San Diego’s pleasant climate and lack of rainfall are a great place for outdoor activities, and here in California, heading south along the Pacific Coast Highway, you’ll be passing the beaches of San Diego and San Diego County. There are about thirty or so beaches, but because time is limited, you’ll have to narrow it down and decide which ones to visit.
The coastline of San Diego and San Diego County is spectacular and everyone can find their ideal place to simply relax or participate in sports without going too far from other points of interest, such as SeaWorld and Legoland. It’s a must-see destination where you should spend as much time as possible.
When you go to San Diego, you will discover its streets, its architecture, and all kinds of restaurants and shops, as well as superb museums, but right now I want to focus on the beaches, one of the main reasons for visiting San Diego. Along the more than 60 miles of the coastline, of which about twenty are in the San Diego area, there are many beaches and a multi-faceted coastline to the north and south of the city for you to explore.
Map of the Beaches of San Diego
Some beaches are ideal for surfing and kayaking while others are perfect for snorkeling and diving, but all the beaches are fantastic places to enjoy the sunshine and the view and take pictures of the surfers gliding on the waves. In the itinerary we will describe below, we will provide some directions and suggestions on the best beaches of San Diego.
South Carlsbad State Beach
Departing from Los Angeles, about 40 minutes from San Diego, the first stop is South Carlsbad State Beach (Carlsbad Blvd and Hwy 101, Carlsbad), a long, white, clean, uncrowded beach where you can swim when the currents and waves aren’t too strong or, alternatively, you can stay close to shore. When we went, there were many surfers, divers, and fishermen and they told us that the sunset is phenomenal. We took their word for it because we couldn’t dedicate a whole day to each beach. There are stairs that lead to the campsite which is very popular especially in summer. We opted for free parking in the nearby streets but you can park at the campsite for a fee ($15). It is a great idea to visit this beach in conjunction with the colorful and fun world of Legoland.
At Encinitas, at 1298 S Coast Hwy 101, you can park your car for free (however, space is limited) and go down the stairs near the cliff flanked by palm trees to Swami’s Beach to have a look. To our surprise this place which had been unknown to us until now is actually famous, and will be forever, because it was mentioned by the Beach Boys in the song Surfin’ USA. But beyond the fame, what is interesting about this beach is the ecosystem, which is protected. You can swim here, but you must watch out for rocks, surfers, and divers.
Del Mar City Beach
Del Mar City Beach (Coast Blvd – Del Mar) is about half an hour from San Diego, but we will stop again before reaching the city. We see people swimming and surfing. To be more precise, we can divide the area into two sections. The northern section is sandy, has an area that is dog-friendly, and is close to two parks, while the southern one is rockier and has tidal pools and trails descending from the cliffs (which you should consider). There is plenty of free parking in nearby streets and residential areas, but you must arrive in the morning.
Torrey Pines State Beach
Next on the itinerary is Torrey Pines State Beach (12600 Torrey Pines Rd), just north of La Jolla. The beach is located at the base of a sandstone cliff about 300 ft tall. On public holidays, parking costs $25 on the south side and $20 on the north side. During the low season (from October to the spring break season), the cost of parking is $12 and $10 respectively, but you can try to park your car for free along Highway 101.
A walk from the top of Torrey Pines State Park takes you down to the picturesque beach of the same name, where you will find a rare species of protected, wide-crowned pine trees called Torrey Pines. Here you can swim and surf, the locals’ favorite activity, but also enjoy the lagoon and splash around in the water. This area with year-round toilets, showers, and lifeguards is one of the wildest coastal areas in Southern California and if you intend to spend a few hours or the whole day on this beach, I suggest you bring food and water. Torrey Pines State Beach is accessible from 7:15 am to sunset.
The beaches of La Jolla
Near the renowned La Jolla, you can go to La Jolla Shores (8300 Camino del Oro), a perfect beach for families but also for those who like surfing, paddleboarding, and scuba diving. As a result, La Jolla Shores is very popular. Additionally, by taking a short walk you can reach the nearby Kellogg Park, a perfect place to have a picnic or to sit in the shade after having been on the beach. There is free parking near the beach and also along the road, but the only problem is that the beach gets crowded, so if you don’t want to leave your car far away you have to arrive early in the morning.
Just a few miles further, you should definitely visit La Jolla Cove (1100 Coast Blvd), a small picturesque bay with a white, grainy sandy beach surrounded by sandstone cliffs. The blue waters have an abundance of marine life that can be observed while snorkeling or diving. One species that lives here is the Garibaldi fish, an orange fish that is easily recognizable.
This is a good location to swim in, although many stop just for a walk and to watch/photograph seals and sea lions. Access to the coastline is from a green, large, panoramic park edged with palm trees, with a wonderful view of the beach below. There are lifeguards on duty every day from 9:00 am to sunset and outdoor showers and toilets are available. If you arrive early in the morning, you can find free parking along Coast Boulevard otherwise there are paid parking garages nearby.
Tourmaline Surfing Park Beach
Keep heading south where this jewel awaits you. Tourmaline Surfing Park Beach (Mission Blvd N about 10 miles from San Diego). Located near a cliff, it’s the gathering point of the locals who like surfing, kiteboarding, and windsurfing. To tell the truth, there aren’t many tourists here. Although the weather is nice all year, this is not the ideal place for swimming. At the end of Tourmaline Street where it reaches the ocean, there is free parking, as well as showers and toilets.
As you approach San Diego, between Pacific Beach Drive and Crystal Pier, there is Pacific Beach (Grand Ave). We immediately notice the pier, where you can fish and have a different perspective of the beach, surfers, and the city. On the coast, there is a walkway that runs parallel to the Pacific Ocean where you can ride a bike (but there are also those who roller skate). Surfing, kayaking, sailing, and swimming are practiced here. Bathrooms and showers are at the rescue station on Grand Avenue between the boardwalk and Mission Boulevard. There is free parking on Grand Avenue and Pacific Beach Drive and other streets in the area.
South Mission Beach
South Mission Beach (Mission Blvd and N Jetty Rd) is one of the busiest beaches in the city because it has spectacular ocean views, and it is very close to Belmont Park, the Ocean Front Walk, and SeaWorld. It is perhaps the largest beach in the city and a popular place for sports like beach volleyball and basketball. South Mission also has the only ocean front area where the “Over-The-Line” tournament takes place (beach baseball).
This sandy beach is frequented by surfers but swimming is also allowed and you can fish at Mission Bay Pier. The beach has good facilities and services including showers, toilets, and numerous lifeguards. The closest places to park are Mission Beach Park (300 Mission Blvd) and Belmont Park (3146 Mission Blvd).
You can park your car in the parking lot at 1946 Abbott Street and then head to Ocean Beach, a wide sandy beach of about a mile long, surrounded by lots of greenery. This is the perfect beach for those who prefer a beach that is less crowded unlike Pacific Beach and Mission Beach, but there are still showers and toilets, and lifeguards, who usually recommend that you pay attention to the currents and not stray too far. The view to the south is dominated by the Ocean Beach Pier, where you can fish without a license. On this and other beaches in San Diego in summer there are parties and events and you can learn more about them in this article.
Coronado Central Beach
The beach tour would not be complete without Coronado Central Beach (Ocean Blvd), a long stretch of golden sand on the famous peninsula of the same name where you can enjoy the San Diego skyline and can be easily reached by bus, car, or taxi via a spectacular bridge. On this beach you can swim, surf, collect shells, but also walk and cycle along a quiet road. The water is initially shallow and gets deeper at the point where the waves break.
In fact, the Coronado coastline is divided into four beautiful areas (there is also a park and a dog-friendly section to the north). Bathrooms and showers are close to the lifeguard stations, which are active every day from 9:00 am to sunset. Free parking spaces are located along Ocean Boulevard but they fill up quickly. The beach for the guests of the prestigious and famous Hotel del Coronado is a really nice area and is worth visiting especially in the evening.
We continue our tour in Imperial Beach (Seacoast Dr – Imperial Beach), about 25 minutes south from downtown San Diego. In this location, people go swimming and surfing (the area near the pier is the safest), there are toilets and showers and lifeguards throughout the year. From the pier, many people fish and watch the birds. There is the possibility to park in residential areas or in public parking lots.
Silver Strand State Beach Park
The San Diego coastline also boasts the Silver Strand State Beach Park, which distinguishes itself from other beaches not only because it is probably the most beautiful of this stretch of coast, but unlike all the other beaches, it is a state park. It is well maintained and has all amenities, such as a camping area for campers and caravans and canoes that can be rented. Silver Strand is one of the most popular beaches locals go to on weekends in the summer. Tourists who camp for long periods also like to come here.
Silver Strand State Beach runs along the thin strip of land that connects Coronado Island to the mainland (what makes Coronado actually a peninsula, despite its name). Access to the beach is technically free, but since there is a fee for parking and it is very difficult to get there without a car. Parking costs $10 per day from Monday to Friday, $12 per day on Saturday and Sunday.
It opens every morning at 7:00 am, but the closing time varies depending on the season. Specifically, it closes at 9:00 pm in the summer, at 8:00 pm in the spring and autumn, and at 7:00 pm in the winter. On this website, you can see the exact days when the time changes.
To be precise, there are two beaches that are parallel to each other. Towards the ocean, there is the boundless expanse of silver sand from which the state park takes its name. On the other side of the thin strip of land, overlooking the bay of San Diego, there is the Crowne Cove. On this side, where the sea is always flat, you can rent canoes and it is one of the best beaches for children where they can be safe and have fun. The two sides of the peninsula are connected by tunnels that pass under the road, allowing pedestrians to easily pass from one beach to another.
Where to Stay
For information about hotels in San Diego, take a look at our tips on nearby areas and the city in our article on finding accommodations in San Diego.