The second-biggest city in California, San Diego is well-known for its historic sites and laid-back urban vibes. But no traveler should leave without exploring the city’s seaside charms at the best beaches in San Diego.
Located on the southernmost tip of Southern California’s coast, San Diego County teems with beautiful sandy beaches. From surfing to biking to boardwalk strolling, San Diego’s coastline offers something for every traveler, whether you’re visiting solo, as a couple, or with your family.
Ready to explore Southern California’s coastal pleasures? Grab a pair of flip-flops and chill out on some of these top-rated San Diego beaches!
Looking for more vacation ideas? Check out all our other beach guides and our California Travel Guide for more ideas on where to go, when to visit & what to do!
Top-rated San Diego beaches
Feeling young at heart? Mission Beach is a favorite San Diego County seaside escape for students from the two nearby universities as well as local families.
The beach town teems with activities and attractions, including the Belmont Park amusement park, home to the historic Giant Dipper roller coaster. Among the neighborhood facilities, you’ll also find bicycle and skate rentals as well as boogie board rentals if you’re not up for surfing the waves just yet. San Diego’s Mission Beach neighborhood is also a popular launch pad for boat tours, including wildlife cruises to spot dolphins and whales in their natural habitat.
From Mission Beach, you can venture over to Mission Bay to enjoy calmer water activities such as kayaking, boating, sailing, kite surfing lessons, and stand-up paddleboarding. Fancy a bit of non-water fun? Mission Bay Park has several paved paths that’ll give you those perfect sunset walks.
If you’ve worked up an appetite while playing beach volleyball, head over to Ventura Place. Along the street, you’ll find several restaurants serving everything from authentic Mexican tacos to pizza—and even a cup o’ joe—to get back out there.
For those more interested in relaxing and enjoying a refreshing beverage, Mission Beach is home to several laid-back beach bars within walking distance. Pull a chair on a patio and sip cocktails in the perfect SoCal weather as you eye up one of the finest sunsets in the country.
One of the most popular beaches in San Diego, Pacific Beach offers a little something for everyone. Whether you want to ride gnarly waves, work on your suntan, or relax with a yoga session, this seaside neighborhood is one of the coolest places to see in San Diego.
On the northern edge of town, Tourmaline Surf Park is a surf beach ideal for beginners, while just south, North Pacific Beach is calmer and has lifeguard stations for safer swimming.
Want to try out your luck and cast out a line? Crystal Pier is an all-day fishing pier and the perfect base to watch PB from a calmer distance. You can even rent one of the original refurbished cottage vacation rentals right on the pier for your stay in San Diego.
At night, Pacific Beach comes alive with beach parties and bonfires, so you can stay from sunup to, well, sunup! Before partaking in the nightlife, settle down as the sun dips below the horizon and enjoy one of the finest sunsets in the country.
Despite being the least originally named San Diego County beach, Ocean Beach offers plenty of character with a Beach Boys-style experience.
We’re talking 70s’ style everything—from the buildings to the VW vans to the Californication-style hippie-ness. The streets around Ocean Beach are the perfect spot for people-watching, listening to buskers, perusing art, drinking craft beer, or sipping coffee.
Ocean Beach City Beach is all about live and let be. Super pet-friendly, this popular spot even features an off-leash dog run. It’s a great location for kids, too, with lifeguards on duty and tide pools to explore at low tide. Got a sudden urge to fish? No worries: You don’t need a fishing license at Ocean Beach Pier.
If you want to get in the water at this beautiful beach, activities like swimming and surfing are popular options. Amenities here include showers, restrooms, picnic tables, and fire pits.
Decided to drive to Ocean Beach? There are two parking lots nearby, but keep in mind that they can fill up fast on weekends. If you show up a tad too late, you may have to settle for street parking.
Fancy a luxury getaway in San Diego? Book a stay at the beautiful Hotel del Coronado on Coronado Beach. This iconic hotel sits right at the top of the soft sands. Spend the perfect 24 hours in San Diego, enjoying poolside cocktails while overlooking the sand dunes on the central beach below.
Coronado Beach faces the ocean side of Coronado, situated on a peninsula stretching into San Diego Bay. It sits directly across the bay from central San Diego. You can hop on a ferry to Coronado Island from Broadway Pier in the Embarcadero area of Downtown San Diego or from the Fifth Avenue Landing south of the Gaslamp Quarter, or cross the iconic Coronado Bridge.
Known to the locals as “Dog Beach,” North Beach is the only beach in Coronado that allows dogs.
Prefer some privacy? Solana Beach is a more secluded beach, with several cliffs and coves where you can find the perfect hideaway spot. Solana Beach is more popular with the locals; if you want to avoid crowds of tourists, this stretch of sand is a superb choice.
Solana Beach is home to Fletcher Cove Beach Park, offering activities and facilities like an outdoor playground and a local surf shop. Nearby, you can challenge yourself to go surfing with the locals out at the Seaside Reef, a popular surfing spot.
If you’re up for a Southern California road trip, Solana Beach lies on Highway 101, a coastal highway offering unparalleled vistas of California’s southern coastline.
The southernmost beach in California, Imperial Beach is a must-see on any California trip itinerary. Not only is Imperial Beach uniquely located, but it’s also a paradise for nature lovers.
At Imperial Beach, bird-watchers will find hundreds of bird species while hikers can trek down several nature trails. There’s even an old-fashioned wooden pier for fishing and reminiscing.
Every summer, Imperial Beach hosts the U.S. Open Sand Castle Competition. If you happen to catch the content, prepare to be dazzled by some astounding entries.
The surfing is good, and there’s even a Surfboard Museum nearby. (Just be sure to return north, or you’ll find yourself south of the border in Mexico!)
Torrey Pines State Beach
Those traveling with a camera in hand will want to visit Torrey Pines State Beach. Famous for its 300-foot sea cliffs, the stretch of sand offers photogenic vistas of the landscape at both the sea and sky level.
The state park system runs Torrey Pines Beach. It’s well-maintained, with hiking trails running both through the reserve and from the beach. In Torrey Pines State Park, you can even go on guided nature tours.
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On the seaside, the northern stretches of Torrey Pines State Beach feature calm waters and even lagoons for safe family swims. Venture further south for more surf-friendly waves.
Want to add more adventure to your getaway? Conquer your fear of heights by taking a paragliding and hang gliding lesson at the nearby Torrey Pines Gliderport.
Cardiff State Beach
Located on Old Highway 101, Cardiff State Beach is a local hotspot for sunbathers, swimmers and surfers and non-surfers alike. The water is the perfect temperature, with lifeguards keeping watch all year round.
Known for its relaxed and inviting atmosphere, it’s a great beach to sit back and let time pass. If you wait for the low tide, Cardiff State Beach also has tide pools where you can go hunting for small sea creatures. You can also bring your dog along as the park is dog-friendly and allows on-leash visits.
The state also offers beach wheelchairs free of charge. To acquire one, visit the San Elijo State Beach Campground entrance.
More of a rocky beach, Windansea Beach is famed among locals for its surfing scene. If you aren’t a strong surfer, though, you’ll still find many coves to sit back, relax, and watch the surfers ride the waves.
At this surfing haven, competition can get heavy. The waves are not for the faint of heart or beginners. The public beach also houses a small piece of surfer history, a historical landmark surf shack from the 1940s.
Swimmers beware: The riptide at Windansea Beach is strong. If you want to take a quick dip, you might want to look at other popular San Diego beaches with less intense rip currents.
Moonlight State Beach
Moonlight State Beach may sound like the most enchanting San Diego beach of all. And for many, indeed, it is. The beach’s gentle grade gives it a desirable shallow entry into the ocean water.
For waterfront activities, Moonlight State Beach is a top-notch choice. It’s a great spot to enjoy water sports and hitting around the ball with friends on the beach volleyball courts. If you’re traveling with the family, there’s also a kid’s playground at Moonlight Beach.
Keep in mind: During the summer (one of the most popular times of year to visit San Diego), Moonlight Beach is so popular that it can be difficult even to find a place to put your towels. Plan ahead and be sure to get there early if you want to secure an ideal sandy spot.
Black’s Beach sits at the southern edge of Torrey Pines Beach within Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. There are two reasons why visitors make the rather difficult hike down to the North County shores: surfing and—a-hem!—”comfort.”
The surf breaks at Black’s Beach are advanced. If you’re no stranger to hangin’-ten, ride the waves at this popular surf spot. Otherwise, it’s a popular destination to enjoy the views of the waves crashing into the shoreline.
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The other reason to visit Black’s Beach? Clothing is optional. Thanks to its challenging nature trail and roaring surf, this nude beach isn’t usually overpopulated; don’t expect many gawkers. It’s a safe haven for sunbathers who want to enjoy the sandy beach as nature intended: in your birthday suit rather than a swimsuit.
Del Mar City Beach
The San Diego County city of Del Mar is home to both family-friendly and upscale temptations. Del Mar Beach is a family-friendly beach with sports galore. Part of Seagrove Park, Del Mar Beach even has a beach just for dogs called the River Mouth.
Del Mar Plaza sits up above the cliffs, within short walking distance. The square offers fine dining and gallery shopping, as well as stunning ocean views.
If you want to stay sand-free and aren’t interested in shopping and fancy food, curl up in Powerhouse Park. This grassy area overlooks Del Mar Beach and offers spots to sit and enjoy a picnic and some family time without the hassle of getting sand in your clothing.
La Jolla Shores Beach
If you’re looking for remarkable Instagram photos and crystal-clear Caribbean-style waters, head over to La Jolla Shores Beach. There’s plenty for visitors to love along these white-sand shores, with its beach access located just north of the city in the town of La Jolla.
La Jolla Shores Beach offers scuba classes for new divers and the gentlest of waves, perfect for children and snorkelers. Go snorkeling or scuba diving to see the beautiful, colorful fish, or pop your head above the water to see wildlife like seals and listen to sea lions barking at each other. Off-shore, you can head into Kellogg Park for a quick picnic under the palm trees before continuing to laze on the warm sands.
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Surrounded by towering sea rocks, La Jolla Cove is less accessible but well worth the journey. For a memorable adventure, kayakers can rent kayaks and explore its sea caves. If you prefer, there are also guided tours available.
San Elijo State Beach
Looking to camp on the beach? Find the perfect seaside camping spot at San Elijo State Beach. Whether traveling with a tent or by RV, there’s a place for you if you book well in advance.
The park’s campground gives campers direct access to the beach, so you’ll never be too far away from the sandy shores. There’s even a snack bar and camp store in case you forget something or prefer to travel light on your California road trip itinerary.
San Elijo State Beach offers snorkeling, diving, swimming, and even some surfing. Aside from water sports, the San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve is also crisscrossed by 10 miles of hiking trails. Trudge down the trails to see protected animals in their natural habitat.
Silver Strand State Beach
Back on the Coronado Peninsula, you’ll find a long stretch of beach connecting Coronado Beach to the mainland called Silver Strand State Beach.
Silver Strand State Beach sits on the narrowest part of the peninsula. It’s usually quieter here than elsewhere in Coronado, as there’s little space for shops and restaurants. Time your visit just right, and you’ll feel like you have Silver Strand State Beach all to yourself.
You can also camp along “The Strand,” as the locals call it. Both tent and RV sites are available. With views of the twinkling lights of the San Diego skyline on one side and the deep blue waters of the Pacific Ocean on the other, there couldn’t be a more picturesque place to spend an evening.
South Ponto Beach
With its wide sandy shoreline, South Ponto Beach is one of San Diego County’s most popular summer-time beaches. In fact, it can become so packed in high season that cars overflow the parking lot and line the road!
Found on the southern tip of South Carlsbad State Beach, South Ponto Beach is a local favorite. Whether you’re seeking fun and games, surfing, swimming, or sunbathing, you’ll find it all at this popular stretch of sand in the town of Encinitas.
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As South Ponto is nestled in an undeveloped area, nature surrounds you on all sides. Even the water quality has been tested as “excellent.” Just be sure to get there early to avoid the rush of beachgoers.
Leucadia State Beach
Also known as Beacon’s Beach, Leucadia State Beach is a secluded beach that could be easily missed from the roadside. If you can find this local hideout, it’s a great spot to enjoy swimming, surfing, and fishing.
Hidden in a northeastern, Cape Cod-style community, Leucadia State Beach is a beautiful seaside retreat. The easy surf combined with the sandy beach is perfect for families looking to soak up a local, laid-back vibe.
Leucadia State Beach is juxtaposed with bluffs, creating a sheltered environment. Still, the lovely stretch of sand is easily accessible via a steep set of stairs leading down to the sand.