Choosing the best beach for you depends upon whether you have children to entertain or are on your own looking for entertainment. Either way, one of these San Diego beaches will fit the bill.

Mission Beach

Mission Beach has Belmont Park, a seaside amusement park with a roller coaster, and an artificial wave where surfing performances are regularly staged throughout the day. Bikes and skateboards roll past on the boardwalk, giving even older children plenty to see and do. You can cruise about two miles along Mission Beach Boardwalk and still not run out of beach or boardwalk.

At its northern point it becomes Pacific Beach, while the southern point is dominated by Belmont Park. While the huge parking lot in south Mission Beach offers easy access, it also means crowds. Meanwhile, PB to the north usually means rowdy singles. That long stretch in the middle? That’s Mission Beach, where you finally just settle on an empty spot and enjoy, provided you can find street parking.

View towards Crystal Pier from Pacific Beach.

View towards Crystal Pier from Pacific Beach. Photo © Gary J. Wood, licensed Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike.

Pacific Beach

Pacific Beach offers fun surf and athletic beach games, but much of its character stems from the bars and cantinas fronting the boardwalk. Here is a beach experience with a party atmosphere, with people (mostly young adults, including lots of singles) partying at the edge of the sand. They used to party on the sand until a city beach alcohol ban was put into effect, but a number of beachfront bars and restaurants ensure that the good times continue, especially south of Crystal Pier.

The party vibe starts early and sometimes makes for a rowdy scene. North of the pier tends to be a little quieter, with swimming, surfing, and beach volleyball just a few of the popular activities. A dearth of parking can make street parking hit or miss, especially in the summer.

La Jolla Shores

La Jolla offers a wealth of water sports, a playground, gorgeous sand, and a large parking lot that fills quickly in summer. One of the most popular beaches in town, La Jolla Shores is a nearly 1.5 mile-long stretch of sand where beach-lovers can swim, surf, body board, play volleyball, scuba dive, and launch small watercraft. A beachside park and playground round out the family friendliness of the place. It’s extremely crowded in summer, when small waves and warm water are the norm.

Setting over the water, the sun illuminates the cut-out letters reading Ocean Beach on a metal gate.

Photo © James Gubera, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Ocean Beach

Ocean Beach is a popular spot for young adults, who come here regularly to surf, swim, play volleyball, run their dogs, and gather around summer bonfires. This 0.5-mile stretch of sand runs from the OB Pier in the south to the shallow San Diego River bordering the beach’s northern edge. Around the pier are surfers and some saltier souls that earn the place comparisons to Venice Beach.

Move north to find a welcoming stretch of sand with beach volleyball courts, restrooms, and areas designated for swimming and body boarding. Beach bonfires (within designated fire rings) are popular summer nights, and there’s an off-leash dog beach at the park’s northernmost section. Parking lots are at the end of Voltaire Street and Santa Monica Avenue.

Coronado Beach starts at historic Hotel del Coronado and runs north to a dog-friendly beach.

Coronado Beach starts at historic Hotel del Coronado and runs north to a dog-friendly beach. Photo © Kira Volkov/123rf.

Coronado Beach

Coronado Beach is long a stretch of sand that starts at historic Hotel del Coronado and runs north to a dog-friendly beach. In between are families and couples quietly appreciating its beauty. Routinely listed among the best beaches in the United States, Coronado Beach is what makes the Hotel del Coronado place a dreamy summer destination.

Even during fall and winter months, the beach is protected from both large surf and the atmosphere’s marine layer, so while beaches to the north may be overcast and full of rip currents, Coronado should be just about right. Bear in mind, when big waves do hit this beach, it ceases to be an ideal place for less-experienced swimmers. There are several access points from Ocean Boulevard along the mile-long beach.

map of San Diego

San Diego

Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon San Diego.