san diego beach guide

It's grey and it's soggy. I've got a stuffy nose from turning the heat back on, and my hands are freezing. At this point I can't even remember what the sun's warmth feels like. And yes, I realize it's only mid-November.

With four more months of uninterrupted chilly weather, it's high time to start planning a winter escape. Before you consider an all-inclusive, would you indulge me as I take a brief moment to wax lyrical about sun-kissed San Diego?

Beaches aside, the number one thing the Canadian Traveller office raves about is 'the scene' - elements of which - are nicely aligned with Canadians interests. For example, if you're a craft beer fan at home, San Diego has a bumping craft brewery scene to imbibe. The palates of picky eaters will be pleased by the city's serious obsession with fresh bites. (You don't think food is reason enough to travel? Well I just road-tripped through a certain state where Denny's was the best option. #TearsInMyGrandSlam) Last up, there are over 100 neighbourhoods and enclaves to explore, with a style and personality each to their own.

So now that you have many compelling reasons to thaw out in San Diego, the hardest part will be figuring out which beach to lay your towel on. 




For its boardwalk (and beyond)

OceansideFlickr/Dan Eckert (CC by 2.0)

Located within a 45-minute drive of downtown San Diego, Oceanside is well-known for its 1,942-ft (!) Oceanside Pier, the longest wooden municipal pier on the West Coast. It's also home to the California Surf Museum here too. Gnarly

3.7 miles of pristine beach invites sun-seekers to surf, boogie board, toss a Frisbee or dive for a volleyball. Along Oceanside’s beachside strand, pedestrians, runners and inline skaters jockey for space.

Southward, are busy Harbor Beach, Oceanside’s largest beach; family-friendly Breakwater Way Beach, and the ample sands of Pier View North and Pier View South with their popular surfing and fishing spots.

Distance from San Diego: 38 miles (north)



For campers who hang-ten

CarlsbadFlickr/John Lemieux (CC by 2.0)

Within Carlsbad State Beach are popular surf spots to the north like Tamarack (located near its namesake street), and Warm Water Jetty, identified by its proximity to the large Electric Power Plant. Last, but not least, Terramar lies close to the lagoon.

South Carlsbad State Beach, or Ponto as it’s often referred, offers scenic beachside camping. The campground offers 220 sites for tents and RVs, and the area’s calm waters are perfect for swimming and boogie boarding.

Distance from San Diego: 30 miles (north)



For crowd-free beaches

Grandviewb each encinitasGrandview Beach | Flickr/Chad McDonald (CC by 2.0)

Leucadia encompasses two beautiful beach parks, Leucadia State Beach and Encinitas County Beach.  These secluded sandy areas are often overlooked and rarely heard of by anyone but Leucadia's principal beach users – surfers who ride the waves in the area’s three popular surf spots, Grandview, Beacon's and Stone Steps.

Distance from San Diego: 28 miles (north)



For surfin' USA

Made famous by the Beach Boys’ hit song “Surfin’ USA,” the Encinitas’ Swami’s Beach is one of San Diego County’s prime surf spots.  Big waves break off the narrow, cobblestone-strewn beach challenging experienced surfers. Nearby, snorkelers and scuba divers explore a fascinating underwater preserve. 

Although swimming and sunbathing are impractical here, a staircase that leads from the cliffs to the beach offers great views of daredevil surfers below.

A half-mile from downtown Encinitas is Moonlight State Beach, a darling coastal park. Easily pass an afternoon here with great surfing, sunning, and picnicking.

Distance from San Diego: 26 miles (north)


Cardiff by the Sea:

For some nature

Families, surfers, kayakers and body surfers flock to Cardiff State Beach and San Elijo State Beach, which edge Cardiff by the Sea.  A day on these shores can also include some bird-watching or a nature walk at the nearby San Elijo Lagoon ecological reserve.

Distance from San Diego: 24 miles (north)


Solana Beach:

For a beach with a backdrop

solana beachFlickr/Chad K (CC by 2.0)

Unlike other spots in San Diego’s North County where the wide, straight beaches are uninterrupted for miles, the coastline in Solana Beach is more convoluted and the cliffs stretch right to the water's edge. Fortunately, staircases descend the cliffs at practically every street corner, so every part of the beach is accessible vertically, if not horizontally.

The area’s five main spots from north to south include Seaside, a good surf spot with an outer reef called Table Tops that breaks on big southwest swells; Tide Beach, with great sand for building castles and a patch of reef that offers tidepooling; Fletcher Cove, another popular surf spot, and Seascape Beach and Del Mar Shores, both located on the north side of the San Dieguito River mouth.

Distance from San Diego: 22 miles (north)


Del Mar:

A pretty beach with easy access

A San Diego North County favourite for swimmers, walkers, surfers and grunion hunters, Del Mar City Beach, stretching from 15th street to Dog Beach, provides easy access to its wide sandy shore.  Nearby, Seagrove and Powerhouse Parks are favored for their kids’ playgrounds and expansive grassy fields ideal for outdoor rec. 

Location: 20 miles north of downtown San Diego


Torrey Pines:

For urban wilderness

Torrey PinesFlickr/Jason Pratt (CC by 2.0)

Located just south of Del Mar is one of San Diego’s greatest treasures: Torrey Pines State Reserve. Untamed, rugged and serene, the Reserve is a wilderness oasis where one feels far removed from downtown San Diego, despite being located just 15 minutes away. 

Below Torrey Pines’ 300-foot cliffs lies Black’s Beach, a two-mile-long sandy strip popular for surfing and sunbathing. Although nudism is not officially sanctioned here, Black’s Beach is also popular for sunbathing in the buff.

Location: 15 miles north of downtown San Diego


La Jolla:

Because it's famous the world over

La JollaFrank Mckenna

The seaside town of La Jolla and its shore do justice to its designation as “the jewel” of San Diego. Nowhere are beaches more versatile than in this quaint upscale community, which is one of San Diego’s most popular neighborhoods.

La Jolla Shores is a quiet and intimate enclave of lovely homes, spectacular scenery and a spacious beach that slopes gently into the waves. The mile-long sandy shore is skirted by a wide cement boardwalk that separates the beach from a large grassy park.

Kayaking is popular along La Jolla Shores. During low tide, paddlers can access La Jolla Caves to the south, and Scripps Pier to the north.  Between the two is the La Jolla Underwater Park and Ecological Preserve, a popular recreational area for scuba divers and snorkelers. Visibility here often exceeds 30 feet. 

Lifeguards watch over families splashing in the rocky shallows off La Jolla Cove, a small patch of sand tucked between weather-sculpted sandstone cliffs. This area, together with the grassy expanse and breathtaking views of Scripps Park above La Jolla Cove, is especially scenic.

Continuing south, Windansea Beach is best known for its beautiful scenery and hard-breaking surf that breaks right at the shoreline, courtesy of some huge underwater reefs. With the privacy afforded by large sandstone rocks, this is the perfect place to sunbathe. Windansea is also home to a legendary Polynesian-style surf hut, built in 1947 by pioneer Windansea surfers. 

Location: 13 miles north of downtown San Diego


Pacific & Mission Beaches:

To see and be seen

The preferred hangout of young sun-worshipers, Pacific Beach and Mission Beach are connected by a three-mile boardwalk buzzing with inline skaters, skateboarders, runners and cyclists– and beach-goers just wanting "to be seen."  The nearby streets are lined with boutiques, restaurants, and bars that bustle with activity day and night.

Adjacent to Mission Beach is Belmont Park, featuring its vintage “Giant Dipper” roller coaster, “The Plunge” giant indoor swimming pool, amusement arcades and the Wave House, which boasts San Diego’s only simulated surfing platforms with a non-stop wave.  

By early morning, the wide sandy beaches of Pacific Beach and Mission Beach become a colorful patchwork of towels, umbrellas and radios, with swimmers, surfers, body surfers and kayakers dotting the blue Pacific. Both beaches feature designated areas for surfing and swimming.  

Location: On a sandbar 8.5 miles north of San Diego


Ocean Beach:

To pass time pleasantly on the pier

ocean beach san diego californiaFlickr/Brian Roberts (CC by 2.0)

Ocean Beach, home to the Ocean Beach Pier, is a large sandy beach that offers surfing, swimming, volleyball and other recreational activities.

During winter, storm watchers gather along the seawall to watch the huge waves that break against the Pier. During calm seas, fishing, walking and dining are popular atop the wooden structure. 

Location: 6 miles from downtown San Diego, just north of Point Loma


Point Loma:

For surf spectating

point loma tide poolsFlickr/Nick Mealey (CC by 2.0)

Recognized more for its surfing and scenery than its beaches, Sunset Cliffs features numerous surfing spots that are not recommended for beginners. The jagged cliffs and rocky bottom make getting to the water extremely difficult; the area attracts only the most daring surfers performing in the big surf. The combination of the surfer’s fear and excitement makes a thrilling show for spectators who watch from the cliffs above.

Location: Centrally located on a peninsula not far from central San Diego



The urban beach

Coronado Beach, a 1.5-mile strip across from San Diego Bay, between the Hotel del Coronado and Naval Air Station North Island, has been recognized for many years by the Travel Channel as “one of the 10 best family beaches in North America".

Coronado Beach is a vast expanse of white sand, surrounded by opulent mansions and populated every morning by families toting gear for an all-day stay. Recreational activities abound with impromptu football games, SUP, and sandcastle building.

Silver Strand State Beach, a narrow, sandy strip that runs along a seven-mile isthmus connecting Coronado and Imperial Beach, offers up activities not limited to swimming, shell-collecting and biking. Sandwiched between the ocean and San Diego Bay, the Silver Strand was named from the tiny silver shells that cover its shoreline.

Location: Centrally located across from downtown San Diego


Imperial Beach:

Community-oriented SoCal

Imperial Beach features a wide stretch of sand, challenging surf conditions and beautiful pier views. Swimming and surfing are offered in designated areas, and leashed dogs are permitted on some parts of the beach and a nearby park. (Perfect for those travelling with Fido!)

Location: South end of San Diego Bay


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