Thinking about a weekend down south? You don’t have to cross the border to enjoy a little heat with your surf and turf. Consider planning your next coastal getaway to one of these swell sandy spots—plus our tips on nearby active things to do and places to eat—in San Diego.
Pacific Beach Crystal Pier | 2500 Ocean Boulevard
Though you may recognize shots of Pacific Beach in MTV’s “Real World San Diego,” do not let that discourage you from exploring this laid-back beach town. From bikes to boards to bare feet, Pacific Beach (locally known as “PB”) is home to many of San Diego’s twenty-somethings, in addition to the best swimsuit shacks, thrift stores, beach bars and late night eats.
On the endless boardwalk, which first opened in 1927 and stretches three miles from Garnet Avenue to the Mission Bay Harbor Channel, you will find plenty of cyclists, rollerbladers, surfers, and joggers. And since this is San Diego’s magnet for college folks and young adults, there is no doubt you’ll meet some new friends. You can find anything from beach cruiser rentals to biker bars along the coast. Bicycle Discovery (742 Felspar Street) offers rentals on bikes starting at $7 an hour. Brought your bike? Find an authentic San Diego bike accessory to remember your bike day at the beach.
Access: Pacific Beach is full of bikers, boarders, and bladers. Street parking is available and getting to the beach is easy
Public Perks: If you’re in Pacific Beach on a Tuesday evening, you’ll watch as Garnet transforms into a market of local produce, food trucks, crafts, and music for the weekly Farmer’s Open Air Market. Vendors such as Bread & Cie, gourmet baked goods, and plenty of other treats and eats make for a delicious evening out.
Beach Eats: Ciro’s Pizzeria and Brewhouse serves up craft pizza and craft beer at delicious prices, and Zanzibar Cafe offers a plethora of paninis and Mediterranean inspired salads in addition to great outdoor seating right off Garnet.
Getting There: Bus 30 runs from central San Diego to Pacific Beach.
La Jolla Shores | 79500 La Jolla Shores Drive
Below a cliff and just down the hill from the University of California lies San Diego’s La Jolla. The aptly named town (La Jolla is Spanish for “the jewel” is a treasure trove of harbors, quaint eats, pristine shops, and world-famous beaches. Known as a good spot for novice surfers to catch some gentler waves, La Jolla Shores draws many first-time travelers because of its close proximity to luxury resorts and the breathtaking La Jolla coast.
It’s also home to The Scripps Institute of Oceanography and Scripps pier, and La Jolla beach-goers can check out guided kayak tours, learn how to snorkel, go deep-sea diving, and even sign up for a surf lesson. Surf Diva will equip surfers with a board, rash guard, and fan club. Voted the number one surf school for women for more than 12 years, the school offers private or group lessons taught by locals themselves.
Public Perks: There are volleyball areas, BBQ and bonfire pits, and shower/restroom facilities at the north side of the beach.
Traveler’s Tip: Serious about setting up a bonfire? The early bird gets the worm at La Jolla Shores—many college kids and locals stake their claim before the sun sets.
Beach Eats: After hours in the sun, experience true coastal wining and dining with a trip up the road to The Cottage, which cooks up contemporary California cuisine with a local twist. Take a revitalizing bit of a crab melt (with sliced avocado, sharp cheddar cheese, onion, and tomato on parmesan sourdough toast) or try out the Eggs La Jolla for brunch, with Canadian bacon, sautéed mushrooms, spinach, and roasted tomato. It pairs perfectly with the spot’s signature Bloody Mary.
Getting There: Take bus 30 to La Jolla Shores Drive and Calle Frescota.
Del Mar City Beach | 15th Street and Camino Del Mar
Here, the old time cliché still rings true: Del Mar is where the surf meets the turf. Often known for being a secluded oasis for Hollywood celebrities, this little coastal city is home to the Del Mar Racetrack and summertime San Diego County Fair. Stretching nearly four miles from Solana Beach to the Torrey Pines Reserve (just north of La Jolla), it’s is a true escape surrounded by cliff trails and a jaw-dropping view of the Pacific.
Bringing along a furry, four-legged friend? Walking on the shore north toward Solana Beach will bring you to one of San Diego’s most popular dog beaches, where canines are free to mingle and get wet and wild. Once you have exhausted Del Mar’s great possibilities of sunbathing, hiking, and window shopping, check out the Cardiff’s Restaurant Row, right on the beach and just up the highway. For original art, handcrafted furniture and other one-of-a-kind treasures, visit the South Cedros shopping district up the coast in Solana Beach on South Cedros Avenue. Want to experience local live music? Round out your trip with a stop at the Belly Up Tavern, also on South Cedros Avenue and known as San Diego’s top live music venue.
Access: Del Mar’s beaches are all named after the numbered streets that intersect them. Dog Beach, also known as the River Mouth, has broad stretches of sand for volleyball and sandcastle building. From 15th Street north to the River Mouth, the swimming is good and two coastal parks make good picnic areas. South of 15th are myriad bluffs for walking or jogging.
Beach Eats: Experience a little piece of Del Mar history with a stop at the Cape Cod-inspired Stratford Court Cafe, which serves up family-style favorites and organic California cuisine like soy smoothies, cilantro-pasta salad, and savory sandwich options.
Public Perks: 15th Street Beach has its own showers located clear of sand, so you can wash off without having anything stick to you after. There are also public restrooms located near the showers, which are directly to the south side of Poseidon Restaurant. There are no bonfire pits allowed on the beach, but you can bring your own BBQ to the park. The beach at 15th Street is in close proximity to stellar playground and cliff-top park, as well as 15th Street bars and stores.
Getting There: Take bus 150 to Gilman Drive and Eucalyptus Grove Lane, and then catch bus 101 to Camino del Mar and 15th Street.
Mission Bay | Mission Beach Boardwalk, 3704 Mission Boulevard
With easy access to bars, the boardwalk, and the bay (which is caddy-corner to the beach and within walking distance) Mission beach is a funnel-cake and ferris wheel kind of fun. It’s similar to Pacific Beach in location and character, but it tends to be less crowded and more family-oriented than PB.
That’s not to say that Mission Beach doesn’t have its share of fun for those big kids too. Mission Beach is home to San Diego’s coolest and wettest music venue, The Wavehouse. A wave simulator that has attracted a few famous surfing pros, this technology behind flow-boarding has created quite the stir as the only one of its kind in the United States.
The Boardwalk is home to Belmont Park, a wooden walk of carnival games and rides. Here you can also rent all sorts of personal beach transportation, like bikes, kayaks, segways, and rollerblades, which can be found dominating the beach crowd. Mission Beach buzzes with activity between the sand and the bay, the bars and the surf.
Access: The beach is on the same level as the street, which makes wheelchair access easy.
Public Perks: Lifeguards are on duty and enforcing the separate swimming and surfing areas. The only danger here is you may have to watch out for skateboarders and rollerbladers whizzing by you. Public Restrooms located at Belmont Park, and there are no bonfires allowed.
Getting There: Take bus 9 to Ingraham Street and Crown Point Drive.
Ocean Beach | Newport Avenue
Despite being home to surfing yuppies and many of San Diego’s generation Y, the neighborhood of Ocean Beach manages to be eco-friendly, artsy, and dog loving, reflecting all things sun-kissed and perfectly SoCal. Newport Avenue is home to plenty of places to sip and shop. Find authentic, handmade swim suits all year round at Molly B Bikini’s, or perhaps indulge in a one-of-a-kind juicy hamburger from local favorite, Hodad’s. The burgers are so good, you might just have to wait in line.
Headed straight to the shore? The beach begins at the end of Newport Avenue and there are designated surf and swim areas. Dog Beach is a revered attraction in OB: a K-9 haven where dogs are free to roam about unleashed and ecstatic. Whether you’re laying out in the summer sun, or making friends out on designated volleyball area, there are tons of activities to discover in Ocean Beach—all to the sound of Bob Marley serenading you from someone’s old school pickup truck.
Out of all San Diego’s glorious beaches, OB will surely leave you in a chill mood. Dogs are allowed at all hours and without a leash, so make sure your furry partner gets along well with other dogs and you’re bound to have a splash together. What’s not to love about this doggy-friendly, laid-back, prime surf spot within walking distance to popular Ocean Beach restaurants and bars?
Access: There is a beach wheelchair lent at no charge (first come, first served), but is given to the first person.
Beach Eats: Newport Pizza and Alehouse has a tap list worth, uh, tapping, and it conveniently sells pizza by the slice. Feeling like using your noodle? Head over to the OB Noodle House and create your own spicy, Asian-inspired concoction. The possibilities are endless, and everything tastes better when paired with a sake bomb.
Public Perks: Public restrooms and showers are available on Abbot Street. Bonfire pits are open during the summer. Note that there is a strict rule about burning only wood, charcoal, and paper products. Lifeguards are on duty during summer, usually from 9 a.m. until sunset.
Getting There: Take bus 923 to Cable Street and Brighton Avenue.