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9 of the Top Beaches in San Diego for Every Type of Traveler

Have a perfect beach vacation at these world-class spots—whatever your travel style or favorite seaside activity.

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Hi, I'm Gianmaria!

Gianmaria Franchini is a writer based in Oakland, CA who makes his life between California and Italy. He’s a Senior Writer with Viator, and the in-house San Francisco expert.

San Diego is synonymous with West Coast beaches. The weather here is beautiful pretty much all year round, and the city (and nearby Coronado Island) offer seemingly endless stretches of sand. If you’ve ever wanted a perfect beach day (or week) in America’s Finest City but are unsure which location will suit you, you’re in luck: There’s a perfect spot here for pretty much any kind of sand or surf activity.

Whether you want to party by the ocean, practice your water sports, spend quality time with the family, or surf your heart out, these gems will have you lingering on the shore far past sunset.

1. For sports lovers: Ocean Beach

pier at sunset with surfer
Anyone can fish off of Ocean Beach Pier.Photo Credit: STLJB / Shutterstock

This beach is the best place to play volleyball in San Diego, but that's not all it offers.

Named after the local “godfather” of beach volleyball, the public George Stepanof Volleyball Courts at Ocean Beach are the best place in San Diego to play—and don’t require a reservation. The beach, which lies north of Point Loma, is also popular with surfers and skaters as well as with cyclists heading out on the Ocean Beach Bike Path (also known as the San Diego River Bikeway), a 3.7-mile (5-kilometer) trail that begins at the west end of the parking lot on Voltaire Street and West Point Loma Boulevard. Plus, the .5-mile (.8-kilometer) Ocean Beach Pier is among the few places in San Diego where you can fish without a license.

2. For families: Del Mar City Beach

beach with bluffs and many people
There are some 2 miles of sandy shoreline at Del Mar Beach.Photo Credit: Marcel Fuentes / Shutterstock

Of all the San Diego beaches, this is the best one for families.

Most of the beaches in San Diego are great for family outings, but Del Mar Beach, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of San Diego, is the best. This beach is one of the loveliest in San Diego, and the roughly 2-mile-long (3.2-kilometer-long) stretch of sand has lifeguarded swimming areas and a seaside park with a playground. Spend the day picnicking, playing volleyball, and sunbathing—and you can also add a visit to the nearby Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve.

Insider tip: The public restrooms and showers here are also convenient.

3. For surfers: Windansea Beach

surfers at california beach
Windandsea is the premier surf spot in San Diego.Photo Credit: Sebastien Burel / Shutterstock

Take your surfboard and board shorts to this top San Diego beach for surfers.

California surf culture is a big deal in San Diego, where professional-worthy breaks line the coast. Located just south of La Jolla, Windandsea is one of SoCal’s surfing gems. The relatively small beach is famed for undersea reefs, consistent breaks, and an iconic surf shack that has been designated a San Diego historical landmark. The beach itself can be blissfully free of tourists, but locals congregate here with their boards when the waves max out. These swells are not for beginners, so when the surf is up, novices should head to Tourmaline Surfing Park or Del Mar or start with a basic surf lesson at another nearby beach.

4. For partiers: Pacific Beach

aerial view of pier and beach
Pacific Beach is the life of the party.Photo Credit: Oxana Militsina / Shutterstock

Head to this stretch of coastline for a great SoCal party.

Pacific Beach (or P.B., as the locals call it) is a party hot spot for college students from the nearby UC San Diego campus. The area has a spring break–like feel to it, thanks to young people spending their days (and nights) alternating between hanging with friends in the sand and hitting up the many nearby restaurants, bars, and clubs. These parties often include beach bonfires, but travelers looking for a good time will have better luck heading out on an organized bar crawl with drink discounts in hand.

5. For hikers: Torrey Pines

people descend stairs through brush towards beach
Hikers can sometimes spot breaching whales from the trails at Torrey Pines.Photo Credit: Sandra Foyt / Shutterstock

Get your boots on and go for a hike at this beach.

Hikers looking for stunning coastal views should visit Torrey Pines Natural Reserve, a wild stretch of beach, coastal bluffs, and lagoons south of Del Mar. The area’s claim to fame is the renowned Torrey Pines Golf Course, but the reserve is laced with first-rate hiking trails that will take you to overlook points along the coast, including the Guy Fleming, Flat Rock Beach, North Fork, and South Fork trails to name a few. You can also visit this gem on a coastal road trip and watch for breaching whales from the overlooks.

6. For couples: La Jolla Cove

silhouette of a couple in front of the ocean
La Jolla Cove is a romantic date-night spot.Photo Credit: puttsk / Shutterstock

Enjoy a romantic afternoon on the beach at this San Diego favorite.

Sunsets in California-chic La Jolla are among the most romantic on the West Coast, and cozy La Jolla Cove—a special viewpoint nestled among sandstone cliffs below Scripps Park—offers some of the best. One of the most visited beaches in San Diego, the cove might seem a crowded option for romantic getaways, especially during the summer. However, if you plan ahead and visit in the morning or evening, you can experience beautiful, intimate sunrises and sunsets with someone special. You can even add a sea kayaking experience for two.

Runner-up: Located below the wild bluffs of Torrey Pines, Black’s Beach is difficult to reach and, therefore, secluded. (It’s also clothing-optional.)

7. For water babies: La Jolla Shores

kayakers next to sea cliffs
Launch a kayak from La Jolla Shores Beach and look for sea life.Photo Credit: Michael J Magee / Shutterstock

Take to the surf off the coast of this top San Diego beach for water activities.

Located in the town of La Jolla, La Jolla Shores Beach and the adjacent La Jolla Shores Park make an ideal spot for a variety of water sports. The beach is a flat, 1-mile (1.6-kilometer) long expanse and boasts calm water, making it ideal for everything from kayaking to the famous La Jolla Sea Caves to safely snorkeling with sea turtles, sharks, and sea lions. Lots of local businesses rent equipment and offer lessons in popular sports like paddleboarding, and the beach itself is also a great place for a spot of yoga.

8. For not-so-beach lovers: The USS Midway Museum

USS Midway aircraft carrier
No, there's no sand at the USS Midway Museum.Photo Credit: chau quoc trung / Shutterstock

Skip the sand but enjoy the coast at this floating San Diego museum.

If you need a break from the throngs of beach-goers, or just prefer learning about history to beach bumming, the USS Midway—once the US Navy’s longest-serving aircraft carrier—is the perfect spot to be. A floating museum docked at the Navy Pier, across from Tuna Harbor Park, the carrier is an essential piece of American military history. While visiting doesn't require setting foot on the sand, an admission ticket is crucial, so make sure to book ahead of time if you want to explore the enormous ship, from the engine room to the bridge, and see the restored aircraft on the flight deck.

Related: 11 Under-the-Radar San Diego Museums

9. For sunset fans: Sunset Cliffs

people on ocean cliff at sunset
You're practically guaranteed a beautiful sunset at Sunset Cliffs.Photo Credit: Dancestrokes / Shutterstock

Round out your perfect San Diego day at this sunset hot spot.

There’s never a dull sunset in San Diego, but nature has made Sunset Cliffs Natural Park—with its viewpoints perched above the sea—a particularly special place for watching them. Secure a spot on Sunset Cliffs Beach, walk down to the scenic lookout at the southern end of Sunset Cliffs Boulevard, or visit the park itself, which is famed for its bluffs, arches, and views of sunsets and surfers below its rocky cliffs. If you want, you can also tour the area while sipping a local craft beer on a sunset brews tour—a captivating close to a day in San Diego.

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