View of spring flower blooms at one of the San Diego beaches

23 Best San Diego Beaches for 2021 (By a Local!)

San Diego, California usually brings to mind sunny weather and gorgeous beaches. And with over 70 miles of coastline that ranges from long sandy beaches to rugged cliffs jutting out over the pacific, it’s no wonder that San Diego’s beaches are world-famous. 

The only question is: which are the best San Diego beaches?

Well, grab your bathing suits and sunscreen because I’m going to let you in on a local’s perspective on the best beaches San Diego has to offer.

Disclosure: Travel Lemming is an independent reader-supported blog. You can support my work by purchasing through the affiliate links on this page, which may earn a commission for this site. Thank you!

23 Best Beaches In San Diego (and Nearby)

Torrey Pines State Beach

La Jolla

View of the sunset in Torrey Pines Beach

Google Maps | Website | Parking: Paid lots at the north and south ends of the beach ($12-$25 for day use) or limited free street parking. 

Torrey Pines State Beach is one of San Diego’s most stunning and versatile beaches, and is so spectacular that it even makes it onto my list of the best things to do in San Diego. The rugged cliffs of Torrey Pines State Nature Preserve tower above the ocean, offering incredible views of the pacific and serve as a launching point for paragliders. 

Beneath the cliffs stretches a beautiful sandy beach that’s perfect for lounging on a beach chair, enjoying the waves, and, if the wind is right, watching paragliders soar overhead. 

👉 Pro Tip: If you’d like to free yourself from the confines of a bathing suit, head to the secluded Black’s Beach, which is the only nude beach in San Diego and also a very popular surfing spot! Black’s is located on the southern portion of Torrey Pines State Beach and is only accessible via a short hike.

San Onofre State Beach

San Clemente

View of the secret spot with a seat on it in San Onofre State Beach
Can you find this secret spot at San Onofre State Beach?

Google Maps | Website | Parking: Main parking lot is $15/ vehicle or park along Coast Hwy further south.

While San Onofre State Beach is at the northern extreme of San Diego County, just 3 miles south of San Clemente, it’s well worth the drive. The 3.5-mile long secluded beach is nestled within 3,000 acres of protected state park, with many areas only accessible by walking trail, making the beach less crowded than many other San Diego beaches.

San Onofre is popular with surfers seeking waves at world-famous Trestles and Surf Beach, but the park has plenty to offer to non-surfers as well. The San Onofre Bluffs and the San Mateo Campgrounds offer hiking trails, day-use areas, and campsites.

South Carlsbad State Beach 

Carlsbad

View of the stairway leading to South Carlsbad State Beach

Google Maps | Website | Parking: Parking at North Ponto and South Ponto lots ($15 per vehicle in peak season) | 👉 Book a stay at a Carlsbad Resort

Carlsbad State Beach is a beachside campground that stretches for 3 miles along Pacific Coast Highway. The campground, complete with a general store, picnic tables, and bathrooms, sits atop bluffs high above the beach below, making for a spectacular place to sleep. 

Along the campgrounds are long staircases to the lower beaches, which are renowned for surfing, boogie boarding, and swimming. 

While the campgrounds don’t have a day-use parking lot, anyone is welcome to use the lots just north and south of the campgrounds, known as North Ponto and South Ponto, respectively. 

🍽️ Hungry? Grab a burrito at Roberto’s, one of my favorite Mexican restaurants, just north of Carlsbad State Beach.

Law Street Beach

Pacific Beach

View of a man observing the people at the beach and enjoying the view in Law Street Beach

Google Maps | Parking: Free street parking – get there early on weekends!

Law Street Beach is in the north Pacific Beach (PB) neighborhood and is characterized by wide beaches and waves that invite surfers of all levels. Pacific Beach is a busy area so the beaches here can get pretty crowded, especially near Crystal Pier to the south of Law Street. 

Law Street only has street parking, so for another option close by, head north a few blocks to check out Tourmaline Surfing Park, another popular surf beach. 

La Jolla Shores Beach

La Jolla

View of surfers in La Jolla Shores

Google Maps | Parking: $10-$28 depending on the amount of time.

La Jolla Shores is debatably one of the most popular beaches in San Diego and, on a summer day, the sand fills with beach chairs and umbrellas. But the Shores has earned its popularity because of its wide beach, numerous ocean-based activities, surfing, and restaurants within walking distance, located on Avenida de La Playa. 

Just off La Jolla Shores lies an underwater paradise beloved by marine life, kayakers, snorkelers, and divers, so if this seems up your alley, check out the many tours you can take from the Shores. 

👉 Local Tip: If you’re a strong swimmer with snorkel experience and want to venture out on your own, head to the very south end of the beach and swim to the left to explore La Jolla’s stunning reef habitat.

Tamarack Beach

Carlsbad

View of people and some surfers enjoying the Tamarack Beach
​​(DBSOCAL / Shutterstock)

Google Maps | Parking: Paid parking lot on Tamarack Ave & Carlsbad Blvd or free street parking.

For those visiting or living in north county San Diego, Tamarack is one of the prime beaches to visit. The long, flat, sandy beach is broken up by jetties that create unique waves ripe for surfing and other water activities.  

Just to the south of Tamarack Ave. is the beach called “Warm Waters”, named for the slightly warmer water created by the now-decommissioned power plant that used to pump seawater in to cool the machinery and return it to the sea. Tamarack is a family-friendly beach because of the calm ocean, easy beach access, and public restrooms. 

Mission Bay

Mission Beach

View of the calm water in Mission Bay and some buildings near it
Sail Bay offers calm waters and plenty of beach for activities.

Google Maps | Parking: Free parking lots are available all around the bay.

Mission Bay is a man-made aquatic recreational area characterized by a maze of waterways, coves, and small beaches. Whether you want to boat, water ski, fish, swim, bonfire, or play volleyball, Mission Bay is the place to do it!

Here are some of the fun activities you’ll find at Mission Bay: 

  • Fiesta Island: A dune-covered island with boat launches and a large off-leash dog park.
  • Santa Clara Point: Rent boats and other aquatic gear at the Mission Bay Aquatic Center.
  • Crown Point Park: Get a group and enjoy a sandy beach with fire pits and a grassy park.
  • Sail Bay: Take advantage of first come, first served volleyball courts.
  • Ventura Cove: A favorite spot for open water swimmers and families with kids wanting to splash in the calm water.

Coronado Beach

Coronado Island

View of lifeguard tower in Coronado Beach

Google Maps | 👉 Book a Stay at Hotel Del Coronado

Coronado Island, which is actually a peninsula, is accessible via the iconic Coronado Bridge that transports you from downtown San Diego, over San Diego Bay, into the resort town. 

Coronado Beach, home of the luxurious Hotel Del Coronado, is one of San Diego’s most famous beaches, known for its sparkling golden sand due to the presence of the mineral mica. The gorgeous sand plus beautiful pacific ocean waves earn Coronado Beach a consistent spot on the list of top beaches in the country.

Ocean Beach

Ocean Beach

View of the Ocean Beach Pier

Google Maps | Parking: Free day-use lots at Ocean Beach and OB dog beach 

Ocean Beach (OB) is a popular sandy beach for recreation, relaxation, and surfing. Free volleyball courts are available for public use and just north of the main beach is the OB dog beach, one of the few places where furry friends can run free on the sand. 

Head a few blocks south to the Ocean Beach Pier for a great sunset spot, and underneath which is a favorite surf spot.

🔖 Bookmark This: If you love taking excursions around the San Diego area, be sure to bookmark my list of the best day trips in San Diego for some fun ideas!

Mission Beach

Mission Beach

Aerial view of the Mission Beach and the area near the beach

Google Maps | Parking: Public parking lot or street parking

The quirky town of Mission Beach is situated along the thin strip of land dividing Mission Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Mission Beach is a popular destination for tourists, surfers, and locals looking to enjoy waves and sunshine, and its oceanfront boardwalk is a great place to walk, run, or bike. The boardwalk is also home to Belmont Park, a historic beachfront amusement park, complete with its very own rollercoaster. 

South Mission Beach boasts a recreation area with showers and bathrooms, a basketball court, and numerous beach volleyball courts.

La Jolla Cove

La Jolla

View of a rocky coast and some flowers in La Jolla Cove

Google Maps | Parking: Free street parking that fills up fast. 

If you’re a fan of wildlife, then I highly recommend a visit to La Jolla Cove, home to San Diego’s favorite locals, the sea lions, and numerous species of sea birds. The cliffs, caves, and underwater habitat surrounding the cove are protected, making it an underwater oasis for sea life. So if you’re a fan of snorkeling or scuba diving, La Jolla Cove is the best place in San Diego to go. 

For a dry experience of La Jolla Cove, I recommend sitting in the grassy Ellen Browning Scripps Park which sits atop the bluffs of La Jolla Cove. 

👉 Local Tip: Scientists recently discovered that a few green sea turtles reside in La Jolla Cove year-round, probably because the area has been so well protected! 

La Jolla Tide Pools

La Jolla

View of the sunset in La Jolla Tide Pools

Google Maps | Parking: Free street parking

Tide pooling is one of my favorite activities, especially the time of year when San Diego starts to cool down. There’s nothing more exciting than poking around in the pools and finding an interesting creature! The La Jolla tide pools are a wonderful place to explore the secrets held in these tiny habitats, and it’s an activity I recommend both for adults and families. 

🛏️ Looking for a Hotel? Downtown La Jolla has some incredible hotels. For a luxurious oceanfront option, check out the Pantai Inn

Imperial Beach

Imperial Beach

View of small waves in Imperial Beach

Google Maps | Parking: Combination of street and public parking spots

Imperial Beach is the southernmost beach in all of California that hosts a wide variety of beach activities including surfing, fishing, volleyball, and just enjoying the sand and ocean! The pier and surrounding areas offer not just a sandy beach but also a grassy park area, great for picnicking. 

Imperial Beach is also home to the annual Summer sandcastle building competition called Sun & Sea Festival, and San Diego’s only dog surfing competition

Del Mar

Del Mar

View of some birds by the beach in Del Mar Beach

Google Maps | Parking: Public and street parking

The Del Mar beaches are some of the most spectacular in San Diego, with rocky cliffs that look out over the popular sandy beach and pacific ocean. Join the surfers or the sunbathers to enjoy a beautiful San Diego day. One of my favorite spots, however, is at Powerhouse Park, a clifftop area with grass and benches that has spectacular views of the water.

🛏️  Make it a weekend getaway with a stay at the quaint Del Mar Beachside Garden

Sunset Cliffs

Point Loma

View of cliff and cave in Sunset Cliffs

Google Maps | Parking: Street parking

Sunset Cliffs, located in Point Loma, are a series of rocky cliffs and caves that drop straight into the ocean. While you won’t find long stretches of sandy beach, Sunset Cliffs is undeniably the best seat in the house to watch a stunning San Diego sunset. An easy-going trail runs across the tops of the cliffs with periodic benches to sit on. 

Silver Strand State Beach

Imperial Beach/Coronado

View of the Silver Strand State Beach in San Diego

Google Maps | Website | Parking: Day-use parking $10 Mon-Fri, $12 Sat-Sun

Silver Strand State Beach is the 7-mile long strip of land that connects Imperial Beach to Coronado Island and separates San Diego Bay from the Pacific Ocean. Silver Strand gets its name from the silvery oyster shells scattered around the dunes. 

Silver Strand State Beach is available for both day use as well as RV camping and is an awesome spot for both bay activities, such as water skiing, jet skiing, and sailing, as well as beach activities like surfing and bodyboarding. 

Moonlight

Encinitas

View of people enjoying the sunset in Moonlight Beach
(Marcel Fuentes / Shutterstock)

Google Maps | Parking: Free street parking and parking lot

Moonlight Beach, located in Encinitas, is one of San Diego’s most popular beach destinations, especially for groups and families because it offers so many amenities. There are few other beaches where you have access to bathrooms, a parking lot, volleyball nets, a grassy park, recreation rentals, and great surf. 

All of these attractions make Moonlight a very popular beach, so you’ll probably be sharing the space with many other beachgoers. 

👉 Local Tip: The beach access on D Street, just south of the main entrance to Moonlight, is a steep, picturesque wooden staircase leading down to the beach. 

Cardiff State Beach

Cardiff By The Sea

View of a group of people walking on rocks in Cardiff State Beach

Google Maps | Parking: Parking lot, $15-$20 for day use

Cardiff Beach is a favorite San Diego beach because it’s long, flat, and sandy, unlike many of the cliffy beaches in the county, and at the South and of the beach you can also explore the rocks and pools that form at low tide. It’s a wonderful spot to run or walk along the shore or take a dip in the waves. 

👉 Local Tip: Cardiff is also home to one of San Diego’s quirky locals, a statue locally called the Cardiff Kook (officially “The Magic Carpet Ride”) that people dress up in whacky costumes. Pay him a visit to see what getup he’s currently in!

Windansea

La Jolla

View of a stairway access to Windansea

Google Maps | Parking: Free street parking

Windansea is a solid contender for one of my personal favorite San Diego beaches. It’s a unique combination of sand, bluffs, and twisting unique rock formations, making it one of the most photogenic beaches in the city. Although it’s a small stretch of Pacific beach, finding a spot among the rocks gives you a sense of privacy. 

Windansea is also home to the iconic Windansea Surf Shack, one of the oldest and most recognizable beach monuments in San Diego.

Swami’s

Encinitas

View of a surfer enjoying the sunset in Swami's

Google Maps | Parking: Public parking lot and street parking

Swami’s beach is a surfer’s paradise that boasts world-famous waves that draw surfers from all over the globe. A grassy clifftop park provides shaded spots to sit, relax, and watch the surfers. While much of the beach disappears during high tide, you can walk the long sandy beach when the tide is low or check out some tide pools north of the entrance. 

Cabrillo National Monument

Point Loma

View of people going in and going out from Cabrillo National Monument

Google Maps | Website | Hours: 9 am-4:30 pm | Price: $20 per vehicle

The Cabrillo National Monument comprises the clifftop Point Loma Lighthouse and National Monument that offer sweeping views of the pacific ocean. If you head down to the Southwest part of the national monument area, you can also find the Point Loma tide pools, where protected pools are exposed at low tide and provide shelter to small marine creatures. The best time to visit the pools is in Fall and Winter during the lowest tides. 

Fletcher Cove

Solana Beach

Scenic view of the sea in Fletcher Cove Beach Park
(Sherry V Smith / Shutterstock)

Google Maps | Parking: Public parking lot or free street parking

Head to Solana Beach to check out Fletcher Cove, another great family beach destination. At the entrance is a wide sandy cove area that fills up pretty quickly, but at low tide walk either South or North of the entrance along the base of the cliff for a less crowded area. Just note that much of this beach will disappear at high tides!

Just up from the beach on Highway 101 are some awesome restaurants, such as the San Diego favorite, Pizza Port

Beacon’s Beach

Leucadia

View of a trail leading to Beacon's Beach

Google Maps | Parking: Small public parking lot and free street parking

Beacon’s Beach, aka Leucadia State Beach, lies beneath San Diego’s characteristic sandy cliffs and to access the beach you’ll have to descend a steep and winding staircase. Once on the beach, you’ll find yourself at a favorite surf spot with a narrow sliver of beach that runs along the base of the cliffs that, during low tide is a great place for a walk. 

🛏️ Pro Tip: For an overnight visit to Leucadia, I recommend a stay at the beachy and beautiful Surfhouse.

San Diego Beaches FAQ

What are the least crowded beaches in San Diego?

The least crowded beaches in San Diego are San Onofre State Beach, areas of Torrey Pines State Beach, and Black’s Beach. These beaches tend to receive fewer visitors because access requires some walking, hiking, and/or an entrance fee.

What are the most crowded beaches in San Diego?

The most crowded beaches in San Diego include Pacific Beach, La Jolla Shores, and Moonlight Beach. These are beaches in high-traffic areas with easy access and convenient amenities, and therefore receive a lot of visitors. 

What is the best beach in San Diego for families?

The best beaches in San Diego for families include Tamarack in Carlsbad, Moonlight in Encinitas, and Coronado Beach on Coronado Island. These beaches are all flat, wide beaches with lifeguard stations, public bathrooms, and parking. Families visiting the beach will want to consider convenient beach access, bathrooms and showers, parking, and safety. 

What is the biggest beach in San Diego?

There is no single “biggest beach” in San Diego. Most of the beaches in San Diego are broken up by cliffs and rock formations, except for Carlsbad and Oceanside beaches. While every section of beach has a different name, you can walk almost entirely on the sand from North Carlsbad State Beach all the way to Oceanside.

*** 


San Diego undoubtedly has some of the most gorgeous beaches in the state, and each one has something unique and special to offer. Hopefully, this list will guide you in your exploration of the city’s many beaches, but you’ll have to decide for yourself which is your favorite!

If you’re interested in exploring what San Diego has to offer besides the beach, check out my other posts 47 Best Things to Do in San Diego and 21 Fun Day Trips from San Diego

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