The truth is, you’d be hard pressed to find a less-than-stellar beach in San Diego. With 70 miles of coastline, the county is home to 31 epic beaches that fulfill the dreams of every surfer, sun worshipper, and salt-water lover. Whether you’re looking for a stress-free place to take the kids or a popular destination for seaside shopping and dining, San Diego has something for you. Here are 12 of the best beaches in San Diego to check out on your next SoCal excursion.
La Jolla Cove
- Best for: Lovingly observing the sea lions
Yes, La Jolla Cove has earned a reputation as a bit of a tourist trap, but it’s for good reason. Visitors and locals alike flock to the small inlet to take in the views and to watch the sea lions live their best lives. While they sun themselves on the south side, their famous counterparts, the Pacific harbor seals (sometimes called La Jolla seals) relax and play nearby at the Children’s Pool. Both species are cute and loud but definitely not cuddly, so snap pics of their antics from a distance.
La Jolla Shores
- Best for: Snorkeling, diving, and exploring the underwater universe
While La Jolla Cove is known for its wildlife scene above the water line, La Jolla Shores provides plenty of spots for seeing what lies below on a snorkeling or diving trip. La Jolla Kayak offers fully guided snorkel tours around the area’s ecological reserve, allowing participants of all levels to observe everything from bright orange garibaldi fish to leopard sharks. The area is also home to shallow reefs and a deep submarine canyon—you can explore both with scuba guides like the pros at Waterhorse Charters.
- Best for: Enjoying evening bonfires
Coronado Beach is one of San Diego’s prime places to host a bonfire, with several firepits open on a first-come, first-served basis on the north end of the beach. If hosting isn’t your thing, you can always just show up to the historic Hotel del Coronado on any given evening from 6 to 8 p.m. The Victorian beach resort has hosted celebrities, presidents, and royals since its opening in 1888. Reserve a one-hour time slot for a group bonfire, and the hotel will provide all the necessary items to roast the perfect s’mores.
South Ponto Beach, Carlsbad
- Best for: Catching consistently great waves
San Diego as a whole is largely considered one of the state’s greatest surf havens, but Carlsbad (located in the northern region of SD County) stands out as a fan favorite. The city’s South Ponto Beach in particular has something for everyone, with impressive swells in the northern and southern portions for more experienced athletes, and plenty of picturesque sunbathing spots for spectators. Curious newbies are also welcome to test the waters with the guidance of experts, like those at Surfin Fire, which offers private lessons and camp sessions.
- Best for: Shopping for fresh farmers’ market goodies
If lying on the sand isn’t your thing, you can still enjoy a day at the beach while getting your steps in and shopping up a storm. One of the main attractions of Ocean Beach (commonly known as “OB”) is the weekly farmers’ market that takes place on Wednesdays from 4 to 8 p.m. The popular event draws crowds looking to sample local culinary treats, load up on fresh, organic fruits, and fill their shopping totes with plants, handmade crafts, and other items.
Moonlight Beach, Encinitas
- Best for: Keeping the kids entertained
Few San Diego seaside spaces are more family-friendly than Moonlight State Beach in Encinitas. The waves are mild, lifeguards are on duty year-round, and there’s plenty of room for sports at the designated volleyball and tennis courts. The numerous picnic tables and grills make Moonlight Beach an ideal venue for birthday parties, and the pièce de résistance is the colorful, ocean-themed playground complete with multiple slides, climbing structures, and surf-inspired scenes for make believe.
Oceanside Boulevard Beach
- Best for: Spending all day in the water
If your only beach wish is to spend all day in the water, head to Oceanside Boulevard Beach, where you can enjoy the waves without needing surf expertise. While the shore is rocky, a 200-foot expanse is specifically designated for swimming, wading, and body-boarding in the summer. (Surfing is actually prohibited for safety reasons, so there’s space for everyone to have a good time.) A nearby pier offers opportunities for boating, fishing, and paddleboarding, and Harbor Village is a 15-minute drive away; it has plenty of non-salt-water activities, like a farmers’ market and restaurants. (Harbor Fish & Chips is a favorite that’s been in business for 50 years.) With new hotels and a downtown to explore, you can make a whole weekend out of Oceanside.
- Best for: Classic amusement park vibes
While NorCal lays claim to the state’s oldest beachside amusement park (Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk), San Diego’s Mission Beach gives the historic site a run for its money. The beach is home to the popular Belmont Park, an oceanfront playland that opened in 1925. The park’s main attraction is the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster, which has been in operation since day one; the seven-acre entertainment destination is home to dozens of rides, arcades, and even adult-friendly cocktail stops (like Draft, a sports bar with a 31-foot LED screen and 55+ local beers on tap).
- Best for: Surf spectatorship and seafood
Yes, the name is literal. Grandview Beach offers some of San Diego County’s most expansive views, making it the ideal location for watching experienced surfers ride the waves year-round thanks to the consistent swell. The site’s wooden staircase is the most popular spot for spectating, and the plentiful palm trees and surrounding cliffs create a picturesque panorama. Anyone who gets tired of the action can also explore the shore at low tide where various tide pools are populated with small fish, crabs, anemones, and other ocean dwellers. And for those simply in it for the food: Fish 101 is a top choice for grilled, fried, and fresh tuna, shrimp, mahi mahi, and more.
San Onofre State Beach
- Best for: Nerding out about history
While San Onofre State Beach does have all the typical draws of a perfect San Diego day on the sand (idyllic waves, scenic views, coastal wildlife), what makes this beach stand out is its rich history. Considered one of the birthplaces of modern California surfing, San Onofre has an even deeper past as the home to Panhe, the village and burial site of the “Acjachemen” people over 8,000 years ago. To learn more about that heritage, drive 10 minutes to the San Clemente Historic Cottage, which houses a visitor center replete with more historic info. The beach was also once home to the (now permanently closed) San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant, and anyone interested in a walking tour can sign up for a 1.5-hour lesson in decommissioning and safety plans.
- Best for: Getting rowdy before and after dark
If you’re on a mission to party your way through SD but would prefer to skip the notorious bar scene of downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter, you can find plenty of fun around Pacific Beach. The area is full of outdoor and rooftop bars so you can feel the ocean breeze, and there are lots of places to dance the night away. PB Avenue is one of the area’s most popular nightclubs, playing nothing but house beats, and locals convene at Firehouse for daily breakfast until 3 p.m. and bottle service on the weekends.
Torrey Pines State Beach
- Best for: Hang gliding, paragliding, tandem flights, and nonstop adventure
Anyone who loves a little drama and a lot of adrenaline to accompany their beach day won’t want to miss Torrey Pines Beach, located in La Jolla about 15 miles north of downtown San Diego. Torrey Pines Gliderport is famous for its ideal wind conditions, making it a draw for experienced hang gliders and paragliders. For those who crave an aerial perspective of the cliffs and coastline but aren’t quite confident enough to go solo, there are plenty of training programs as well. And for those who prefer to keep their feet planted firmly on the ground, the jaw-dropping view looks just fine from the designated spectator spot.