San Diego is a beautiful city in southern California, and if you are looking for sandy beaches, you are in for a serious treat. The whole San Diego County region is blessed with stunning beach choices, which are in full swing all year round, thanks to the warm climate. Visiting any of the San Diego beaches is one of the best things to do in the city. While it is undoubtedly full of culture, with tons of fabulous museums and historical attractions, San Diego’s beach scene is what makes it so impressive and one of California’s top cities. Choosing between the best beaches in San Diego is a definite challenge – whether you pick Pacific Beach or La Jolla Shores Beach we can guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
Best Beaches in San Diego
This guide will introduce you to the best beaches in San Diego – the real showstoppers. Whether you want to tread the hallowed ground outside Hotel Coronado or head to more remote state parks for a quiet beach experience, a San Diego beach will suit you. Let’s sift through your top options and find you a sandy beach that’s right up your alley.
1. Ski Beach Park
Ski Beach Park is a beautiful spot with an island vibe that is hard to resist for a quiet beach day. The beach is in a spacious park with stunning views of the Mission Bay area and long white sands. The whole ‘island’ the Ski Beach Park sits on is connected to the mainland by bridges, and the best way to reach Ski Beach Park is by car or public transport. It is hugely popular amongst San Diego locals and a hotspot for joggers and families looking to enjoy the playground and picnic tables. With shallow waters and calm waves, it is also the perfect spot for a quiet swim.
Ski Beach Park is near the amusement park SeaWorld San Diego. Since it is just a short drive away, it is a great attraction to combine with a beach day. We love Ski Beach Park’s laidback vibe; it is the ideal spot for wholesome family time, a quiet jog, or sunbathing with a book.
Where to Stay: Paradise Point Resort & Spa
2. Bermuda Beach
Bermuda Beach is somewhere to head at low tide – its Bermuda name is quite ironic since it almost entirely disappears at high tide. When you catch it at low tide, this little beach is the ultimate spot for a quick sunbathing and local atmosphere. Bermuda Beach doesn’t have the clamor of major beaches like Coronado Beach. Instead, it offers a quiet place to recuperate before returning to busy San Diego.
The easiest way to reach Bermuda Beach from central San Diego is to drive, which takes just 15 minutes. Otherwise, you can catch the bus in 45 minutes. It is located in a suburban and residential area near Sunset Cliffs and the Ocean Beach neighborhoods.
Where to Stay: Samesun Ocean Beach
3. Kellogg Beach
Kellogg Beach perfectly fits that cliché phrase ‘hidden gem’. This small beach is one of the best beaches in San Diego if you want a more off-the-beaten-track beach day, and if you visit at low tide, you’ll still find plenty of room for your beach towel. Kellogg Beach is a dreamy spot to watch the nearby sailboats. While there are cleaner beach waters to swim in, Kellogg Beach is more a place to take a scenic and peaceful walk. Kellogg Beach is ideal for a quiet beach to explore while having private conversations with fellow travelers.
Street parking around Kellogg Beach can get busy, so visiting outside peak times is best. You can also access the beach by kayak or paddleboard, which is something to consider if you are already interested in watersports in San Diego. Otherwise, it is just a 20-minute drive from San Diego’s city center.
Where to Stay: Seaside Point Loma Home
4. Border Field State Park Beach
Border Field State Park Beach is a beautiful beach to visit but also a vital beach for endangered bird conservation. The beach is a hotspot for picnickers and hikers who explore the dunes and keep sharp eyes out for resident and visiting birds. Alternatively, you can book a beach horseback riding experience with local stables nearby. Border Field State Park Beach is a place for immersing yourself in nature, wildlife, and conservation. We love the option for horseback riding, too, which is just a serene way to top off a trip to an already memorable beach.
It is just 30 minutes from San Diego by car to reach Border Field State Beach. It isn’t quite accessible by public transport unless you get an Uber or Lyft for the last part of the way, so this is one of the best beaches in San Diego for those with access to cars during their stay.
Where to Stay: Hampton Inn & Suites Imperial Beach
5. Central Beach
Central Beach is a compact 1.5-mile adjacent beach next to the famous Coronado Beach. It is equally busy and ‘alive’ as Coronado Beach, with a slightly less famous appeal. Central Beach is where to go for a popular beach day experience with all the facilities you could ask for, including lifeguard supervision, fire rings, and outdoor showers. People head to Central Beach to swim, surf, and sunbathe, and it provides a heavily supervised all-rounder beach day. It is the sort of beach that gets suggested when planning a beach hangout. We found its sociable atmosphere and steady popularity impressive, bagging it a place on this list. There’s free and almost unlimited street parking – a huge win. Central Beach is also just 30 minutes away by bus from central San Diego.
Where to Stay: Cherokee Lodge
6. Mission Beach Park
This guide covers two ‘Mission Beach’ choices: South Mission Beach and Mission Beach Park. Mission Beach Park is the north beach option and one of the prettiest San Diego beaches, offering exclusive-looking holiday homes along its shores and cute independent souvenir shops. Mission Beach Park is ideal if you want a trendy beach day experience from San Diego and easy access to Mission Bay.
Mission Beach Park is a Pacific beach opening onto the beautiful Pacific Ocean. However, you can also detour from Mission Beach Park to the water sports activities on Mission Bay. Mission Bay is a real adventure hub, and you can hire boats or jet skis to explore this inland area. By choosing the north end of Mission Beach, you have really easy access to these Mission Bay watersports. Plus, it is just 15 minutes away from the city center and has a real beach town vibe.
Where to Stay: Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa
7. Silver Strand State Beach
Silver Strand State Beach is one of the most spacious San Diego beaches, so this is your spot if you want a quiet experience in San Diego County. It is also one of the few San Diego beaches that offers RV camping, which is a nice touch for anyone wanting an overnight beach experience. Keep your eyes peeled for sand dollars and stingrays, too, which frequent the shores.
Silver Strand State Beach is just 25 minutes from San Diego’s city center by car or 50 minutes by bus. It is our top recommendation if you want to try out RV camping or go hunting for sand dollars.
Where to Stay: Loews Coronado Bay Resort
8. Pacific Beach
Pacific Beach is one of the most spacious beach destinations you can pick near San Diego. Pacific Beach is lined with beach bars and restaurants, and despite its long sands, it feels like a real hub in its community. There’s always a bit of buzz at Pacific Beach. The Ocean Front Walk promenade is always busy with joggers, dog walkers, and the odd straying sightseer that managed to stumble out of San Diego. Pacific Beach is spacious and fun. And there’s Crystal Pier to enjoy as well, which is massively popular amongst fishing enthusiasts.
To reach Pacific Beach, it is just a 20-minute drive from the center of San Diego, or around 50 minutes by public transport. Pacific Beach is a brilliant spot to experience life outside Downtown San Diego and immerse yourself in suburban life in southern California. If you like surfing, Pacific Beach is also a top choice, and you can find plenty of surf rental shops to grab some gear for a day. There are also volleyball courts at the south end of the beach – Pacific Beach is one of the best beaches in San Diego if you love beach sports and activities.
Where to Stay: Tower 23 Hotel
9. South Carlsbad State Beach
South Carlsbad State Beach is a stunning grey beach, and despite being one of the furthest beaches away from San Diego’s city center, it is well worth the extra effort and 30-minute drive. South Carlsbad State Beach is accessed via a flight of aesthetic wooden stairs and is frequently voted as one of the cleanest beaches to visit in San Diego. This San Diego beach is also popular amongst surfers and strong swimmers who feel comfortable tackling semi-challenging waves. It is a laidback and friendly spot, with plenty of street parking and space to relax and enjoy yourself.
For us, South Carlsbad State Beach is easily one of the best San Diego beaches. If you don’t have a rental car, you can visit easily using public transport. It takes around an hour and 15 minutes.
Where to Stay: Cape Rey Carlsbad Beach, A Hilton Resort & Spa
10. Moonlight State Beach
Moonlight State Beach is full of facilities. This San Diego beach has its own volleyball courts and tennis courts, outdoor showers, a snack bar, and recreational equipment rentals. If you are one of those beachgoers who likes activities at hand, Moonlight State Beach is one of the best beaches in San Diego. Most of San Diego’s beaches have some facilities and entertainment, but what’s unique about Moonlight State Beach is how everything is together. The compact beach scene is all about fun and easygoing entertainment – precisely what you need to let your hair down after more serious sightseeing.
Moonlight State Beach is just an hour from San Diego city center by public transport, so it is feasible if you don’t rent a car. This happy-go-lucky sandy beach is an ideal spot for a fun day out, and it is excellent for anyone who wants an active beach day.
Where to Stay: Inn at Moonlight Beach
11. San Onofre State Beach
San Onofre Beach is situated in a beautiful 3,000-acre state park, meaning you can immediately access miles upon miles of scenic hiking trails, and the beach has an isolated charm. It is really popular amongst walkers, sunbathers, and surfers. Be prepared for a short hike to reach San Onofre Beach, but when you get there, you’ll be rewarded tenfold by towering cliffs that create a really dramatic beach scene. Surfers should note that this is typically more of a longboard style of beach, and everyone should look into the surfing history of San Onofre Beach to understand the beach’s culture before visiting. Make sure to stay for sunset, too, which is notoriously beautiful.
Reaching San Onofre Beach is a lengthy hour-long drive from central San Diego. It takes way too long for the average traveler to tackle on public transport, so we’d recommend it for those with access to cars only. The drive is scenic, though, and you’ll be hugging the northern coastline with plenty of opportunities to stop at oceanfront towns and cities. You can easily combine it with a detour to Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve or the San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve and Nature Center. If you enjoy road trips, bookmark San Onofre Beach for your San Diego itinerary. For a more adventurous experience, stay overnight at San Mateo Campground. Who needs a beach town when you have a coastal campsite to call home overnight?
Where to Stay: San Clemente Inn
12. Law Street Beach
Law Street Beach is a gorgeous beach north of San Diego, scenically backed by grassy parkland and an area of cliffs. It is a community beach and extremely popular amongst joggers and groups doing yoga at sunrise and sunset. Law Street Beach has that balance between serenity and buzz that appeals to travelers wanting a more authentic beach day experience. There is also lifeguard supervision, which makes surfing and swimming here much safer than at other unsupervised beaches. And there’s even a ramp for more accessible beach access.
Law Street Beach is a friendly place to choose for a beach day from San Diego. You can soak up the community vibes or get involved. There are loads of free yoga classes that you can join, so check what is on. Law Street Beach is just 20 minutes away from central San Diego by car or 50 minutes by public transport, so you can easily reach this beach spot regardless.
Where to Stay: Pacific Terrace Hotel
13. Black’s Beach
Black’s Beach is well-known amongst locals, many of whom giggle about the fact it is a nude beach – meaning beachgoers abide by a clothing-optional policy. The beach is secluded in Torrey Pines State Park and is only accessible by a hiking trail, so it has an isolated feel. Black’s Beach is ideal if you fancy embracing a more natural way of sunbathing and beachgoing. It is also stunningly backed by some awe-inspiring cliffs and ridges. While not family-friendly, it is ideal for adults who want to experience a nude beach and enjoy a hike in Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. There’s also paragliding overhead, which is entertaining to watch.
The designated parking area near Black’s Beach is 25 minutes from the city center or an hour by public transport. It is a fairly straightforward journey. Just come prepared for parking and state park entry fees.
Where to Stay: Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa
14. Imperial Beach
Imperial Beach is a southern beach situated just under San Diego Bay and closer to the Tijuana border. It has a classic beach appeal, with Imperial Beach Pier cutting an aesthetic architectural look and providing a brilliant, much-used place for fishing. This is a chilled spot with many local beach bars and restaurants to hop along when you tire of laying on the beach. The most excitement at Imperial Beach is the occasional military helicopter flying over to land at the nearby base. It is a minimal-effort option to kick back and enjoy the south coast of San Diego.
Imperial Beach is just 25 minutes south of the city center by car, or you can take the tram and bus in a 50-minute journey on public transport. For us, it epitomizes that laidback beach town culture, and it is a relaxing place to spend a few hours outside of busy central San Diego. It is also close to the Tijuana River National Estuary reserve, which is a pretty attraction to combine with a visit to Imperial Beach. The preserve is a contrast to San Diego’s wide sandy beaches and provides you with an insight into protected marshlands and wildlife with special trails.
Where to Stay: Pier South Resort, Autograph Collection
15. Cardiff State Beach
Cardiff State Beach is a protected beach, and it’s easy to see why. This San Diego beach is serene, with wide sands and pretty calm waters. Its spaciousness is perfect for those wanting a beach day to enjoy their own company and thoughts. Equally, it is ideal for the more active beachgoer and has the length to attract those wanting a long beach walk. If you time your visit with low tide, you can see some spectacular tide pools while walking Cardiff State Beach. Make sure to fully appreciate San Elijo State Marine Conservation Area before returning to San Diego.
Cardiff State Beach’s protected status is great to see. Its peaceful quality is also brilliant for visitors wanting a contrast from the hectic nature of inner-city San Diego. It is just 30 minutes away from the city center by car or an hour by public transport.
Where to Stay: Hampton Inn Encinitas Cardiff Beach Area
16. Solana Beach
Solana Beach Country Park is unproblematic and spacious, with clean sands and walkable surroundings. Solana Beach is a reliable choice if you fancy a leisurely day out. You can access many beach trails if you want to walk, tide pools to peek at with small children, and many shops and restaurants along its shoreline. Solana Beach is a gorgeous beach and has a brilliant area for retail therapy when you’ve filled your beach day bucket.
Solana Beach wins our recommendation as one of the most relaxing beaches in San Diego. Its unshakable atmosphere is a real plus for anyone wanting to unplug. It is a little further from the city center if you drive, taking 30 minutes by car. But you can take the direct train to the beach in just 50 minutes. Solana Beach Country Park is an excellent idea for a beach day you can travel to by train.
Where to Stay: Courtyard by Marriott San Diego Del Mar/Solana Beach, Solana Beach
17. Coronado Beach
Coronado Beach is that beach in San Diego. Chances are you’ve already heard of this famous spot, which is best known because of Hotel del Coronado. This hotel was opened in 1888 and has hosted many celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe. It has also been used as a filming location in many movies, which is likely why you recognize its terracotta-colored turrets. On Coronado Beach, you have stunning views of the famous hotel and a real buzz. The beach is popular for sunbathers, swimmers, and sunbathers. If you get lucky, you can also spot dolphins, and it isn’t unheard of for swimmers to find themselves accidentally swimming with these beautiful marine animals.
The beach is just a 15-minute drive from San Diego’s city center but equally a 35-minute breeze by bus. We recommend using public transport, as street parking can be challenging.
Where to Stay: Hotel Marisol Coronado
18. Torrey Pines State Beach
Torrey Pines State Beach is one of the prettiest beaches in San Diego and is backed by a serene pine forest nature reserve. For a peaceful beach day amidst nature, you can’t beat Torrey Pines State Beach, and if you love hiking in nature more than a promenade of beach bars, this is the beach for you. The beach cliffs are equally impressive, and safety-wise, the lifeguard presence is a plus for solo travelers still wanting to enjoy more remote beaches. There are also restrooms and outdoor showers – always an excellent convenience.
Torrey Pines State Beach gets some serious brownie points for its pine forest and cliff views. It is 30 minutes away from San Diego’s city center, and if you get lucky, you may spot dolphins or bobcats within the state park boundaries.
Where to Stay: San Diego Marriott del Mar
19. Ocean Beach
Ocean Beach City Beach is the place to be in the trendy suburb of Ocean Beach. You head down Newport Avenue and access the beach off Orchard Avenue. It is a definite surfing beach with rough seas unsuitable for swimmers. The lifeguards are always on hand for surfers who get into difficulty, but non-surfers should instead enjoy sunbathing in tide pools and beach walks. This sandy beach is a peaceful little sunbathing spot ideal for those wanting a convenient suburban beach day. And at sunset, Ocean Beach City Beach is just dreamy.
Ocean Beach City Beach is just 15 minutes away from central San Diego by car. However, public transport is the easiest way to reach this beach when considering traffic congestion and parking issues. It is just 45 minutes by bus when you take the 923 from the city center – no parking dramas necessary. Ocean Beach City Beach stands out for its suburban surfer appeal, and we also really like the tide pooling opportunities, which help keep non-surfers entertained.
Where to Stay: Blue Heron Cottages
20. La Jolla Shores
La Jolla Shores Beach is only a mile long, yet this is easily one of the best beaches in San Diego. La Jolla Shores Beach is famous for its adorable resident sea lions and fantastic water sports activities. This sandy beach has a permanent lifeguard tower and is renowned for scuba diving lessons and kayaking experiences. You can sunbathe on the shores, meet and greet sea lions (from a respectable distance), kayak to La Jolla Cove, or scuba dive in the La Jolla Underwater Park. La Jolla Shores Beach ticks many boxes and is exciting to visit- especially if you want to learn scuba diving or see sea lions.
La Jolla Shores is just 30 minutes to drive from San Diego to La Jolla Shores Beach or 1 hour and 20 minutes by public transport. It is easy to see why people love this beach. And whichever of La Jolla’s activities you choose, you’ll have a memorable beach day experience.
Where to Stay: Hotel La Jolla, Curio Collection by Hilton
21. South Mission Beach
South Mission Beach is a popular option amongst the best beaches in San Diego. It is your typical beach destination, with shops, restaurants, and bike paths lining its shores. South Mission Beach is the sort of place you head for a packed day of beach activities and sunbathing before an evening meal out. The boardwalk is also a stunning place to stroll along, and you benefit from lifeguard supervision safety-wise. South Mission Beach is a beautiful spot, and if you like a resort-style holiday atmosphere, it really has that classic beach destination allure. And you should appreciate the stunning views of the Entrance Channel and Mariners Basin. Mission Beach is easy to enjoy, which is a big part of why we had to add it to this list.
South Mission Beach is located near Belmont Park and Mission Bay Park, so there are plenty of green space areas that you can escape to for some shade. It is also just a 20-minute drive from San Diego city center or an hour by public transport.
Where to Stay: Bahia Resort Hotel
22. Sunset Cliffs Natural Park
Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is where San Diego channels Algarve inspiration. There’s even a sea cave, much like the Benagil Cave, with beautiful arches and stacks along the cliffs. You can walk the stunning clifftop trail, climb stairs to reach the beaches at alternating points, and enjoy Pacific Ocean views. You can spot cliff jumpers tackling leaps into the ocean below if you’re lucky. The park got its name from its beautiful views at sunset, and it is a hugely popular place to enjoy an evening stroll. It is hardly a secret, but we couldn’t leave it out of this guide as it is a popular natural attraction in San Diego.
The best way to reach Sunset Cliffs Natural Park is by car, just 20 minutes from the city center. You can also reach Sunset Cliffs Natural Park by public transport in under 1.5 hours. You’ll likely find it more convenient to travel there by car, especially if you aim for sunset.
Where to Stay: The Inn at Sunset Cliffs
23. Tourmaline Beach
Tourmaline Beach is a beautiful beach far too often overlooked in San Diego. Backed by cliffs, it creates a remote-feeling atmosphere despite being located in the busy suburbs and residential areas around Bird Rock. Tourmaline Beach is one of the best beaches in San Diego if you like surfing, and it also has outdoor showers and restroom facilities. Just be aware that street parking can be limited and that Tourmaline Beach gets pretty popular – read: packed – in peak times. It is the local place to go, so expect crowds at times like hot weekends.
To reach Tourmaline Beach, it is just 20 minutes by car from central San Diego or an hour on public transport, using the bus and tram. It earned a place on this list because of its excellent surfing, especially for longboarders. It is also one of the more convenient beaches in San Diego to visit, just a short distance away and with plenty of facilities.
Where to Stay: Opal Oasia
24. Dog Beach
Dog Beach’s name is more straightforward than you think. This San Diego beach is dog-friendly and a designated off-leash area for dog walkers to unleash their pups. If you are traveling to San Diego with a dog, Dog Beach is one of your only beach options – so, luckily, it is a beautiful setting and easily accessible from the city center. But even if you aren’t, dog lovers will love the atmosphere at Dog Beach. Throw down a beach towel you aren’t too precious about and get ready to meet lots of excitable dogs. Dog Beach has a brilliant atmosphere. It is one of the only San Diego beaches to embrace a dog-friendly beach space fully. Everything from the pawprint sign at the beach access point to all the wagging tails makes this a great addition to our popular beaches. Dog Beach is dreamy if you like long sandy beaches.
To reach Dog Beach, it is 15 minutes from central San Diego by car or 50 minutes by bus, with a 10-minute walk afterward. The beach is in the Ocean Beach neighborhood, right next to the stunning Entrance Channel, so get ready for scenic views.
Where to Stay: Ocean Villa Inn
Best Beaches in San Diego: FAQs
So, there’s no doubt that you are up to scratch on the best beaches in San Diego. Hopefully, you now have a handful of beach day ideas that suit you as an individual. All of these San Diego beaches are well worth a visit – it is just a case of trying to squeeze the most suitable into a limited itinerary. If you haven’t decided on the length of your trip to San Diego already, consider staying at least three to four days so you can see a few different beaches. Before you do get planning, though, let’s break down the most common FAQs.
Where is the prettiest beach in San Diego?
Sunset Cliffs Natural Park has the prettiest beaches in San Diego. You can find beaches undersea caves – much like the Algarve’s Benagil Cave – and countless sunset and sunrise viewpoints.
What beach in San Diego has the cleanest water?
Carlsbad State Beach might be a 30-minute drive north of San Diego, but the journey is worthwhile as it has one of the most clean-rated waters in the region.
What is the most popular beach in San Diego?
Coronado Beach is the most popular beach choice in San Diego. The famous Hotel Coronado attracts crowds of tourists, and the beach has popular volleyball courts and surfing conditions.
What is the most walkable beach in San Diego?
Bermuda Beach is one of the smallest beaches in San Diego and is, therefore, highly walkable. In terms of boardwalks, Mission Beach has one of the most beautiful boardwalks for beach walks.
You can see why so many people flock from LA to San Diego on a day trip; these best beaches in San Diego are heavenly. You could spot sea lions or book a scuba diving lesson at Jolla Shores. Alternatively, you could surf at Imperial Beach or go for a sunset fishing session off Imperial Beach Pier. That’s not to mention all the beach bars at the best San Diego Beaches. This city is spoiled for choice when it comes to beach day options. And to spend a day along the Pacific Ocean shoreline; this is a beautiful spot in southern California.
Are you planning to visit San Diego for longer than just a day? Perfect. The city is ideal for a three to four-day break, and we’ve got an entire guide on the best places to stay in terms of neighborhoods and hotels. Maximize your trip with the perfect base in San Diego and have a wonderful time experiencing its beautiful beach scene.