San Diego Beaches

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San Diego Beaches
San Diego's coastline comprises a variety of beaches and landscapes. Explore colorful sandstone cliffs, walk on glistening white sands, visit iconic boardwalks, or enjoy water sports like surfing, diving, and kayaking.
By Rajam Roose, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Rajam Roose
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    Mission Beach Boardwalk and Amusement Park
    Spanning nearly two miles, Mission Beach and adjoining Pacific Beach have a little bit of everything for folks who enjoy sun, sand, and fun. The boardwalk extends from Mission Beach to the northern portion of Pacific Beach and is usually busy with rollerbladers, cyclists, walkers, and joggers. Strolling the boardwalk is a great way to see the beach home architecture. The Belmont Park beachfront amusement park has a wooden roller coaster that dates back to the opening of the park in the twenties.
    Photo by Rajam Roose
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    Wildlife at the Beach
    Out in San Diego Bay, seals and sea lions can often be seen napping on buoys in the water, but the beaches with the most wildlife are along Children's Pool and La Jolla Cove. Children's Pool is a small beach located on the gorgeous coastline of La Jolla neighborhood. In 1931, a seawall was built to create a safe place for children to swim and play in the ocean, and now the beach is a rookery for harbor seals. During the winter months, people can observe the mother seals nursing their babies. At La Jolla Cove, seals and sea lions drape their bodies over every available piece of land; be warned, there is a strong odor.
    Photo by Steve Minkler/age fotostock
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    The Ocean as Playground
    There is lots to do around San Diego's beaches. Most have lifeguards on duty year-round, making the sparkling blue waters of the Pacific especially inviting. There are plenty of spots—particularly around Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, and La Jolla Shores—to rent equipment for water sports, from surfing to scuba diving. Adventurous travelers can take a kayak and explore the sandstone cliffs, hidden caves, and private coves along La Jolla coastline. Another option is to go on a guided leopard shark snorkeling tour and observe these docile creatures in their natural habitat. Away from the water, volleyball courts are available at South Mission Beach, Ocean Beach, and Coronado Beach, and most beaches have public fire pits for an evening bonfire.
    Photo by Rajam Roose
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    Dramatic Cliffs and Hiking Trails
    Some beaches are long stretches of sand; others consist of dramatic sandstone cliffs. As its name hints, Sunset Cliffs is a beautiful place at day's end. Walk the trail at the top of the cliffs to observe the sandstone colors shift as the sun sinks over the Pacific. The gorgeous cliffs of Torrey Pines Beach are geological time charts; scientists come from around the world to unlock their secrets. From the top of these cliffs, lucky observers may see pods of dolphins or, depending on the time of year, the spouts of migrating whales. Torrey Pines also has several trails where people can observe the rare native pine for which the beach is named, and an interactive nature center; guides here offer informative nature walks.
    Photo courtesy of Lisa Field/San Diego Tourism Authority
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    Where to Find Tide Pools
    Tide pools are wonderful places to explore and to get up close and personal with a variety of creatures that live in the ocean. Find starfish, sea urchins, limpets, anemones, barnacles, crabs, and even jellyfish. There are several places to go in San Diego for tide pools. At the rocky tip of Point Loma is a large section of tide pools, which can be reached by car. Visitors can also park at Cabrillo National Monument and hike down. Shell Beach, located at the south end of Ellen Browning Scripps Park in La Jolla is another great place, if you don't mind a steep flight of concrete steps.
    Photo by Rajam Roose
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    Diving San Diego
    The ocean around San Diego is rich with marine life, and although the water is usually cold and visibility can be low, the area still offers some great diving. Examples of wildlife you can spot in these waters include the bright orange garibaldi (the official California state marine fish), rockfish, leopard sharks, sea lions, dolphins, guitarfish, stingrays, sponges, reef fish, octopi, lobsters, and eels. La Jolla Canyon and Scripps Ranch are recommended for more experienced divers. Beginners will enjoy La Jolla Cove and the Marine Room reefs, where companies such as Scuba San Diego teach beginner diving lessons. There is usually plenty of free parking as well as several shops that rent scuba gear.
    Photo by Rajam Roose
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    Catch a Wave
    There is nothing unusual about seeing a surfboard strapped to the top of a vehicle in San Diego, where the early morning sun greets surfers who want to catch a few waves before going to work. There are several places to surf in the city, but one popular spot is Tourmaline Surf Park, which is good for people of all ages. Beginners will enjoy the easy waves at La Jolla Shores, where lessons are offered by a local surfing company. Advanced surfers should check out Windansea Beach. The best surf is found at Black's Beach, where the arduous hike down the cliffs to the water keeps crowds at a minimum. Anytime of year is good for waves, but in fall the swells are good and the beaches aren't as crowded.
    Photo courtesy of San Diego Tourism Authority
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    Beautiful Beaches
    One of the most loved beaches in San Diego is the long stretch that is divided into South Beach, Central Beach, and North Beach on Coronado Island. The Central Beach portion is almost two miles long and the smooth sands contain mica, which glistens like miniature mirrors in the sun. There are sweeping views of the Pacific coastline, including Point Loma and Mexico, and the south end of the beach is home to the famous Hotel del Coronado, one of the largest wooden structures in the United States. At low tide, beachcombers can see the shipwrecked base of the hull of an old gambling boat, the Monte Carlo. Another locale with miles of sandy bliss and beautiful views of the Pacific is the Silver Strand State Beach.
    Photo by Michael J. Hipple/age fotostock
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    Secluded and Romantic Beaches
    Portions of San Diego's coastline consist of sandstone outcroppings that can be explored to reveal hidden beaches. Both Black's and Garbage Beaches are reached via steep trails cut into the cliffs, so use caution. (Note that the north part of Black's is a nudist beach.) Marine Street Beach in La Jolla has a secluded feel but is easy to find, and there is plenty of free parking in the neighborhood. If you're looking for romance but without the isolation, several beaches are well suited to long walks with your loved one. Silver Strand State Beach connects Coronado with San Diego and has gorgeous views of both the Pacific and the San Diego skyline. Windansea Beach in La Jolla, with sandstone rocks lining the shore, also has spectacular views.
    Photo courtesy of Joanne DiBona/San Diego Tourism Authority