The Best Beaches in San Diego

Whether you're seeking surf breaks or beachside attractions, these are some of the best beaches in San Diego.

Surfers and sun worshippers alike flock to San Diego for its breathtaking SoCal vibes and miles of coastline, making it a popular destination for a beach getaway.

San Diego has no shortage of incredible beaches — which can make it nearly impossible to pick just one or two to see during a trip to this West Coast city. But the top beaches in San Diego stand out because they're so much more than attractive shorelines.

We looked at beach destinations that had fun things to do like boardwalks with shops and restaurants; excellent kayaking, surfing, or paddleboarding; or other unique diversions. We scoured the entirety of San Diego County, from surf haven Encinitas to the southernmost beach in the state, to find the very best stretches of coast for you to lay our towel on.

If you thought California couldn't live up to its hype, just check out one of these 15 incredible beaches in San Diego.

Solana Beach

Aerial view of Solana Beach and cliff, California coastal beach with blue Pacific ocean

Thomas De Wever/Getty Images

Beach bums beware: Solana Beach, located in San Diego's North County, is made for walking. With seemingly endless miles of scenic trails, waterfront parks, and the Cedros Design District full of antique and vintage shops, you’ll get your steps in at this popular beach town. Surfers head straight toward Seaside or Fletcher Cove — the former has a popular outer reef, and the latter has an exposed beach break. Start the day with a Norwegian smoked salmon bagel from Claire’s on Cedros and after a few hours of exploring natural tide pools and traversing the wide shoreline, pop over to Sindi’s Snack Shack across from Fletcher’s Cove for a kimchi quesadilla and bubble tea.  

Cardiff State Beach

A surfer at Cardiff State Beach

Adrian Rudd/Travel + Leisure

This sugar-sand beach gently slopes into warm Pacific waters with swells so good, you’ll find pro surfers like Rob Machado riding the waves near Cardiff Reef. The surf competition venue is also home to the six-foot bronze surfer sculpture, the Cardiff Kook — a perfect photo op for your Instagram story. Non-surfers can explore the tide pools full of starfish, sea snails, and other sea creatures, or spend the day snorkeling, diving, spear fishing, paddle boarding, or swimming (just beware of rip currents). Comb the wide, palm-dotted beach for shells and enjoy the classic California views at this little slice of paradise.    

La Jolla Beach

La Jolla Beach
Ashok Sinha/Getty Images

The jewel in the crown of San Diego’s gorgeous coast, La Jolla is a collage of sea cliffs, reefs, hidden coves, and sand the color of brown sugar. The coastline curves into La Jolla Cove where kayakers can explore sea caves and the calm waters are perfect for swimming and snorkeling in the fish-rich bay. Walk over to the Children’s Pool where the cove is ringed by a concrete breakwater wall and has become a gathering spot for local seals and sea lions. Take the stairs from La Jolla Cove up to Scripps Park to find bathrooms, picnic tables, and gazebos for appreciating the picture-perfect Pacific views.     

Mission Beach

Mission Beach San Diego Aerial

Art Wager/Getty Images

The shriek of a roller coaster, rollerblades clacking down the boardwalk, and the ding of arcade games create the backdrop for your day at Mission Beach. The lively coastal spot is home to Belmont Park where visitors can get the most of their unlimited ride wristband on the 1925 Giant Dipper wooden rollercoaster, slide behind the wheel of a bumper car, or play a round of mini golf. Surf, sunbathe, or join a game of volleyball on the wide, white shore; cast a line off of the Mission Bay jetty; or, rent a sailboat to get out on the sparkling sea. Grab a hot dog or a pineapple soft serve from a street vendor, or snag a cabana at Beach House for street tacos and margaritas. The party continues into the night when the beach bars and live venues are crawling with revelers.   

Pacific Beach

A photographer on the beach at Pacific Beach

Kelly Griffin/Travel + Leisure

A crescent of sand fringed by a lively boardwalk and bisected by Crystal Pier, Pacific Beach is a SoCal wonderland just south of La Jolla. P.B.’s sand is thick, soft, and the color of a cloud; the sea is as calm and clear as a lagoon; and the beach is alive with locals and tourists as far as the eye can see. Sunbathe by the pier, surf the gentle waves at Tourmaline Surfing Park, or grab an icy pina colada from one of the trendy beach bars. Tuck into an egg burrito at Kono's Cafe at the pier before the day is through, when the glow from both bonfires and neon signs light up the night as bar hoppers descend for the area’s famous nightlife.

Sunset Cliffs

Sunset Cliffs Natural Park in San Diego

Wirestock/Getty Images

Glimpse Pacific blues through the arch over the swimming hole at the appropriately named Sunset Cliffs. With rugged bluffs and sweeping views, this park on the Point Loma peninsula is a great place to explore California's natural landscape. The golden shore, cut from the steep, sun-tanned incline, is bookended by massive salt-sprayed rocks and overseen by wide ledges. Explore the sea life of the intertidal area, watch the sky change into a watercolor painting as the sun melts into the horizon, and walk along the dramatic cliffs and caves. 

Ocean Beach

Ocean Beach Pier and Tide Pools

SeoulArtist/Getty Images

North of Point Loma, this San Diego town of surf shops and taco stands is fronted by its namesake beach, popular with sunbathers and surfers. Experience classic SoCal from the skaters on the pier to the burgers and shakes at Hodad's on Newport Avenue. Cool off in the surf and catch some sun on the soft shore the color of a perfect piece of toast. 

Torrey Pines State Beach

Beach, Torrey Pines State Reserve

Eddie Brady/Getty Images

Take the 101 north from La Jolla to get to this popular beach that’s enhanced by a natural reserve park and a famous golf course. From the high path, you’ll walk along the park’s trails through pine forests, over cliffs hanging into the sea (perfect for whale watching), and past sandstone canyons. Meanwhile, the low road takes you to the Torrey Pines State Beach, resplendent in sandy shores, lagoons, surf breaks, and even a nudist or two on the south end.   

Coronado Beach

Coronado, USA - May 19, 2015: People at the beach on the Coronado Island near San Diego in California, USA, during a hot summer day. In the background the Hotel Del Coronado.
Tobiasjo / Getty Images

Many California beaches are silver screen stars in themselves, but there’s something especially cinematic about Coronado, home to the rust-roofed Hotel del Coronado, featured in the Marilyn Monroe film “Some Like it Hot.” The Queen-Anne-style resort watches over the shore where the sand itself sparkles with mineral mica. Wade into the gentle waters full of swimmers, paddle boarders, and surfers, or, when you're not exploring the beach’s salty tide pools, join a seaside volleyball game. Stretch your legs by popping into the Orange Avenue shops, or grab a chair on the hotel’s Sun Deck for a Some Like it Blonde ale alongside your ocean view.  

Moonlight State Beach

Lifeguard Tower on Moonlight Beach in Encinitas

Sherry Smith/Getty Images

Locals used to come to this Encinitas beach for moonlit, midnight picnics, but modern-day visitors will find just as much to enjoy at midday. The beach gradually shelves into the bright blue water, full of swimmers and fishermen. Float in the saltwater offshore, watch surfers ride the waves, or walk along the wide, soft beach. The blunt sounds of volleyball games and the crash of Pacific waves breaking against the shore soundtrack your sunny afternoon. When you need to cool off, visit the snack bar for a cold drink, and watch as bonfires pop up along the coast once the sun disappears into the western sky.   

Grandview Beach

Grandview Beach

DOUGBERRY/Getty Images

This narrow spit backed by high bluffs is one of the northernmost beaches in Encinitas. Best known as a surf beach, the shore all but disappears at high tide, but the views and swells are well worth the trip for those so inclined. (During low tide, however, the long stretch makes a picturesque walk along the Pacific.) Take a sandy set of stairs down to the uncrowded shore where you’ll find glassy waters and rugged cliffs overgrown with iceplants and palms and topped by coastal condos. Known for its friendly, easy-going surf crowd, Grandview is accessible to surfers of all levels with mellow waves that arrive nonstop from any swell direction. Waves break over the beach and the outer reefs and because of the slower swells, longboards are recommended. 

Beacon's Beach

North County San Diego Coastal Aerial

Art Wager/Getty Images

South of Grandview, along the same long stretch of shore, sits Beacon’s Beach, or Leucadia State Beach. Descend a skinny, cliffside trail with three switchbacks down to this small strip of sand. The trek means that once you get there, you’ll have plenty of room to yourself on the popular but sparsely-populated beach. The spot is a good place for picnicking, sunbathing, and swimming. As with its northern counterpart, Beacon’s Beach attracts surfers looking to ride its gentle swells. When you get hungry, follow the surfers to Pannikin Coffee and Tea, an institution serving fresh pastries and hot coffee since 1968.       

Del Mar North Beach

Del Mar Dog Beach, San Diego, CA
Getty Images

This Del Mar beach — also known as "Dog Beach" — needs to be on every dog owner’s radar. North Beach, just south of Solana Beach, allows your furry friend to run off-leash from Labor Day to mid-June. (Note that dogs must be under voice control and wear a license on their collars.) Take your dog on an exploration of the white, sandy shore and sandbars, or a walk along the trail up to an overlook at James Scripps Bluff Preserve. The shallow waters of the San Dieguito River Lagoon are a refreshing place to cool off, or you can watch surfers ride the swells north of the river’s mouth.   

San Onofre State Beach

San Onofre State Beach, San Diego County, California

Heather Broccard-Bell/Getty Images

Three miles south of San Clemente lies the amber line of San Onofre. The 3,000-acre state park welcomes almost 2.5 million surfers, swimmers, and sunbathers a year. The beach is backed by the craggy San Onofre bluffs, anchored by the San Mateo Campground, and fed by a world-renowned surf beach. Bring binoculars and a camera for the birds, whales, dolphins, and sea lions that frequent this coastal paradise. The area was once the site of the indigenous village of “Panhe” inhabited by the Acjachemen people as far back as 8,000 years ago. Today, the Acjachemen tribe conducts educational and ceremonial events in a small designated area within the San Mateo campground, about four miles from the beach.      

Imperial Beach

The pier and Pacific Ocean at sunset, in Imperial Beach, near San Diego, California

Jon Bilous/Getty Images

Visit the southernmost beach in California — we’re talking a mere five miles from the Mexican border — to surf, swim, and sunbathe the day away. With palm trees, a wide, flat beach, and whitecaps, this is classic California. Horseback riders gallop past volleyball games and fishers on the pier, where you’ll find waterfront restaurants and grassy parks. The Tijuana River’s freshwater mixes with the salt water of the Pacific at the Tijuana River National Estuary where you can explore the largest saltwater marsh in SoCal as rare birds fly overhead. Over by the pier, the Outdoor Surf Museum’s art installations feature local surfing history. When one beach isn’t enough, take the bike path seven miles along the San Diego bay, past the salt flats, to Coronado.   

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles