Aerial view of a pier in Pacific Beach, one of the best San Diego beach towns

15 Best San Diego Beach Towns for 2023 (By a Local)

San Diego’s beach towns are truly world-class. The beaches alone are renowned for their natural beauty and variety, qualities that led to the formation of equally eclectic and lovely towns that have sprung up around them.

I’m a San Diego local, and I’m here to spill the beans on the best beach towns in San Diego. Whether you’re searching for places to explore after lounging on San Diego’s beaches or are planning a more permanent relocation, I hope my perspective as a local can help you. If you like this article, bookmark my guide to what to do in San Diego next.

Let’s dive into the best beach communities in San Diego.

Disclosure: Travel Lemming is an independent reader-supported blog. You can support us by purchasing via the affiliate links on this page, which may earn us commissions. Thank you!

15 Best Beach Towns in San Diego

Oceanside

San Diego’s northernmost beach town boasts long sandy beaches and an iconic pier. 

Colorful sky over the Oceanside pier during sunset
The Oceanside pier is the longest wooden pier in the Western U.S.

📍 Google Maps | Website | 👉  Browse Hotels in Oceanside on Booking

As the northernmost beach town in San Diego county, Oceanside doesn’t always get the credit it deserves. Besides long stretches of flat sandy beaches, there are tons of things to do in Oceanside.

Oceanside has swoon-worthy hotels, tons of local bars and restaurants, a charming downtown area that keeps expanding, and contains institutions such as the California Surf Museum.

Be sure to visit the centerpiece of the town, the Oceanside Pier. It’s the longest wooden pier on the west coast of the U.S., and it has Ruby’s Diner perched on the end. 

🍽️ Must Try Restaurant: Wrench and Rodent, one of my favorite sushi restaurants in San Diego, is in Oceanside. In addition to traditional rolls and fantastic special rolls, they also make wonderful vegan rolls

Carlsbad

Carlsbad is full of small-town charm and some of the city’s loveliest beaches. 

View of a colorful flower field in Carlsbad
The Carlsbad Flower Fields rival the beaches for the town’s most beautiful feature! (photo: kitleong / 123RF)

📍 Google Maps | Website | Places to Stay in Carlsbad | 👉 Browse Hotels in Carlsbad on Booking

Located in North County San Diego, Carlsbad is a quaint beach town that has a laid-back, family-friendly atmosphere. There are tons of great activities in Carlsbad, and the quaint downtown area is full of adorable boutique shops and a mix of fine dining and casual restaurants. 

Carlsbad is the type of town where you’ll see more people walking around in bathing suits and barefoot than fully clothed.

The beach community is also home to Legoland as well as Carlsbad State Beach, which has a beautiful clifftop campground with an ocean view.

🍽️ Restaurant: Pizza Port is Carlsbad’s most beloved brewery (one of San Diego’s numerous craft breweries) and has a super inviting, family-friendly atmosphere.

Leucadia

The charming town of Leucadia is full of local restaurants and beachy vibes. 

A staircase going to the Leucadia beach during sunset

📍 Google Maps  | 👉 Browse Hotels in Leucadia on Booking

Leucadia is one of the most low-key of San Diego’s beach towns. In fact, it’s more like a small, surf-oriented neighborhood than a town. 

The downtown area boasts some laid-back but fantastic mom-and-pop stores and restaurants along the Pacific Coast Highway. If you’re looking for a beachy atmosphere, where most of the businesses are within walking distance, then Leucadia is for you.

Beacon’s Beach is located in Leucadia and is one of San Diego’s most beautiful and less crowded beaches due to its steep beach access. 

Encinitas

Encinitas is a laidback, trendy town perched on some of San Diego’s most-loved beaches. 

View of a welcoming sign in Encinitas
(photo: littlenySTOCK / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | Website | 👉 Browse Hotels in Encinitas on Booking

Home to multiple gorgeous beaches including Moonlight State Beach and Swami’s Beach, there’s no wonder that Encinitas is one of the most popular of San Diego’s neighborhoods

In addition to the lovely coastline, Encinitas is full of fun things to do. It has a trendy downtown area whose blocks are lined with great restaurants, from fancy eateries to taco stands and shopping boutiques. 

If you love a blend of beachy, southern California charm and trendy urban culture, then Encinitas is the town for you. See our guide to where to stay in Encinitas to get planning.

Cardiff-By-The-Sea

While Cardiff may be small, it’s full of natural beauty. 

Silhouette of the Cardiff Kook Statue during sunset
The Cardiff Kook statue is one of San dIego’s mpst famous residents! (photo: DBSOCAL / Shutterstock)

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Hotels in Cardiff on Booking

Cardiff is one of the smallest of San Diego’s beach communities, but what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in local charm. In Cardiff, you can camp at San Elijo State Beach, walk along a gorgeous stretch of wide beach, and hike around San Elijo Lagoon wetland area. In terms of outdoor activities, the town has a bit of everything.

In addition, Cardiff is home to the iconic San Diego statue, colloquially known as the “Cardiff Kook” but officially named The Magic Carpet Ride. The statue is constantly getting dressed up in quirky outfits, so it’s always an adventure seeing his current outfit.

Solana Beach

The coastal community of Solana Beach is the perfect place to enjoy art and coastal beauty 

Scenic view of the sea in Fletcher Cove Beach Park
(photo: SherryVSmith / Depositphotos)

📍 Google Maps | Website | 👉 Browse Hotels in Solana Beach on Booking

If you love enjoying both the beach and perusing art galleries, then Solana Beach is for you. The town is known for its cheerful and walkable downtown area and family-friendly beaches, including Fletcher’s Cove and Tide Beach Park, both of which are favorites among surfers and small children alike.

After taking in Solana’s coastal beauty, you can head to Cedros Avenue to immerse yourself in the beauty of art and design. The quaint street is lined with inviting art galleries, decor shops, eateries, and my favorite winery, Carruth Cellars.

Del Mar

The upscale town of Del Mar offers not only gorgeous beaches but also fine dining and shopping

View of rides from the The Del Mar Fair
The Del Mar Fair is one of San Diego’s most anticipated event of the year! (photo: agezinder / 123RF)

📍 Google Maps | Website | 👉 Browse Hotels in Del Mar on Booking

Whereas most of San Diego’s beach towns are known for their beautiful coastlines, Del Mar’s most iconic feature is the Del Mar Fairground. The sprawling grounds host tons of San Diego’s biggest events, including the Del Mar horse races, the San Diego Fair, the Summer concert series, and more.

Of course, the town has its fair share of beautiful beaches, including the Del Mar Dog Beach, a favorite among both local humans and their four-legged companions. The downtown area invites people to stroll around, explore the many shops and restaurants, and relax in the multiple beachside parks.

Torrey Pines

Explore the stunningly rugged and undeveloped coast of Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve 

View from the coastline of Torrey Pines

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Hotels in Torrey Pines on Expedia

For those whose priority is exploring the natural beauty of Southern California, Torrey Pines is the place to do so. The State Reserve boasts San Diego’s only stretch of pristine coastline whose seaside cliffs showcase what the California coast must have looked like prior to development.

Besides containing some of San Diego’s best hiking trails, Torrey Pines’ additional outdoor activities include golfing at the Torrey pines golf course and visiting the Gliderport to watch paragliders soaring around the cliffs.

La Jolla

The lovely town of La Jolla is full of historical charm and luxury hotels, restaurants, and shopping 

Aerial view of a beach in La Jolla

📍 Google Maps | Website | 👉 Browse Hotels in La Jolla on Booking

The picturesque seaside La Jolla Village contains just about everything you could ask of a San Diego beach town. There are tons of things to do in downtown La Jolla, including upscale shopping and numerous fine dining options interspersed with beautiful historic buildings. 

La Jolla Shores is San Diego’s most popular sandy beach, known for its soft white sand and calm waves ideal for families. Other iconic La Jolla beaches include the stunning, wildlife-filled La Jolla Cove and La Jolla Children’s Pool.

Pacific Beach

Pacific Beach is San Diego’s favorite party town, where you can enjoy the beaches and the bars all within a few blocks. 

Aerial view of a pier in the Pacific Beach

📍 Google Maps | Website | 👉 Browse Hotels in Pacific Beach on Booking

Pacific Beach, locally known as PB, is one of San Diego’s most youthful neighborhoods. Many young professionals and college students visit and reside in the beach town, drawn by the boisterous atmosphere and many bars and restaurants in a small area. 

PB is also one of the more popular destinations for tourists who are attracted by the long sandy beaches, great surf, and lively nightlife all within a short walk.

Mission Beach

Mission Beach provides the best of the Pacific Ocean as well as Mission Bay

View of the roller coaster in Belmont Park

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Hotels in Mission Beach on Booking

Mission Beach is comprised of a thin strip of land that separates Mission Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The 2.5 miles are packed full of unique San Diego character, and come complete with tiki bars, taco stands, and the historic Belmont amusement park. 

Loveable beach bums and tourists share the picturesque boardwalk that meanders along the white sand beach where you can watch surfers and volleyball games.

Just a few blocks east you can enjoy the equally beautiful Mission Bay where you can paddle board, swim, and sail.

Ocean Beach

Ocean Beach is full of bohemian quirkiness that welcomes anyone and everyone to enjoy its chill atmosphere. 

📍 Google Maps | Website | 👉 Browse Hotels in Ocean Beach on Booking

Ocean Beach is San Diego’s quirkiest of beach towns, known for its eclectic, bohemian character. OB and its inhabitants thrive on individuality and colorful, often spontaneous celebrations, one of which is the weekly OB Farmer’s Market. 

Like the rest of the town, the market doesn’t follow the norm and begins in the evening and devolves into beach bonfires and streetside revelry after the official event.

The neighborhood is welcoming and warm to any and all and is often the place that convinces visitors to extend their stay in San Diego indefinitely. Many of the people in OB have lived there for over fifty years and have never considered the possibility of life elsewhere.

👉 Pro Tip: The OB dog beach is one of the best dog-friendly, leash-free parks in the county.

Point Loma

Point Loma is home to the best vantage point for watching the sunset in San Diego

View of path walk going to Old Point Loma Lighthouse
The Old Point Loma Lighthouse is part of the Cabrillo National Monument and embodies Point Loma’s seaside charm

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Hotels in Point Loma on Booking

Point Loma consists of a rugged peninsula that juts into the ocean, creating a protective barrier around Coronado Island. The picturesque neighborhood is best known for Sunset Cliffs, famous as the best spot to watch the sunset in San Diego. 

At the tip of the peninsula lies Cabrillo National Monument, which pays tribute to Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, the first European to set foot in California. While visiting the monument you can also explore the spectacular tide pools.

👉 Pro Tip: Point Loma is also home to Liberty Station, a historical Naval training center turned cultural destination. The lovely buildings hold tons of restaurants, breweries, boutique shops, and art galleries.

Coronado

The upscale island town of Coronado exudes class and charm, plus some gorgeous beaches. 

Aerial view of a bridge in Coronado

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Hotels in Coronado on Booking 

Coronado Island is a small piece of land separated from Downtown San Diego by the San Diego Bay. The elegant beach town is known for its upscale businesses, the jewel of which is the Hotel Del Coronado, San Diego’s most iconic beachfront hotel. The town and Coronado Beach have a New England charm and are best enjoyed on a beach cruiser bike.

The island is accessed via the instantly-recognizable Coronado bridge (one of San Diego’s many historic landmarks) or by the Silver Strand state beach, a slim spit of land that connects to Imperial Beach.

Imperial Beach

The Southernmost San Diego beach community celebrates beach, culture, and community. 

A dog on a board in Imperial Beach
IB’s dog surf competition is a must-see event!

📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse Hotels in Imperial Beach on Booking

Imperial Beach is the southernmost town on the West Coast USA, separated from Mexico only by the stunning wetlands of the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge (one of the best spots for bird-watching in San Diego). Due to its proximity to the border, the town is flavored (literally) by Mexico and contains some of the best burritos and tacos you can find.

IB also hosts the annual San Diego county sand castle competition as well as the annual dog surfing competition, both of which draw crowds of people to the beautiful white sand beaches. 

FAQs About San Diego Beach Towns

What’s the nicest beach in San Diego?

Coronado is the next beach in San Diego if you love long stretches of sandy beach where you can set up camp and play games. If you would rather enjoy a more rugged cliffy beach you should explore Windansea Beach in La Jolla.

Is San Diego a beach town?

San Diego is a large city most well known for its beautiful coast. While Downtown San Diego is not on the beach, most of San Diego’s most well-known towns are located on the beach.

Which San Diego beach town is best for families? 

Carlsbad is the best town in San Diego for families. The downtown is charming and walkable with tons of family-friendly restaurants and shops. The beaches are wide and sandy, perfect for setting up umbrellas and playing games in the sand. Plus, Carlsbad is also home to Legoland which is one of the top activities for kids in the city, as well as the Flower Fields, which make an incredible spot for family photos.

Which San Diego beach town has the most things to do? 

Depending on what kinds of activities you’re interested in, either Carlsbad or Pacific Beach have tons of activities. Carlsbad has a lot of family-friendly things to do and see, such as tranquil beaches, Legoland, and the Flower Fields. If you are hoping for more youthful activities that revolve around nightlife, eating out, and enjoying the beach and Mission Bay, Pacific Beach is for you.

***

Each of the San Diego beach towns offers its specific character and unique appeal. And while there is a wide variety of towns, one thing’s for certain – you’re guaranteed to enjoy the San Diego beaches.

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2 Comments

  1. Point Loma, Pacific Pacific Beach, Mission Beach, Coronado and Lajolla Shores are my favorite Beach neighborhoods in San Diego, California

  2. Oceanside is home to the longest wooden pier on the west coast. The West Coast’s longest pier of all belongs to Ocean Beach, at 1,971 feet long—17 feet longer than the Oceanside pier.

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