San Diego county offers up miles and miles of coastal sand. You can cater your beach experience to your lifestyle to some extent–some locations are known tourist traps while others are family oriented. In any case, get to the beach early, particularly in the summer, to make sure you get an ideal spot on the sandy stuff.
Mission Beach is the obvious stop for most tourists, particularly those in San Diego for the first time. The boardwalk is always buzzing with bikers and people, and–if you’re lucky–you might see “Speedo Guy” who rides around on a bike with an American flag tucked into the back of his swim suit. The neighboring Belmont Park has carnival rides and a rollercoaster that has been around approximately since the beginning of time. Restaurants on the boardwalk include The Wave House, where you can learn to surf on man made waves and sit around a fire pit. If you don’t mind fighting for parking and being surrounded by a plethora of other tourists, this beach might be what you’re looking for.
Ocean Beach sits just south of Mission Beach. There is little parking right on the beach, but if you’re willing to walk a few (read: 5 or 6) blocks, you can usually find street parking. Ocean Beach is known for its hippy crowd and its pier. Take a walk down the pier, which extends over the ocean, to enjoy a sunset or get in some fishing. Newport Avenue sits perpendicular to the beach and is home to shops and restaurants. Hodad’s, a favorite local burger joint, has a line out the door on the weekends but is well worth the wait. After nightfall, the area also has quite a few bars open for business. Show up in jeans and flip flops and you’ll fit in.
Pacific Beach is usually occupied by the college crowd, particularly on the weekends. Parking at Pacific Beach is strictly on the street, but once you find a spot you can walk to just about anything you need. Garnet Avenue ends at the beach, and is home to boutique shops, sports bars and tattoo parlors. Get there early on the weekends–well before noon–if you want to have your pick of spots on the sand. Pacific Beach offers quite a lot of on the beach accommodations, both hotels and private homes for rent.
Perhaps the most underappreciated beach in San Diego, at least in this writer’s opinion, is the Coronado Beach. The location has been on “Best Beaches” lists, and goes on seemingly forever. The white sand is finer than other beaches in San Diego, and because the beach spreads quite deep from the water, you’ll never struggle to find a place to lay out. You will definitely see some college aged people at Coronado, but the beach is plenty more family friendly than Pacific Beach where you are more likely to have to explain drunken behavior to your kids. While you’re on the Coronado Beach, you can walk through the Hotel Del Coronado, one of the San Diego region’s most famous hotels. Around Christmas time, the hotel offers ice skating on its property overlooking the water.
La Jolla sits just north of San Diego. Like the Coronado Beach, La Jolla beaches can become crowded but are not nearly the tourist traps that are Mission and Pacific Beaches. You’d be wise to ask a local about where to park in the area, as some of the city’s best beach space is tucked away just off of inconspicuous residential streets. Of course, if you go to the coast in the heart of La Jolla you will also find beach space, though parking will be more of an issue.