beach
To get to Mission Beach, exit I-5 at the Balboa/Garnet Ave exit and turn toward the ocean. Garnet become Balboa and merges with Grand Avenue. When you reach Mission Boulevard, you'll be in Pacific Beach. Turn left on Mission Boulevard and you'll soon enter Mission Beach.
Try your luck (and your patience) cruising for rare streetside parking or use the lots near Belmont Park. If you take Mission Boulevard all the way to the end and turn right, you'll find a parking lot near the volleyball nets. You can also get to the boardwalk from any of the walking streets that intersect Mission Boulevard.Continue to 2 of 8 below.
02 of 08
Having a Doggone Good Time at Ocean Beach
Dogs are allowed at Ocean Beach, every day, off leash. If you're traveling with your four-legged canine friend, you can also go to Del Mar's Dog Beach, where the upscale pup goes to see and be seen.
San Diego's Ocean Beach is best for: Dogs! What else?
What is There to Do at San Diego's Ocean Beach?
Activities at Ocean Beach Dog Beach center around the canine set. Bring a ball or a frisbee for your dog to run after.
Many visitors bring their beach chairs and settle in, talking to other dog owners and watching their animals enjoy themselves.
For a quieter experience with a less-active or timid dog, you can also walk with your pet along the paved path that runs beside the water.
Ocean Beach as a whole is quite big and extends far past the dog play area.
What You Need to Know Before You Go to Ocean Beach
There are no entrance fees and no parking fees
You'll find restrooms and picnic tables. In summer, there's lifeguard service.
The paved walking path is accessible to anyone, even if you need... wheels to get around.
Consumption of alcohol is permitted on the beach from 12:00 noon to 8:00 p.m., but prohibited at all times in parking lots, adjoining walkways, and grassy parks adjacent to the beach.
Ocean Beach Dog Beach is open to canines any time. It's a small beach, but it has plenty of sand for the dogs to run on - and waves for them to run through. On weekends, up to 100 dogs may be there. Before you go, be sure you can control your dog, use a muzzle if there's any chance of trouble and keep vaccinations up to date.
The off-leash area begins north of the flood control jetty.
Dogs are allowed to run free on the beach, but must be leashed as you take them to and from your car.
Unfortunately, your fellow dog owners don't always clean up after their pets. Watch where you step.
Bring along your dog's favorite outdoor toys, and to keep the sand from getting full of unpleasant surprises, bring something to clean up with. Not only is it polite, it's the law.
It's just as well that this part of Ocean Beach is set aside for the dogs. Dangerous rip tides make it unsafe to swim.
You also need to know the beach rules, which include: no more than 3 dogs per one person, dogs must have a valid license displayed on their collar and females in heat are not allowed.
How to Get to Ocean Beach
To reach Ocean Beach Dog Beach, take I-8 west toward The Beaches. Where I-8 ends, turn left onto Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, then bear right staying on Sunset Cliffs toward the town of Ocean Beach. Turn right onto W. Point Loma. Ignore your GPS if it tries to route you onto Voltaire Street instead. Point Loma takes you to the same destination, but is less crowded and busy.
When you reach Voltaire Street, turn right into the beach parking lot.Continue to 3 of 8 below.
03 of 08
Coronado Beach: For Romantic Walks - and Families
Coronado is a great beach for all visitors. Downtown Coronado is nearby. The beach has lots of fine, clean sand and gentle waves. The surroundings are pretty and the Hotel Del Coronado sits beautifully on the oceanfront.
Gently sloping sand, small surf and year-round lifeguard also make Coronado Beach great for kids. Tired of water? They can bke, rollerblade, go shopping or try the ice cream at Hotel del Coronado.
Coronado Beach is also a lovely place for strolling hand-in-hand with your honey. You can take off your shoes and walk barefoot at the edge of the surf or stay on the paved pathway not far away, stopping to watch the sun set from one of the pathside benches.
The most popular part of Coronado Beach is around the hotel. North Coronado Beach is less busy, but further from restrooms and noisier, with airplanes landing overhead.
Just north of the hotel, you'll find a clump of small sand dunes - if you were a seagull - or a low-flying drone- you could see that they spell... C-O-R-O-N-A-D-O.
Coronado Beach is best for: Romantic evening walks, family beach play
What is There to Do at Coronado Beach?
Coronado Beach is great for just roaming around and playing in the sand. Beachcombing can be fun: The sand is often strewn with shell fragments - and a few whole ones.
You can also take a ride or walk on the paved path. Swimming is allowed, with a lifeguard on duty during daylight hours year round.
An evening bonfire on the beach is fun, but there are restrictions. Read all about them here.
What You Need to Know Before You Go to Coronado Beach
No entrance fees or parking fees for the beach, but you may have to pay to park in town.
You'll find restrooms and showers, and food nearby at the hotel or in town.
No alcohol - or any kind of glass containers - are allowed on the beach.
Dogs are allowed, but only at North Coronado Beach, from Sunset Park to the North Island Naval Base.
Perfection has its price. It's hard to find parking on busy days
Noisy airplanes come in for a landing overhead on the north end
In summer, San Diego beaches are subject to red tides.
Stingrays settle in the sand at the beach. They're hard to see - and you risk a painful sting if you don't. Shuffle your feet as you walk to keep from stepping on one. You may also want to check the water quality before you go.
Parking during a busy mid-day can range from very hard to almost impossible. Even the locals can't offer much in the way of advice except to come early and be prepared to walk.
How to Get to Coronado Beach
Coronado Beach is on Coronado Island, across the bay from downtown San Diego. From I-5, take the Coronado Bay Bridge exit and go over the bridge. Turn left at the first traffic light onto Orange Avenue.
You will find some street parking near the Hotel del Coronado and an underground parking garage to the right of Orange Avenue on R H Dana Place.
There's more beach parking at Avenida de la Arenas, south of the Hotel Del.Continue to 4 of 8 below.
04 of 08
Windansea Beach: Best for Surfing
Windansea Beach is a beautiful, rock-strewn beach famous for its "surf break," the waves crashing right at the shoreline. It's also a great place to go whale-watching during their migrations to and from Mexico.
In 1940s Windansea surfers built a Polynesian-style, sideless hut on the beach. Legend says it was nicknamed "Sugar Shack" for romantic encounters that happened there, despite its lack of privacy. In the 1960s, the gang of surfers who protected their turf at Windansea inspired author Tom Wolfe's novel The Pumphouse Gang.
The rocky cliffs make it somewhat difficult to get down to the small beach, and at high tide, sand is scarce.
Windansea Beach is best for: Surfing - and watching the surfers. It's also a beautiful place to take photographs, or just enjoy the view.
What is There to Do at Windansea Beach?
Surfing is popular. The surf breaks are very close together and can get quite crowded. Novice surfers may be better off at La Jolla Shores.
If you go swimming, enter and exit the water... carefully to prevent injuries on the rocks.
Scuba diving IS NOT recommended because of the surf break. The rocky location is not suitable for beach bonfires.
What You Need to Know Before You Go to Windansea Beach
No entrance fees or parking fees
No restrooms in the area
A lifeguard on duty daily in summer, and on weekends spring and fall.
Alcohol is permitted on the beach from 12:00 noon to 8:00 p.m. only, but not in the parking lot, on the walkway or grassy area.
Pets are allowed only between 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 a.m., and they must be on a leash.
The rocky coastline with its wild waves is not a good place to take the kids.
How to Get to Windansea Beach
In most GPS and mobile navigation systems, you can just type in the beach name. If that doesn't work, try navigating to 6831 Neptune Place, which is across the street from the parking lot.
There is a small parking lot with about 15 spaces, or you can look for street parking in the nearby neighborhood.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
05 of 08
La Jolla Cove: Best Tide Pools
La Jolla Cove sits just below Ellen Browning Scripps Park in downtown La Jolla. The sandy part of this beach is quite small, and ringed by high, rocky cliffs. At high tide, the surrounding rocks trap water that stays behind as many tide pools when the tide goes out, and adults and kids alike enjoy peering into them.
Located on an ecological preserve and with clear water, La Jolla Cove is also a popular place for scuba diving.
La Jolla Cove is best for: Exploring the tidepools and scuba diving.
Swimming is allowed and a lifeguard is often on duty, but the most fun thing to do is check out the tidepools and the creatures living in them.
Scuba diving and snorkeling are also popular. Water visibility sometimes exceeds 30 feet.
What You Need to Know Before You Go to La Jolla Cove
There's no entrance fee. There is no parking at La Jolla Cove, and the best bet is to park in downtown La Jolla, where you may have to pay a parking fee.
Restrooms and picnic tables are located on the clifftop. You'll... find plenty of food nearby in downtown La Jolla.
Alcohol is permitted on the beach from 12:00 noon to 8:00 p.m. only.
Pets are allowed only between 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 a.m., and they must be on a leash.
La Jolla Cove's small size sometimes cannot accommodate the number of people who want to be on it.
If you want to enjoy the tide pools, you need to get to La Jolla Cove at low tide. Check the tide times before you go.
How to Get to La Jolla Cove
From downtown La Jolla, follow the signs, taking Girard from Prospect Street to Ellen Browning Scripps Park. The cove is at the bottom of the stairway.Continue to 6 of 8 below.
06 of 08
La Jolla Shores: Romantic and Good for Kids
La Jolla Shores Beach is a long, gently-sloping beach with beautiful views of La Jolla Cove. Waves are gentle, making it a favorite of families and novice surfers.
The sand is clean and strewn with small shells. It's great for making sand castles, soaking up some sun or just about anything you like to do at the beach.
Because the beach slopes so gently, much of the sand is well-packed, making it an excellent place to walk or run.
La Jolla Shores is so nice that everyone wants to go there. It gets very crowded on weekends, especially in summer. If your schedule is flexible, go on a weekday.
What is There to Do at La Jolla Shores Beach?
Surfing and swimming are allowed. A lifeguard is on duty.
La Jolla Shores is also a good place to go ocean kayaking. It's also a popular place to run on the sand and you can walk or run to the Scripps Pier.
What You Need to Know Before You Go to La Jolla Shores Beach
No entrance fees or parking fees
You'll find restrooms and picnic tables in the nearby park.
Fire... rings are provided for evening bonfires, but they are very popular. Get there early and stake your claim. Bonfires are not allowed between midnight and 5:00 a.m.
Several restaurants can be found on nearby Avenida de la Playa
Alcohol is not allowed at any time. Pets are allowed only between 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 a.m., and they must be on a leash.
How to Get to La Jolla Shores Beach
In most GPS and mobile navigation systems, you can just type in the beach name. If that doesn't work, try navigating to 1345 Camino del Oro, which is across the street from the parking lot.Continue to 7 of 8 below.
07 of 08
Best San Diego Beaches by Type
We've listed the beaches below by the activities they're best for. Bur first, tell us which one you like best.
Best Beach for Walking
Mission Beach: For a slice of California beach life at its best, take a walk along the paved boardwalk that runs between the houses and the sand. You can access it from any of the walking streets off Mission Boulevard.
Best Beach for Volleyball
Mission Beach: The south end of this narrow beach sports a lot of well-maintained volleyball nets.
Best Beaches for Kids
Coronado Beach: With downtown Coronado nearby, lots of clean sand and gentle waves, this is a great place to take the kids.
La Jolla Cove: One of the smallest beaches, it has some great tidepools.
La Jolla Shores: This long, flat beach is a great place for the kids to run around.
Best Beach for Dogs
Ocean Beach Dog Beach: Dogs area allowed to run free on the beach, every day. A bit further for tourists to travel but great for locals is Del Mar's Dog Beach, where the upscale pup goes to see and be seen.
Best... Beach for Amusements
Mission Beach: Belmont Park is home to the Giant Dipper, originally built in 1925, a classic carousel and some modern thrill rides. The Plunge is Southern California's largest indoor heated swimming pool.
Best Beach to Bare It All
Blacks Beach: This clothing-optional beach is one of the country's most popular.
Best Beach for Sandcastles
Imperial Beach The U. S. Open Sandcastle Competition is America's largest and longest-running sand castle competition.
Best Beach for Surfing
Windansea: Windansea is considered one of San Diego's best surfing beaches, but it's not for novices.
Best Beach for a Romantic Stroll
La Jolla Shores: This long, flat beach is a great place for a hand-in-hand stroll, and it's got great views of La Jolla.
Best Beach for Tidepools
La Jolla Cove: One of the smallest beaches, it has some great tidepoolsContinue to 8 of 8 below.
08 of 08
San Diego Beach Getaways, Hotels and Camping
If you really love the beach and want to center your vacation or getaway around it, try these:
Best for a Beach Weekend
Coronado Island and Beach: This charming island isn't really an island but a peninsula, and its beach is one of the country's best.
San Diego Beach Hotels
San Diego has some great hotels that are right on the beach. So close you'll worry about tracking sand into your room. Find them all in the San Diego Beach Hotel Guide.
San Diego Beach Camping
You can also find some places to camp at the beach in San Diego. They're in the Southern California Beach Campground Guide.