The 12 Best Beaches in San Diego

Teen girls going surfing in late afternoon
Stephen Simpson / Getty Images

They don't call California the Golden State for nothing and the beaches of San Diego County are a great place to experience some of the many reasons why. Down at the southern end of the state is where you'll find California's warmest waters, and travelers often plan a trip to San Diego for the beaches alone. With over 70 miles of coastline, you just have to decide which beach you want to visit.

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Coronado Beach

A man walking along the beach

TripSavvy / Sharyn Umaña-Angers

Address
Coronado Island, Coronado, CA 92118, USA

Regularly appearing on “best of” lists, mineral mica makes the golden sand at Coronado glisten—literally. The affluent community, especially along Orange Avenue, is home to shops, restaurants, and lots of resorts including the famous Hotel Del Coronado. It’s a great spot for brunch, a family vacation, or a romantic rendezvous.

The main beach is Coronado Beach, which runs along Ocean Boulevard and is divided into North Beach and Central Beach. You can find the Hotel del Coronado at the south end of Central Beach, but the entire stretch is a perfect patch of Pacific coastline. Because of Coronado's location, the waves are gentler than nearby beaches, which is ideal for families with kids who want to boogie board. During low tide, there are tide pools around Central Beach to explore. The North Beach area is one of the few beaches that allows dogs.

Free parking is surprisingly ample around Ocean Boulevard, a rare perk in Southern California. Coronado Beach has lifeguards on duty and there are bathrooms and shower facilities on site.

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Mission Beach

Mission Bay Park in San Diego, CA

TripSavvy / Ana Alarcon 

Address
Mission Beach, San Diego, CA 92109, USA

Mission Beach is a classic boardwalk town, including the timeless amusement park, Belmont Park, overlooking the ocean with its vintage wooden roller coaster. The beach area around Belmont Park is the most crowded, but things calm down as you walk south on the beach. It’s a good place to bike, boogie board, and fish off the jetty, while the quieter south end is known for its beach volleyball scene. A series of shipwrecks placed purposefully a half-mile off the coast to create an artificial reef has become a scuba diver’s nirvana.

Parking around Mission Beach is mostly residential, so consider taking a bus or biking there if you can. There are parking lots around Belmont Park and South Mission Beach Park with limited spots, but they fill up fast. There are lifeguard posts and bathrooms all along Mission Beach for visitors to use.

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La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove

TripSavvy / Sharyn Umaña-Angers

Address
La Jolla Cove, San Diego, CA 92037, USA

The beaches in and around this posh village feel like a postcard. Think white sand beaches, deep blue water, expert-level surf breaks, gentle bays, active kelp beds, rocky shores, dramatic cliffs, healthy reefs teeming with orange garibaldi fish, sea caves, wildlife, and grassy knolls.

La Jolla Cove affords amazing swimming, diving, and snorkeling thanks to rocky grottos, its sheltered location, and protective restrictions (there is no fishing, rafts, or surfboards allowed). Before you jump in to snorkel, just make sure to ask a lifeguard first since there are often strong currents. You can also kayak around the small cove to get views of the rocky cliffs from the water or to check out the sea lions who are out sunbathing.

The only downside is that La Jolla Cove is a small beach and it can quickly get crowded on summer days. There is limited free street parking around the beach, but check the signs because there's usually a time limit. If you want to enjoy the beach without worrying about a parking ticket, there are paid lots in the area and even a valet parking option.

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Windansea Beach

Windansea Beach and surfers with surf hut and surfer in the background

Scott A. Tugel / Getty Images

Address
Windansea Beach, San Diego, CA 92037, USA

A portmanteau of "wind and sea," Windansea is a locals-heavy and rock-strewn beach made notorious by Tom Wolfe’s story “The Pump House Gang.” The surf site with natural sandstone alcoves almost always provides waves with easy left/right peaks and is subsequently crowded, competitive, and highly territorial. The waves and currents are ideal for surfers but not so great for swimmers, so consider another local beach if you want to splash around.

Lifeguards supervise in the summer near the Sugar Shack, a Polynesian-style grass shack built in the 1940s by area surfers. Seasonally, whales can be spotted during their migration to Mexico from Windansea. There are a few parking spots above the beach, but if they're full, you'll have to look for nearby street parking.

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Torrey Pines State Beach

Torrey Pines

SanDiego.org

Address
12600 N Torrey Pines Rd, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA
Phone +1 858-755-2063

Torrey Pines has long stretches of serene sand ideal for family fun and laying out in the sun, but the real draw here is lush 300-foot sea cliffs that tower above it providing spectacular horizon views and nature walks through wildflowers and other native vegetation. The north section of the beach is geared toward families with calmer waters for swimming (there's also a lagoon for younger kids to safely swim). The south section has bigger waves and attracts surfers along with sunbathers who prefer to lay out nude.

Torrey Pines is administered by the state park system and there's a paid parking to enjoy the beach along with the hiking trails. There are bathrooms at the north end of the beach and also at the state park entrance. Lifeguards are on duty to watch over the beach year-round.

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Leucadia State Beach

Surfing in San Diego

SanDiego.org 

Address
Leucadia State Beach (Beacon's), 948 Neptune Ave, Encinitas, CA 92024, USA
Phone +1 760-633-2740

Go to this North County spot if it’s seclusion you seek as the beaches here are difficult to find. Leucadia is a small beach town that has three adjacent beaches called Grandview, Beacon's, and Stone Steps. San Diego beaches are laidback in general, but Leucadia is especially laidback even by San Diego standards with its quirky assortment of shops and eateries lining the main thoroughfare.

The entrances for the beaches are all along Neptune Avenue, which runs parallel to the coast. Keep an eye out for signs of where to enter because Neptune Avenue is a one-way street, so you'll have to circle back around if you miss it. This is a no-frills area with no lifeguards, bathrooms, or facilities, but you'll be rewarded with fewer crowds.

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Imperial Beach

Imperial Beach Pier

Karyl Carmignani / SanDiego.Org 

Address
Imperial Beach, CA, USA

Five miles from the border, this four-mile stretch of sand is the southernmost beach town in California, and that’s not its only claim to fame. The Tijuana River meets the ocean and creates the largest saltwater marsh in Southern California (Tijuana River National Estuary), which in turn creates an awesome spot for bird-watching. Contamination can be an issue so swim elsewhere.  Stroll the pier at sunset as fishermen cast madly or enjoy activities like surfing, beach volleyball, and horseback riding. It’s home to the massive Sun & Sea sandcastle festival and an outdoor surfboard museum. The narrow Silver Strand isthmus, popular for camping, connects Imperial to Coronado.

There's street parking around the town of Imperial Beach and a few public lots. The area around the pier is the most popular, so drive a few blocks out for a better chance at finding a spot. Bathroom facilities and lifeguards are available in the area around the pier.

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South Carlsbad State Beach

SUP in Carlsbad

Visit Carlsbad 

Address
South Carlsbad State Beach, California, USA

Affectionately called "Ponto" by the locals, South Carlsbad State Beach includes a mix of small beaches divided by sea walls, tidal wetlands, and lagoons. This popular North County beach attracts all types of beachgoers from surfers to families going out for a swim. Other activities include water skiing, kayaking, and scuba diving. You can also save money on accommodations and get the best view of all by booking a campsite at the beachside campground.

The only restrooms are located at the parking lot and at the state campground. There are also parking spots along Highway 101, which runs parallel with the beach.

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Moonlight State Beach

Moonlight Beach

Brett Shoaf / SanDiego.org 

Address
400 B St, Encinitas, CA 92024, USA
Phone +1 760-633-2740

Moonlight State Beach in the seaside town of Encinitas is one of the most visited beaches in North County because of its spacious sandy area and fun amenities like fire pits, sand volleyball courts, and a snack bar. There's also a large section of the beach that is reserved exclusively for swimmers, so you can hang out in the water and not worry about colliding with a surfboard (if you want to surf, nearby Swami's Beach is known as the surfing mecca in Encinitas).

There is a paid parking lot near the beach as well as free street parking around the entrance. However, it's a popular beach and fills up quickly on summer weekends. If there are huge crowds, D Street Beach is just south of Moonlight and typically attracts fewer visitors. Moonlight State Beach beach is fully equipped with bathrooms and on-duty lifeguards.

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Black’s Beach

couple at beach with swimsuits on ground

Rafael Ben-Ariv / Getty Images

Address
Black's Beach, California 92037, USA

Black Beach in La Jolla is not for the faint of heart. It's notoriously hard to get to, involving either a treacherous climb down unstable cliffs on a trail known for accidents or a two-mile hike south from Torrey Pines State Beach (which is inaccessible at high tide). While Black Beach may be difficult to reach, the remoteness is one of the reasons that people love it. That and because it's one of the only nude beaches in San Diego County (but clothing is only optional in the north section of the beach).

Because it's hard to reach and there are no lifeguards on duty, this isn't the beach to visit for families with young kids or visitors with mobility challenges. There are also no bathrooms or any other facilities on the beach. But if you're willing to embark on an adventure, it's one of the most rugged beaches in the county.

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Ocean Beach

Two dogs splashing at Ocean Beach, California.

r.e. bertlow / Getty Images

Address
5162 Cape May Ave, San Diego, CA 92107, USA

Just north of Point Loma, Ocean Beach is a small town and beach that feels like a throwback to a groovier time. Volkswagen vans drive past surf shops and taco stands, mainly along Newport Avenue, giving it a 1970s vibe. It has a pier at the south end that juts out into the Pacific, which is the epicenter for major events like the Wednesday markets, weekend street fairs, Oktoberfest, and more. Just south of the pier you'll find tide pools to explore when the water is low. The north end is known as "Dog Beach" since canines can be off-leash.

There are two parking lots for Ocean Beach guests, but they fill up quickly on summer days so arrive early or expect to look for street parking. Public restrooms are available and lifeguards are on duty to keep swimmers safe.

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Pacific Beach

P.B. surf line

SanDiego.org 

Address
Pacific Beach, California 92109, USA

The beach party never seems to stop in "P.B."—what the locals call Pacific Beach. Pacific Beach is the name of the neighborhood north of Mission Bay and also the name of the local beach. It's especially popular with young adults and college students thanks to the copious options of beach bars right along the sand. After dark, seaside nightclubs come alive and beach bonfires are ignited as the parties continue on well past sunset.

Parking in Pacific Beach neighborhood is always difficult, so use public transportation if possible or bike there. There are paid lots throughout the neighborhood, which are likely the easiest option if you're planning to spend the day there. There are bathrooms with showers around the Pacific Beach Pier and lifeguards working throughout the summer.

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The Best Beaches in San Diego