Living in a destination community sure has its perks, and claiming some of the best beaches San Diego has to offer tops the list. But beyond sand and sunshine, nearby beaches offer a variety of adventures, too. Whether you’re putting on a wetsuit to catch a wave, combing the shore for seashells, tidepooling, frolicking with Fido or building sandcastles, we’ve scoured the coast for the best beach destination for every type of family excursion.
Best Beach for a Quintessential Summer Day: La Jolla Shores
The sand. The sparkling water. The relatively clean bathrooms and showers! 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? Grab food to-go from 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.
8300 Camino Del Oro
La Jolla, CA
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. 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 and sand castles. This is the ultimate life’s a beach party beach. 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 passersby to be amazed by and enjoy. Get ready to snap some insta-worthy shots at this gorgeous spot.
Good to know: You can park for free along Ocean Boulevard, if you're lucky enough to score a spot! Have dinner at the Coronado Brewing Company by the ferry terminal on the way home for good food, kids meals and craft brews. (See their current guidelines here).
Read our guide to summertime family fun in Coronado for more ideas!
Best Beach for Camping: San Elijo State Beach
Looking for more than just a day at the beach? Pitch a tent or choose to bring your RV and park it in one of the designated spots at San Elijo State Beach. Located 40 miles north of San Diego, this spot has the most perfect pure, unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean. It's a great spot to gather with family and friends because there is ample room to set up camp. You're also close enough to Cardiff-by-the-Sea, Solana Beach and Encinitas if you need to grab something (ahem, extra marshmallows for those s'mores!). On the campgrounds you'll have your essential fire rings, picnic tables and showers. Other top beach spots for overnight campouts are Campland in Mission Bay and South Carlsbad State Beach. We suspect there will be lots of happy little campers this summer!
Insider Tip: Plan ahead, reservations are available up to six months in advance. Standard campsites are $35/night.
Best Beaches to Bring Fido
The winner of Best Dog Beach in the U.S. just happens to be right here in San Diego. Fiesta Island Dog Park is an expansive sandy island in Mission Bay, where doggies can run free among the sand dunes and take a dip in the calmer Bay water. It's a great spot for families who want a big space and lots of convenience.
Del Mar Dog Beach beach and OB Dog Beach (also known as the OG dog beach because it was one of the first ever leash-free dog beaches in America) are also other great options for your favorite beach-lovin', four-legged companion.
590 E. Mission Bay Dr.
San Diego, CA
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.
Old Highway 101
Cardiff by the Sea, CA
Best Beach 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.
400 B St.
Best Beach for a Staycation: Silver Strand State Beach
Located 4.5 miles south of Coronado Village is Silver Strand State Beach. This urban beach is only 15 minutes from downtown and offers views of San Diego Bay. The calmer, warmer weather on the bayside is great for kiddos who want gentler waves, making Silver Strand State Beach one of the best family beaches in San Diego. The beach is used by guests of Loews Coronado Bay Resort. The resort operates seasonal chair, umbrella and other beach rentals that the public can take advantage of for a small fee. A perfect option for a family staycation!
Good to know: The California Department of Parks and Recreation also offers neat programming at this beach, like nature walks and a Junior Ranger badge program. Get the full scoop on current programs here.
5000 Highway 75
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!
Del Mar, CA
Best Beach for Mini Marine Biologists: 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.
302 Solana Vista Dr.
Solana Beach, CA
Best Beach for Watersports: Tamarack State Beach
A favorite of the older kid set, Tamarack State Beach is a must for kiddos who want to go all in and take the plunge into ocean sports and swimming. 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. & Carlsbad Blvd.
Best Beach for Collecting Seashells and Strolling Seashores: Frazee 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. Board & Brew is currently open for takeout only.
Read our guide on where to eat and play in Carlsbad Village to plan your day!
3150 Ocean St.
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.
Editor’s Note: Due to the ever-changing circumstances surrounding current events, the information provided in this story is subject to change. Always double-check that your destination is open and learn the current guidelines for a visit before packing up your kids and venturing out!
––Aimee Della Bitta, Nikki Walsh & Beth Shea