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San Diego Beaches

Mission Beach Boardwalk and Amusement Park
San Diego Beaches
San Diego’s coastline comprises a variety of beaches and landscapes. Explore colorful sandstone cliffs, walk sparkling white sands, visit iconic boardwalks, or enjoy water sports like surfing, scuba diving, and kayaking.
By Rajam Roose, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Rajam Roose
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    Mission Beach Boardwalk and Amusement Park
    Mission Beach Boardwalk and Amusement Park
    Spanning more than three miles, Mission Beach and adjoining Pacific Beach offer a little bit of everything for those seeking sun, sand, and fun. The boardwalk extends from Mission Beach to the northern portion of Pacific Beach and is usually busy with in-line skaters, cyclists, walkers, and joggers. Stroll the entire length, taking in the beautiful homes along the shore as you go. Also worth visiting is Belmont Park, a beachfront amusement park that features a wooden roller coaster from the 1920s.
    Photo by Rajam Roose
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    Wildlife at the Beach
    Wildlife at the Beach
    Seals and sea lions can often be seen napping on buoys out in San Diego Bay but, for the best wildlife spottings, head to the beaches of Children’s Pool and La Jolla Cove. A small stretch of sand on the gorgeous coast of La Jolla, Children’s Pool is named for its signature seawall, built in 1931 to create a safe place for kids to play in the ocean. Today, the area is a rookery for harbor seals—during the winter months, you can even spot mother seals nursing their babies. At La Jolla Cove, seals and sea lions drape their bodies over every available piece of land. Be warned, though: There can be a strong odor here.
    Photo by Steve Minkler/age fotostock
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    The Ocean as Playground
    The Ocean as Playground
    There is lots to do on San Diego’s beaches beyond sunning and swimming. Most have lifeguards on duty year-round, making the sparkling blue waters especially inviting. Around Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, and La Jolla Shores, there are several places to rent equipment for everything from surfing to scuba diving. Take a kayak to explore the sandstone cliffs, hidden caves, and private coves along the La Jolla coastline, or go on a guided leopard-shark-snorkeling tour and observe the docile creatures in their natural habitat. For activities not involving the water, South Mission Beach, Ocean Beach, and Coronado Beach all have volleyball courts, while most others have public fire pits for evening bonfires.
    Photo by Rajam Roose
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    Dramatic Cliffs and Hiking Trails
    Dramatic Cliffs and Hiking Trails
    In San Diego, some beaches are just long stretches of sand, while others include dramatic sandstone bluffs. As its name suggests, Sunset Cliffs is a beautiful place to be at day’s end. Walk the trail along the top and watch the rocks’ colors shift as the sun sinks over the Pacific. Equally beautiful are the crags of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, from which lucky observers might spot a pod of dolphins or, depending on the time of year, the spouts of migrating whales. Torrey Pines also boasts several trails (where hikers can see the rare native tree for which the beach is named) and an interactive nature center (which offers informative walks).
    Photo courtesy of Lisa Field/San Diego Tourism Authority
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    Where to Find Tide Pools
    Where to Find Tide Pools
    Wonderful places to explore, tide pools allow you to get up close and personal with a variety of ocean creatures, from starfish, sea urchins, and limpets, to anemones, barnacles, crabs, and even jellyfish. For the best in San Diego, head to the rocky tip of Point Loma, where a large section of tide pools is reachable by car or a short hike down from the Cabrillo National Monument. Another great spot is Shell Beach, located at the south end of Ellen Browning Scripps Park in La Jolla. Just be prepared for the steep flight of concrete steps.
    Photo by Rajam Roose
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    Diving San Diego
    Diving San Diego
    The ocean around San Diego is rich with marine life and, while the water temperature and visibility can be low, the area still offers some great scuba diving. Below the surface, you can expect to spot bright orange garibaldi (the official California state marine fish), rockfish, leopard sharks, sea lions, dolphins, guitarfish, stingrays, sponges, reef fish, octopi, lobsters, and eels. Experienced divers can head straight to La Jolla Canyon (in La Jolla Shores) or Scripps Canyon, but beginners will be more comfortable at La Jolla Cove and the reefs near the Marine Room restaurant; companies like Scuba San Diego offer lessons. Both locations also have free parking, and several shops for renting gear are nearby here in La Jolla.
    Photo by Rajam Roose
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    Catch a Wave
    Catch a Wave
    There are several places to surf in San Diego, but one of the most popular is Tourmaline Surfing Park, which is great for all ages. If you’re just starting out, head to the easy waves at La Jolla Shores and take a lesson with a local surfing company. Advanced surfers should try Windansea Beach or Black’s Beach, where the arduous hike down the cliffs keeps crowds away from some of the city’s best surf. While the waves are good any time of year, the swells are best in the fall—and the beaches are less crowded.
    Photo courtesy of San Diego Tourism Authority
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    Beautiful Beaches
    Beautiful Beaches
    One of the most beloved beaches in San Diego can be found on Coronado Island, where the long shoreline is divided into South Beach, Central Beach, and North Beach. About a mile and a half long, the central portion features sparkling sand and sweeping views of the Pacific coast, including Point Loma and Mexico. Toward the southern end, visitors will find the famous Hotel del Coronado, one of the largest wooden structures in the U.S., as well as the shipwrecked hull of an old gambling boat, the SS Monte Carlo. For even more sandy bliss and breathtaking views, be sure to also check out Silver Strand State Beach.
    Photo by Michael J. Hipple/age fotostock
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    Secluded and Romantic Beaches
    Secluded and Romantic Beaches
    Along portions of San Diego’s coastline, you may discover sandstone outcrops that reveal hidden stretches of sand. Black’s Beach and Garbage Beach can be accessed via steep trails cut into the cliffs—use caution, and remember that the north part of Black’s is clothing-optional. If you’re seeking something secluded but slightly easier to locate, try Marine Street Beach, where there’s also plenty of free parking in the surrounding neighborhood. For romance without the isolation, go to Silver Strand State Beach, which boasts breathtaking views of the Pacific and San Diego skyline, or Windansea Beach, where you’ll find sandstone rocks poking out along the shores.
    Photo courtesy of Joanne DiBona/San Diego Tourism Authority