The 7 Best San Diego Beaches

01 of 07

San Diego Beaches

teen girls going surfing, low tide, late afternoon, San Diego
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San Diego beaches are great in any season. Their appeal in summer is obvious, but that's not all. A sunny winter day is an excellent time to go for a waterfront walk, and winter Pacific storms sometimes bring sensational waves.

If you're looking for the answers to your most pressing questions, like "What is the best beach in San Diego for families or what is the most beautiful beach in San Diego?" you'll find them below in the "best for" sections.

Red Tide in San Diego

San Diego beaches are prone to red tides, a summer phenomenon caused by a type of plankton. While not as dangerous as their East Coast cousins, these micro-organisms make the water murky and give it a fishy smell.

On the bright side, they also give off flashes of light when disturbed at night and can create a blue glow in the water.

Because the plankton makes a tasty meal for other sea creatures, red tides are often accompanied by large numbers of jellyfish. Find out everything you need to know about red tides.

Nude Beaches in San Diego

Blacks Beach is the only nude beach in San Diego. It also is one of the country's most popular place for clothing optional recreation.

The Beach That Isn't in This Guide

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 in south San Diego County have problems with water quality, especially after a winter rain, so it isn't recommended.

02 of 07

Mission Beach

People in the water at Mission Beach, California.
Brigitte Blättler/Getty Images

Mission Beach has everything you'd expect from a stereotypical Southern California beach: volleyball players crashing in the sand, rollerbladers wearing next to nothing, and 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 a seaside amusement park, Belmont Park. It's home to the Giant Dipper, 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.

On the south end of the narrow beach, you'll find a forest 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, taking a walk and its seaside amusement park

What Is There to Do?

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 a.m. You can get firewood at the markets in town.

A half mile off the coast are a series of manufactured shipwrecks, placed to create an artificial diver's reef.

What to Know Before You Go

There are no entrance or 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 morning until dusk.

Alcohol is allowed on the sand between noon and 8 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.

Before you go, you may also want to check the water quality.

How to Get There

To get to Mission Beach, set your GPS or navigation to Mission Beach, California.

When you get there, try your luck (and your patience) cruising for rare streetside parking or use the lots near Belmont Park. If you take Mission Boulevard 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.

The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System provides bus/trolley directions for Mission Beach and many popular destinations.

03 of 07

Ocean Beach

Two dogs splashing at Ocean Beach, California.
r.e. bertlow/Getty Images

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?

Activities at Ocean Beach Dog Beach center around the canine set. Bring a ball or a Frisbee for your dog to run after. Check out more dog-friendly beaches in San Diego here.

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 to Know Before You Go

There are no entrance or parking fees.

You'll find restrooms and picnic tables. In summer, there are lifeguards available.

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 noon to 8 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, but it's also 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 three 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 There

To reach Ocean Beach Dog Beach, set your GPS to Ocean Beach, San Diego

When you get into town, Turn right onto West Point Loma and 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.

04 of 07

Coronado Beach

Coronado Beach at sunset
Chiara Salvadori/Getty Images

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 sitting beautifully on the oceanfront is the Hotel Del Coronado.

Gently sloping sand, small surf, and year-round lifeguards also make Coronado Beach great for kids. Are they tired of water? They can bike, rollerblade, go shopping, or try the ice cream at Hotel del Coronado.

On the beach, 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 sunset from one of the benches along the path.

The most popular part of Coronado Beach is around the hotel. North Coronado Beach is not as 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, and family beach play. You can also plan an entire beach weekend there if you stay in one of the nearby hotels.

What Is There to Do?

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.

What to Know Before You Go

There are no entrance 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.

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.

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.

To get to Coronado, you have to cross a long, very high bridge. Or take a ferry from the San Diego waterfront and walk or call a ridesharing service.

How to Get There

Coronado Beach is on Coronado Island, across the bay from downtown San Diego. Set your GPS to Coronado Beach or the Hotel Del Coronado.

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.

Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07

Windansea Beach

Windansea Beach and surfers with surf hut and surfer in the background
Scott A. Tugel/Getty Images

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. Learn more about San Diego whale-watching here.

In the 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 challenging to get down to the small beach, and at high tide, and sand is scarce.

Windansea Beach Is Best For: Surfing and watching the surfers. It's also a beautiful place to take photographs, or simply enjoy the view.

What Is There to Do?

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 to Know Before You Go

There are no entrance or parking fees.

There are no restrooms in the area.

There is a lifeguard on duty daily in summer and on weekends in the spring and fall.

Alcohol is permitted on the beach from noon until 8 p.m. only, but not in the parking lot, on the walkway, or grassy area.

Pets are allowed only between 6 p.m. and 9 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 There

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.

06 of 07

La Jolla Cove

Sea lions paying a visit to La Jolla Cove
Isabelle Engler/Getty Images

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, scuba diving and for the kids to explore.

What Is There to Do?

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 to Know Before You Go

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 noon until 8 p.m. only.

Pets are allowed only between 6 p.m. and 9 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 There

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.

07 of 07

La Jolla Shores

Kids and birds, hanging out at La Jolla Shores each in California.
mlio92/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

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.

La Jolla Shores Is Best For: Walking or running on the sand, playing with the kids, romantic sunset strolls. It is also the most beautiful beach in San Diego.

What Is There to Do?

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 to Know Before You Go

There are no entrance 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 a.m.

Several restaurants are nearby on Avenida de la Playa.

Alcohol is not allowed at any time. Pets are allowed only between 6 p.m. and 9 a.m., and they must be on a leash.

How to Get There

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.

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