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San Diego beaches
What does it mean that San Diego beaches are some of the best in the world?
Guidebooks say that there are 70 miles of San Diego beaches, that they are all beautiful, etc. All of this is true, of course, but I think these dry facts alone don't really express what this means to a visitor and to anyone who lives in San Diego.
I think that the slide show below does a beautiful job at expressing what words cannot tell you about San Diego beaches. But do read the rest of this page, which expresses what words can tell you about San Diego beaches. (By the way, I have no idea who this dude is who put together this slide show, but he saved me a lot of work, for which I will be eternally grateful. Thank you, dude.).
Having 70 miles of beaches along the Pacific Coast near a major highway (I-5) means that for anyone in San Diego beaches are plentiful, close and convenient. No other major city I can think of--in the United States or the world, really--gives people the same easy access to a variety of beautiful beaches that San Diego does. (If you live in, say, Manhattan, you have access to the beach, but it is not easy--even Coney Island is an hour away by subway, making it very inconvenient to get up every morning to walk on the beach.)
As a result, for the many people who live near San Diego beaches (and even for those who have to drive to it), the beach is an incredibly important part of every day life. People here really do take advantage of the beach. Every morning when I lived two blocks away from the beach in San Diego, I used to take a barefoot walk on the sand or surf before going to work and spend all weekend at the beach with friends.
The beach is an important reason of why I absolutely loved living in San Diego, and it is an attraction you really should not miss when you visit San Diego. But you don't have to take my word for it. Listen to what other "beach experts" have to say:
- The Travel Channel picked one of the San Diego beaches below as one of the best beach vacations in the world.
- Forbes Traveler magazine selected yet another one of the San Diego beaches below as one of the ten most romantic beaches in the world.
- My wife (!) is an expert on beaches--she grew up in Brazil (which automatically makes her a "beach expert"!) and is very proud of the Brazilian beaches there (which are wonderful). She is generally skeptical of all other beaches, especially American beaches. Even so, according to her own criteria--(1) perfect, warm, white, small-grained sand, (2) blue skies and (3) plenty of space to lay out her beach towel--San Diego beaches are some of the best she has ever seen anywhere!
For a visitor, there are many different beaches to choose from, and there are different San Diego beaches for different tastes. Some are better for families and young children, some are better for the young and beautiful to check each other out, some are better for surfing or swimming, some are better for their restaurants, bars and night life. It is helpful to know which is which.
What follows is a personal guide to the beaches in San Diego. I can't tell you or even predict which of the many San Diego beaches will be your type, let alone your favorite. I can give you some sense of what the San Diego beaches are like and which ones I liked, so you can decide which ones you want to visit and, maybe, which one is your favorite! Also below are some tips on going to the beach in San Diego.
I intend to update this page every so often, so check back here as I add more beaches.
Beaches in San Diego Proper
Let's start with the three major San Diego beaches in San Diego proper: Pacific Beach, Mission Beach and Ocean Beach. If you are on a short trip to San Diego or it is your first time, you are likely to visit these beaches as they will be the closest to you. All three of them are wonderful beaches, but there are differences.
Pacific Beach is my favorite beach (I am biased because I lived there!).
PB, as it is known, is bounded by La Jolla to the north and the Crystal Pier to the South. The northern part of the beach, near Tourmaline Surf Park, is fairly quiet, residential and surf-oriented. In fact, it is separated by a large wall or dune of sand and feels almost secluded.
The south part of Pacific Beach, near Crystal Pier, begins to merge with Mission Beach, the sand dune/wall disappears, and the beach is busier and is closer to restaurants, bars and shops on Garnet and Grand Avenues. As a whole, Pacific Beach is great for families, young couples, and singles, pets, surfers. The Tourmaline Surf Park is a particularly nice place catch a sunset or sunrise.
Below is a nice panoramic turn of the camera to give you a sense of what PB looks like.
Mission Beach is bounded by Pacific Beach to the north, right about at Crystal Pier, and by a canal in the south (you can see the beginnings of Ocean Beach from the south of Mission Beach, but the two beaches are not connected).
This is a much busier beach than Pacific Beach because there is no quiet part--the entire beach parallel to Mission Boulevard, which is full of beach houses, restaurants, bars, and shops. This makes the beach fun but not the best places for a secluded, relaxing getaway.
Mission Beach tends to be a mix of young, hard-bodied locals trying to look good for each other and older, softer-bodied vacationers or families staying at a vacation rentals right on the beach. The surfing here is pretty tame and, as a result, this is a great place to learn to surf (I did) with one of the surf schools. Mission Beach is also right next to Belmont Park, an amusement park with a wooden roller coaster.
(The video below is not mine, and the quality isn't the greatest, but it gives you a good sense of what Mission Beach looks like, including the boardwalk going north to Crystal Pier and Pacific Beach.)
Visiting Ocean Beach is like stepping into a time warp and straight into Southern California from the late 1960s and early 1970s. Even the air feels slower there. In fact there are surfers who never left Ocean Beach since the 1960s.
Ocean Beach has a off-beat charm that is impossible to resist. The stores have an older and independent flavor--not many chain stores or restaurants here. The restaurants aren't fancy, but the food is great (One Ocean Beach bar serves excellent fish tacos that were so good that I brought every single one of my out-of-town visitor there).
The surf here is a bit rougher--not great for beginner surfers but nice for anyone used to riding bigger waves. Finally, Dog Beach is here--one of the best places to bring your pet in San Diego.
The following video actually will give you a pretty good sense of the hippie/skater sort of vibe at Ocean Beach--quirky and, honestly, a lot of fun.
Other beaches near San Diego
If you're willing to get a little farther away from San Diego's city limits, there are several other gorgeous beaches, which I plan on writing more about in the future:
If you are looking for a beach close to downtown San Diego , Coronado Beach is a gorgeous, perfect place, part of the landmark Hotel del Coronado.
Immediately to the north of Pacific Beach are the beaches of La Jolla, a wealthy city that starts on the edge of San Diego city limits. La Jolla has several wonderful beaches including Windansea, La Jolla Cove, and La Jolla Shores. There is a great page on these here.
North of La Jolla, in what is now called North San Diego, there are other amazing beaches and beach communities, including
- Del Mar
- Carlsbad state beach, near Legoland California. (I can also recommend some great beach side hotels near Legoland and hotels near Carlsbad beach.)
Finally, heading south of Ocean Beach towards the border with Mexico, there are several other interesting San Diego beaches:
- Point Loma Beach
- Silver Strand Beach
- Imperial Beach
Tips on visiting San Diego beaches
Finally, here are a couple of tips in visiting San Diego beaches:
- The water tends to be cold. This is the Pacific Ocean, not the Caribbean--so don't expect to frolic in the water for hours on end. Don't get me wrong--it is refreshing to go for a dip after tanning a bit or walking, but except for the summer and early fall, you will probably not want to go for a long swim. If you are going to surf, you should bring your wetsuit.
- You can't drink on the beach anymore. One of the great attractions of San Diego beaches was that you could drink on them. In fact, people used to drive down from Los Angeles simply to spend a relaxing day drinking on the beach. But ever since January 2008, no longer--no more alcohol on the beach. If you ask me, this is probably a good thing on the whole, but in any case, it is now the law.
- Also, beach bonfires are on the verge of disappearing. Another great attraction of San Diego beaches is that many of them, at night, allow people to light fires in giant bonfire pits. 186 pits were maintained by employees of the city of San Diego. In 2008, the city eliminated the program, but an anonymous donor kept the pits alive. The beach bonfire program has been kept alive and will continue through June 30, 2011. However, the program continues only through the support of private donors, so if you'd like to help out, donate here .