Going to San Diego without heading to the beach is like visiting Manhattan and staying within a five-block radius: it just doesn’t make sense. Luckily, you’ve got plenty of choice when it comes to sun and sand – from ever-popular Mission Beach, crowded with surf-loving local families, to stunning Carlsbad State Beach, from the rarefied Coronado to the raw nature of Torrey Pines, the best beaches near San Diego deserve to be discovered. Be sure to pack several bathing suits”¦or even a surf-friendly wetsuit.
Pay a visit to Pacific Beach (also known as “˜the Strand’) and you could well imagine the Beach Boys waxing lyrical about this particular coastal stretch. While the waves are generally better suited to swimmers than surfers, the laid-back, youthful scene attracts plenty of young sunbathers who treat the sand as their personal catwalk. Once you’ve gotten your requisite rays, meander along the three-mile boardwalk (and be sure to pick up some fish tacos – they’re a local must).
Travelling with the family? Fancy theme park fun and the chance to splash in the waves? Make a beeline for Mission Beach, one of the most popular Pacific stretches in the San Diego area. Beach bums flock to the sand, shoppers peruse the funfair attractions of the boardwalk, while those who’re visiting with kids are bound to find themselves strapping into the Giant Dipper roller coaster. Be sure to slather on the sun cream – you’ll likely spend most of the day here.
Dr. Beach himself once named Coronado Beach the best in the United States, and no wonder. While it’s located just a short bridge drive off the coast from the city centre, that distance is enough to keep it less trodden – the soft sand is pristine, the waves are stunning, and the Hotel del Coronado, an iconic local landmark, serves its fine dining fare with beachfront views, so you can refuel without sacrificing any of the local splendour.
Carlsbad State Beach
After unspoiled nature – and prefer not to share the beach with thousands of other surf-goers? Located just up the coast from downtown San Diego, Carlsbad is host to a number of impressive and uncrowded beaches. While surfers are drawn to Tamarack, Carlsbad State Beach is great for a dip or a rejuvenating stroll – with the cliffs behind you, the water in front, and the sand soft under foot, it certainly qualifies as one of the best beaches near San Diego.
La Jolla Shores
Looking to try some watersports on for size? La Jolla Shores draws all types: whether you’re a snorkeler or a surfer, a boogie boarder or a swimmer, the water here is welcoming to all. For sightseers and photographers, it also offers up many natural treasures: sea lions and pelicans are plentiful along the shore, while low tide reveals striking tide pools filled with all manner of marine life.
A pretty beachy town just north of San Diego, Solana Beach is actually host to a number of different beaches: most of them rugged, separated from the town by cliffs, and secluded. Perfect, then, for adventuring. The bulk of the beaches can be accessed by ladders down the rocky sea cliffs, and visitors who make the trek will be rewarded with colourful tide pools, prime surf spots, and natural beauty – Fletcher Cove is often rated the most accessible and popular of the lot.
Sure, it’s definitely pretty by moonlight – but you may want to ignore the moniker in this case, because Moonlight Beach’s glowing white sand begs to be admired by the light of day. Located in Encinitas, the beach is a favourite for its wide stretch of sand, where locals alternately work on their tans or engage in rousing games of beach volleyball. But if you do choose to spend the evening, relaxing by a fire pit, it certainly isn’t a bad choice.
The ineffable California beach culture at Ocean Beach – otherwise known as OB – is as authentic as it gets. It helps that the accompanying town was made for low-key afternoon strolls, what with its little shops and farmers markets and laid-back cafes. As for the beach? It’s known for attracting a quirky and bohemian set who aren’t afraid to spend the day chilling out on the shore. Stick around long enough and you’ll be rewarded with some pretty impressive sunsets.
Unless you’re a pro surfer, you may not want to take your board to the strong currents that characterise the beaches of Cardiff-by-the-Sea, a thoroughly likeable beach town north of San Diego. But if you’re keen on admiring talented athletes taking on the biggest swells, this is the place to settle in and appreciate their skill. Cardiff State Beach is known to host surfing festivals, for those who are especially keen to get in the gnarly spirit.
Torrey Pines State Beach
Begin with a hike, and end with a leisurely afternoon on the beach: for those with a yen for the great outdoors, Torrey Pines is the seaside spot to discover. The hiking trails of the adjacent Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve Park offer stunning views looking out into the Pacific. Once you work up a sweat, how better to refresh than with a cooling ocean dip?
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Written by Claire Bullen