San Diego is blessed with more than 100 km of beach-dotted coastline to explore in and around the city. It's a place that fulfils everyone’s California dreams with mild weather year-round, lonely coves hidden beneath towering cliffs and busy boardwalk-lined beaches. It’s safe to say there’s a beach in San Diego to suit just about anyone.

    Some beaches are ideal for swimming and snorkelling while others attract surfers looking for the perfect wave to catch. Whether you’re looking for a quiet stretch of sand or a lively beach party scene, here are some of the top beaches in San Diego to discover. 


    Coronado Beach

    Glittering sands and Hollywood glamour

    Coronado Beach is found on its namesake Coronado Island, just a 15-minute drive or ferry ride from downtown San Diego. This wide stretch of sparkling sand and gentle surf is a favourite escape for families and groups of friends. Marilyn Monroe helped to make the beach famous in her 1959 movie Some Like it Hot, filmed at the still-open luxury beachfront Hotel del Coronado. 

    Visitors could simply go for a stroll along the soft sands, or enjoy a day of surfing, paddleboarding or fishing from Ferry Landing Pier. The water is inviting, but do watch out for stingrays. 

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    La Jolla Cove

    Playful seals and colourful sunsets

    La Jolla Cove's coastal beauty and calm waters are a delight for swimmers and snorkellers. Part of the La Jolla Underwater Park, the cove is a marine refuge area where there’s a good chance to spot sea lions, seals, and the vivid orange Garibaldi fish. 

    Spend the day soaking up the California sun on the small sandy beach or, for a bit more adventure, try exploring the sea caves. Fishing and surfing are not allowed in La Jolla Cove. Its rocky shoreline also makes it a coveted spot for capturing magical sunset views over the Pacific.


    photo by Ken Lund (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified


    Sunset Cliffs Natural Park

    2.5km of untouched coastline

    Drive for just 15 minutes from downtown San Diego to find Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, an unspoiled landscape with tall cliffs overlooking the sea. Those who aren’t here to surf come to enjoy walks along the tops of the cliffs or checking out the small “secret” beaches, reached by either scrambling down a rough path or taking a steep staircase. Take care as it can be tricky to navigate.

    Birdwatchers have recorded some 100 bird species in the park, including hawks, finches, cormorants and pelicans. Keep an eye on the horizon for the chance to see dolphins or grey whales – and, of course, for views of the glorious sunsets that inspired the park’s name.

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    photo by Tuxyso (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified


    Del Mar City Beach

    Found along the legendary Highway 101

    Del Mar is a chilled-out seaside village offering sandy beaches, coastal bluffs and parks to explore. Located in the north of San Diego, Del Mar City Beach has 2 main sections. The south part is popular with walkers for the magnificent views along the bluff paths, while the northern part, called North Beach or Dog Beach, is great for swimming or picnicking at either of its 2 beachfront parks, Powerhouse and Seagrove.

    Those in search of even better views could hike to the top of the bluff at the adjacent Scripps Bluff Preserve. To get there, look for a wooden staircase at North Beach and there's a trail that leads uphill.


    Mission Beach

    Its boardwalk is great for people watching

    Mission Beach is a favourite for San Diego residents and for good reason: miles of soft sand, surfing and other water sports to enjoy, and a vibrant dining and nightlife scene. Families flock to the beachfront Belmont Park amusement park, with its groovy vintage wooden roller coaster plus many more rides and arcade games to try.

    Head to South Mission Beach for some outdoor sports action with several volleyball nets set up and a pier for fishing. The stretch of sand to the north of Belmont Park is called Pacific Beach – a popular place that attracts a younger, more party-minded crowd.

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    photo by Thomas Galvez (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Moonlight State Beach

    Top spot for families and surfers

    With easy access and a wide sandy beach, Moonlight State Beach in San Diego’s North County coastal region is a fine place to lay your towel for the day. It’s a good spot to surf and there are plenty of facilities here including volleyball and tennis courts, food stands and a playground.

    Visitors are welcome to make use of the fire pits to enjoy a beach barbecue meal watching the sun go down. The beach is an easy 5-minute walk from the downtown area of Encinitas. Spend a couple of hours wandering the streets, which are lined with boutique shops, yoga studios and stylish cafes.

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    photo by Invertzoo (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified


    Cardiff State Beach

    Camping is available at nearby San Elijo State Beach

    Cardiff State Beach is a surfer’s dream destination near the town of Cardiff-by-the-Sea in the North County coastal region. Just offshore at the north end are 2 reefs that create good breaks for surfing, while calmer waters away from the reefs are fun to navigate with a stand-up paddleboard. This is a fantastic San Diego beach for adventurous souls.

    At low tide, the ocean retreats to reveal some tidal pools where many creatures like starfish and sea cucumbers dwell. The south end of the beach is reserved for swimmers. 

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    Fletcher Cove Beach Park

    Fun family beach escape

    Fletcher Cove is a small beach in San Diego, but there are lots to see and do for beach lovers of all ages. It has a dramatically beautiful setting with a sandy beach flanked by 2 tall sea cliffs. Just a short distance from the beach is a public park with a children’s play area, basketball and volleyball courts, outdoor showers and picnic tables.

    Fletcher Cove is part of the Solana Beach community in North County. You can get there by the Coaster commuter train within 45 minutes from downtown San Diego. While you’re here, it’s worth wandering off the beach to the Cedros Design District to explore its designer shops, art galleries and restaurants.

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    Torrey Pines State Beach

    Hang glider haven

    With its dramatic coastline of towering cliffs and long sandy beaches, Torrey Pines is a spectacular beach escape just a 25-minute drive from downtown San Diego. You can relax on the sands or grab a surfboard to ride the waves. Hang gliders floating down from the clifftops bring added colour to the stunning Pacific coastal scenery. 

    Together with the adjacent Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, the park is one of the largest protected coastal areas of southern California. Hiking trails through the park are well marked and there are free guided nature tours offered on weekends.


    photo by DARSHAN SIMHA (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Black's Beach

    Clothing-optional coastal retreat

    • Couples
    • Budget
    • Unusual

    Black’s Beach is a secluded stretch of sand found at the far southern end of Torrey Pines State Beach. It’s a well-known surfing spot, but it’s become even more famous for being a nude beach. Despite local laws banning public nudity, Black’s remains a place where those who choose to swim and sunbathe in the buff are free to do so.    

    Getting to the beach is a challenge, requiring either a walk down the bluffs along rough trails or by walking a few miles along the shore from neighbouring beaches at low tide. While you might not want to wear any clothes at Black’s Beach, you’ll definitely need a good pair of walking shoes to get there. 

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    photo by Levi Clancy (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    Lana Willocks | Contributing Writer

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