With some 27 kilometres of coastline, finding a bit of sand to lay your towel upon is not a problem around San Diego. The weather is almost always beautiful, so head out to the shore to explore these beaches and decide for yourself which one is best.

Mission Beach

mission beachCreativecommons.org/Edward Kim

Three kilometres of oceanfront bounded by the San Diego River and Pacific Beach invite travellers looking for that iconic ‘beach experience’ with boardwalks, shops and even a roller coaster. Although part of San Diego, the small community built on this sand bar has a very different feel from the city. The boardwalks run on both sides of the spit, letting visitors walk along the ocean or the bay as they stroll along the beaches. At the south end of the spit a grassy jetty with a walkway extends out into the ocean.

The community is mainly comprised of beach cottages from the ‘30s and ‘40s built on small lots off Mission Boulevard. The amusement park, home to an original wooden roller coaster and an indoor-outdoor pool, is near the south end of the beach. You can almost always find a game of volleyball or basketball underway and there’s plenty of space for Frisbee, cycling and skating. A local skate club even hosts free performances on the weekends, displaying their skills in both rollerblades and traditional skates.

Pacific Beach

pacific beachcreativecommons.org/Bengt E Nyman

The neighbourhood community north of Mission Beach was once populated by the surf crowd, but it is gradually shifting to become home to a more affluent group of residents. It’s a fun community with lots of shops and perhaps the most extensive nightlife scene in the city. The street names are kind of fun too: north to south they are named after 19th century officials in alphabetical order. East to west the names are precious stones with a few family names thrown in here and there.

The beach goes on for miles, stretching north to Tourmaline Surfing Park. The Ocean Boulevard is a pedestrian walkway that runs from Mission Beach up to Law Street, a little more than five kilometres in all. Shops, restaurants and bars line the boardwalk and it is well-used by cyclists, rollerbladers and those out for a walk or window shopping.

Surfers tend to head straight for Tourmaline and it’s a pleasant park even if you don’t surf. It’s tucked between two canyons and it’s a little isolated, but it has all the amenities necessary, including restrooms and showers. What are missing are the crowds of shoppers and bar-hoppers. As you wander the area, keep the motto of Tourmaline in mind: ‘Surf well, spread aloha, share waves without judgement’.

Ocean Beach

ocean beachcreativecommons.org/James Gubera

Also a beach at the oceanfront of a community, Ocean Beach prides itself on retaining the eclectic, free spirit of its hippie past. The shops tend to be family-owned and independent and there’s a very large antique district. There’s also a large selection of tattoo parlours and lots of places to get body parts pierced. The atmosphere remains community-oriented and focused on local events.

The north end of Ocean Beach is called Dog Beach, and it is one of the few off-leash dog areas on the coast - as well as one of the first in the United States. The Municipal Pier is the longest concrete pier on the west coast and anchors the southern end of Ocean Beach. Between these two features there is plenty of room for swimming, surfing and paddleboarding. Sunsets on the beach are particularly spectacular, not only for the view, but also the chorus of feral parrots that serenade the setting sun before settling down for the night.

In between all the local events such as the Street Fair, the Chili Cook-off and the Kite Festival, you can usually find smaller things such as drum circles and sunset gatherings organized by friends.

La Jolla Shores

la jollaCreativecommons.org/jcookfisher

La Jolla Shores is one of the prettiest beaches on the coast, running for 1.6-kilometres along the sea cliffs north of La Jolla Cove to just south of Torrey Pines State Park. The beach borders the Scripps Institute of Oceanography campus and the San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park Ecological Reserve, ensuring plenty of wildlife-viewing opportunities both above and below water. It also has the only beach boat launch in the area.

The community is somewhat wealthy, but the influx of students and researchers coming to study at the University of California, San Diego, the Salk Institute and the two Scripps institutes keep the area fresh and lively.

Gentle waves and the research centre’s protected waters make this a prime area for snorkeling, scuba diving and kayaking. There’s more than enough beach to build sandcastles and the kids can wade out into the surf without getting close to a drop off. For these reasons, La Jolla Shores is considered one of the best beaches in the area by locals and visitors alike.