This post was most recently updated on December 3rd, 2022
San Diego beaches have much to offer: beautiful scenery, mild climate, lots of sunny days, nice sand, and all kinds of great activities. I’ve lived in San Diego 33 years, and in that time, I’ve seen them all! Not too long ago, I asked my husband, “If you were to list your favorite five beaches in San Diego, what would they be?” Guess what?! His list was the same as mine! Read on to find out why…
Torrey Pines State Beach
This one is #1 on our list for a lot of reasons. The fact that it’s closest to our home might be part of that. But what we really like about Torrey Pines is the variety of things to do there. Torrey Pines State Beach is part of the larger Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. It includes the rare Torrey Pine tree, a lagoon that is home to lots of migrating seabirds, a historic visitor center, sandstone canyons, hiking trails, and about three miles of beach. There are two paid parking lots ($10-$15, north and south ends of the reserve) with a free parking stretch along the beach of about 100 parking spaces. If you arrive before 10:00 am or later in the afternoon, you have a good shot at snagging one of them. Once parked, you can walk up the rise to the top of the bluff where the visitor center and hiking trails are. Or you can just lay your beach blanket on the sand and enjoy! The waves are good for boogie-boarding here, too. If you pay for parking, you can also park on top of the bluff near the visitor center. There are picnic tables near the south parking lot for picnicking, and food is allowed on the beach, but not on top of the bluff where the visitor center is. There are several hiking trails of varying lengths. A good starter hike is the Guy Fleming loop trail — it’s only .7 miles long and is good for all hiking skill levels.
(Click on any image to enlarge)
2. La Jolla Shores Beach
La Jolla Shores is our #2 choice because it is a great all-around beach for families of all ages. There’s a grassy area for picnicking, a nice playground for children, separate beach areas for swimmers/boogie boarders and surfers, a boat-launching area for kayaks, and fire pits. Plus restrooms and lots of lifeguards. Add free parking to the mix, and it’s a great go-to beach.
If you feel like going for a stroll, walk a few hundred yards north, and you come to the Scripps Oceanography pier, a favorite among San Diego photographers. This is a good starting point, too, if you want to kayak to the La Jolla caves. It’ll take about 45 minutes, depending on your skill and the size of the waves. Good waves also mean you can go surfing. It is a very popular beach sport here. If you don’t know how to surf, you can learn with Surf Camps Los Angeles.
If you want a fire pit, you’ll have to come early to claim it — there are never enough for everyone who wants one. This beach has many fond memories for our family, especially since one of our daughters got engaged here!
3. Del Mar Beach
Del Mar beach is at the heart of trendy Del Mar, a beautiful community that takes pride in its appearance! The beach is always very clean and beautiful. A small playground on the beach, landscaped walking paths, palm trees, and a community center with a faux lighthouse all add to the allure of this beach. Jake’s is a popular restaurant overlooking Del Mar beach, as well as Poseidon, which sits right on the beach. This is the beach we come to when we want to stroll along the beach and watch the sun set. But it’s also a great beach for boogie-boarding, especially after Labor Day when the crowds die down. Restrooms and showers make it easier to clean up. There is not a parking lot for this beach, so you’ll need to find street parking at a meter, or free parking in nearby neighborhoods. Just be sure to obey all signs and do not block anyone’s driveway, or you’ll end up with a very steep fine.
4. La Jolla Cove
La Jolla Cove is just a tiny little beach, but it’s a favorite for another reason — great snorkeling! It’s a protected ecological reserve, and the fish seem to know that, because they’re very plentiful here. My favorite is the orange Garibaldi fish — and their young are purple! You’ll even see sea lions, cormorants and pelicans. Above the cove is a large grassy area for games and picnicking, with restrooms and a lawn bowling court. The views are fantastic as the waves crash on the rocks outside of the cove, and for that reason, you’ll see a lot of photographers working their magic, too.. If you’re interested in walking along the sidewalk south of the cove, you will eventually come to the Children’s Pool. It is no longer a protected area for kids, but a resting spot for dozens of sea lions basking in the sun. There are also nearby caves which attract kayakers, but no boats of any kind are allowed in the protected cove. If you’d like to see the caves from the inside, take the Sunny Jim cave tour from the Cave Store for a small fee.
5. Moonlight State Beach
Moonlight State beach isn’t technically in San Diego, but just a few miles north, in Encinitas. This is a welcoming pocket of beach with plenty of free parking, a playground, picnic tables, fire pits, and even a concession stand (rare these days). It sits nestled between nice neighborhoods and close to the I-5 for easy access. There’s also a grassy area near the playground. You could potentially come to this beach and not even get sandy! There’s a drive-through loop that makes it easy to drop off beach gear and passengers before parking in the upper parking lot that overlooks the beach.
You can see live webcam views of some of the San Diego beaches at the links below:
Honorable Mention: Windansea Beach
I really should mention one more beach. South of La Jolla is an incredibly beautiful beach that is very popular for family and wedding photography portraits. You can’t live in San Diego and not do a beach photo shoot at one point or another! But it’s also a great place to surf or to watch the sun set. Here are a few family shots from a portrait session we enjoyed at the Windansea beach several years ago.
If you’re visiting San Diego, or if you live here, you should be sure to spend some time at a beach soon. There’s so much to see and do at San Diego beaches, and it’s a great way to beat the heat or go for a scenic stroll in the cooler months. Did I leave out your favorite? Which are your favorite San Diego beaches, and why?
**I’ve partnered with GPSmyCity, and this article can now be downloaded free by using this link. You may read it offline, or upgrade for a small fee to receive the article with GPS coordinates embedded. You won’t need the internet or data to be guided to all of these beaches! I will receive a few cents commission, which helps to keep this blog going–thank you!