Lucky for San Diegans, jaunts to the ocean are a year-round perk! With so many pristine beaches to visit, we’ve created a guide to tell you which stretches of sand are best for different adventures––from collecting the finest sea shells and catching the best waves to where to take Fido to frolic, or where to set up a campsite or go tide pooling. Read on for the details.
Best Beach for Strolling & Collecting Shells: Frazee State Beach
At the foot of Carlsbad Village, Frazee Beach is a good summer go-to spot. This beach has it all: soft, sandy beaches that are a little less crowded, lifeguards, showers and bathrooms. Perk for the athlete—a volleyball court. The small parking lot is always crowded, so head to the surface streets for free parking and be prepared to walk about a block. If you’re hungry, grab a bite at Board & Brew (you’ll inhale the Chicken Club with secret sauce). They have a little groms menu too.
Read our guide on where to eat and play in Carlsbad Village.
Parking: Street parking south of Carlsbad Village Dr.
3150 Ocean St.
Best Beach for Water Sports: Tamarack State Beach
If your kiddos want to go all in and take the plunge into ocean sports and swimming, a visit to Tamarack State Beach will be a thrill. Surfers and boogie boarders alike will find plenty of waves to catch. Rumor has it that you'll also catch the best views of the sunset from this locale. Be sure to bring a picnic as there are no concession stands or nearby restaurants.
Between Garfield St. and Carlsbad Blvd.
Best Beachfront Entertainment: Mission Beach/Belmont Park
San Diego's version of Coney Island, Belmont Park is an old-fashioned amusement park that's a ton of fun with an unbeatable ocean backdrop of Mission Beach! From good eats and festive treats to miniature golf, the Giant Dipper roller coaster an arcade and more, you can rent bikes, bodyboards, rollerblades, skateboards, surfboards and more to enjoy at the beach for double the fun. Amusement park and beach-going in one day? Mind blown.
Read our guide to exploring Belmont Park.
3146 Mission Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92109
Best Beach for Dogs: OB Dog Beach
OB Dog Beach is also known as The Original Dog Beach for being one of the first ever leash-free dog beaches in America. Treat your furry best friend to a frolic on the sand and in the waves at this open 24 hours a day canine heaven. Be sure your doggie wears a collar with current contact info and take bags to clean up after Fido!
Other beaches your dogs will love include Coronado Dog Beach where the iconic views can’t be beat and Fiesta Island Dog Park (recently named the Best Dog Park in the U.S.) which is an expansive sandy island in Mission Bay where doggos can run free among the sand dunes and take a dip in the calmer Bay water.
Best Beach for Camping: South Carlsbad State Beach Campground
For families with wee ones who want to rough it, this bluff top campsite is a good start. Each site comes with a table, fire pit and grill. If it gets too cold, or the ground too tough, it’s a short drive home if you live in North County. There’s an onsite camp store with food and supplies (including firewood)! Little beach-goers will need to walk down the stairs to enjoy the sand and surf. You can pitch a tent or bring your RV to one of the 223 campsites, some with ocean views.
Campsite Tip: Bring a tarp or umbrella to shade your eating area.
7201 Carlsbad Blvd.
Best Beach for Soft, Shimmering Sand & Sandcastle Sightings: Coronado Beach
Topping Parents Magazine's list of "10 Best Beach Towns," Coronado is a beachgoer's dream. Coronado Beach was also named one of Dr. Beach's Top U.S. Beaches for 2017. Miles of white, sparkling sand (that has a gold, glittery effect due to the mineral mica) and a slow-slope into the ocean makes for rolling waves, sand castles and well, life’s a beach party. Little ones can keep busy tide pooling in front of the Hotel Del (sometimes there’s even a guide). Another dreamy perk of a visit to Coronado Beach are the amazing sandcastles. The Sandcastle Man often builds elaborate, stunning creations for passerby to be amazed by and enjoy.
Good to know: There are public restrooms and showers to boot and you can park free along Ocean Blvd. Have dinner at the Coronado Brewing Company by the ferry terminal on the way home for good food, kids meals and craft brews.
Best Beach for a Quintessential Summer Day: La Jolla Shores
They don't call it "The Crown Jewel" for nothing. La Jolla Shores beach is a breathtaking place to spend the day with friends and family. Located on the southern end of La Jolla Underwater Park, this kid-friendly beach offers gentle bay like waters and a sandy ocean bottom for pint-sized swimmers. Kellogg Park, with its awesome jungle gym and swings offers a grassy place to start or end your day. Looking for a local place to grab a bite to eat near the beach? Pop in The Cheese Shop and try one of their mouthwatering sandwiches and a homemade cookie. These days are what summer is all about.
Insider's Tip: Waves at La Jolla Shores are typically the most gentle of all San Diego beaches during the summer months.
Located at: 8300 Camino Del Oro, La Jolla
Best Place to Catch the Sunset: Moonlight Beach
Hands down, Moonlight Beach in Encinitas, is an absolute favorite among local families. Rooted in history (the name "moonlight" traces back to the early 1900s when residents used to have midnight picnics on the beach) and rich with local flair, this is a beach that begs you to play all day and relax while watching the sunset at night. In addition to updated bathrooms and a buzzing snack shack, there's a play structure at the park for those who want a little extra entertainment. Lifeguards are on duty during designated hours, but this spot does get crowded during the on-season. Make sure to venture to the far north end if you're looking for a little extra space away from the masses.
Located at: 400 B St., Encinitas
Best Kept Secret: Ponto Beach
North county folks know how to keep a secret and one of them is just how awesome Carlsbad's Ponto Beach is. This small, beautiful beach is a favorite among locals for good surfing and quality family time. The flat shoreline makes it easy to keep an eye on the kids while they play in the sand. There's street parking as well as a pay-to-park lot and the restrooms are clean and easily accessible, making this slice of paradise worth the drive north.
6039 Carlsbad Blvd., Carlsbad
Best Place To Explore Marine Life: Tide Beach Park
A curious kid's dream, Tide Beach Park is a hidden treasure among San Diego beaches. Located at the north end of Solana Beach, the secluded area of sand is rarely crowded. Get ready to hike down a long set of stairs that leads you to a semicircular cove and a large reef, called Table Tops. Try to get to the tide pools at low tide for the best experience. Prep your little ones to keep their eyes out for anemones, starfish, crabs and other varieties of little fish. Be sure kids use the potty before heading out on your adventure since this beach does not have a restroom. Parking however, is easy breezy, just look for free street parking nearby the intersection of Pacific Ave. and Solana Vista Dr.
Located at: 302 Solana Vista Dr., Solana Beach
Best Overall: Del Mar City Beach
Fenced in playground, check. Look out point, check. Cool trains passing by, check. You will be hard pressed to find anything at all wrong with Del Mar City Beach ––and that's why there are quite a few San Diego residents that will insist it's the best in town. The beach is complete with lifeguards, restrooms, a grassy park area with a playground and it is situated right near Del Mar's prime shops and restaurants. This beach had us hooked from the first wave!
Located at: 17th St., Del Mar
Best Beach to Build Sandcastles: Cardiff Reef Beach
Cardiff Reef Beach is located in the beautiful neighborhood of Cardiff by the Sea. This gently sloping beach is great for families with young kids. You can collect shells, walk in the water, soak up the sun and build sandcastles. The beach has restroom facilities and lifeguards are on duty at certain times. Parking can be tricky during peak hours, so come prepared to scout out a spot or try to stop by at off-times.
Located at: Highway 101, Cardiff by the Sea
Best Beach for a Staycation: Silver Strand Beach
Want an escape from city life while staying close to home? Silver Strand Beach is paradise just a short distance away. The 3 1/2 mile stretch of sand is less crowded during peak season than other options and offers gentler waves for beginner swimmers. And if you decide you need a picnic lunch to make your staycation complete — head through a "tunnel" that leads to the Loews Coronado Bay Resort and grab some food from their Market to Go Cafe. This is all the destination vacation you'll need this summer!
5000 Coast Hwy. 75, Coronado
––Aimee Della Bitta, Nikki Walsh & Beth Shea
Featured image: Leo Rivas via Unsplash