Located south of downtown San Diego and stretching all the way to the Mexican border, Imperial Beach's main claim to fame is the annual US Open Sand Castle Building Contest held each July. During the rest of the year, it's a great beach for swimming, surfing and bodyboarding, as well as fishing from the pier. Lifeguards are also on duty year-round. Near the border, sewage from Mexico makes swimming ill-advised but closer to the pier the water is usually fine. This beach also has great appeal to wildlife enthusiasts as the Tijuana Estuary is here with its river mouth emptying into the ocean.
Pacific Beach is a community unto itself, with a personality that makes San Diego look staid. The beach is awesome, of course, with year-round lifeguards and separate sections for surfing and swimming. Pacific Beach spans from Crystal Pier to Mission Beach on the south side. Between the beach and the town is a paved boardwalk that runs for several miles. It's popular for rollerblading, bicycling, jogging, walking and people watching. Inland, there's a plethora of groovy boutiques, fun beach bars and restaurants. The beach is within walking distance of Tower 23 and other small hotels, but residents usually walk or bike.
There are two sections here. Along the bluffs overlooking the sea there are eight miles of trails through the unique landscape (the twisted Torrey pine tree is found in only two places on earth: in this park and on an island almost 200 miles to the north), and due to conservation efforts the park is one of the wildest, most undeveloped spots in the state. Three hundred feet below at the base of the bluffs is a beach – the northern portion is popular for families, with plenty of flat white sand, lifeguards and bathrooms. Some street parking along the busy road is available.
Silver Strand State Beach is made up of beaches lining both the Pacific Ocean and San Diego Bay. The beaches are connected by pedestrian tunnels under the busy street. Popular activities include camping, swimming, surfing, boating, water-skiing, volleyball, and picnicking. There's also a cafe that's open during the summer which offers equipment rentals, firewood (there are fire rings) other essentials. Bathrooms are available for day-use guests. Because there's a natural preserve a mile or so south of where Silver Strand State Beach ends, unique sea shells can sometimes be found here. Check the website for grunion run information, Junior Ranger activities and other special activities.
An excellent way to spend down-time in San Diego is to head to this beach, where you can enjoy quaint shops and cafes along Ocean Front Walk, which spans the area between Mission and Pacific Beaches. Shaved ice (not crushed ice) that's sold here makes for a refreshing snack, and good people-watching opportunities abound since rollerbladers, cyclists, runners and sun worshipers can be found in large supply. Expect activity here and plenty of young adults having a good time, though the expansive white sand and conveniences like lifeguards, fire pits, showers and restrooms draw families too. They even have a limited amount of beach-friendly wheelchairs available at lifeguard stations.
Tourmaline Surf Park is somewhat of a hidden gem located in North Pacific Beach. It's a surfing beach (including kite surfing and sailboarding) but also family-friendly just a tad bit south. There are less tourists probably because there aren't too many hotels within walking distance, but restaurants and grocery stores (perfect for those who want to picnic) of Pacific Beach to the south and La Jolla to the north are nearby. There's a parking lot with showers and restrooms as well as lifeguards on duty. Beware that you will have to climb down a few rocks to hit the sand.
Del Mar City Beach is a favorite of families, with the north part dog-friendly and surfable waves mixed in throughout. The north part of the beach runs from about 15th street to what is known as the Rivermouth (past gorgeous beachfront homes), where dogs are allowed to play. Two parks, Seagrove Park and Powerhouse Park border the sand around 15th street as sites for picnicking, weddings, bathrooms and easy access to Del Mar's shopping and restaurants. The south end of Del Mar City Beach is a bit more rustic with tide pools and cliffs, but it is walkable to Torrey Pines State Beach.
There is so much to do here that it's hard to begin. Two hotels, the La Jolla Shores Hotel and the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club, offer guests amazing access and beach amenities. It's one of the best beaches to learn surfing, scuba and stand-up-paddle boarding because of the sandy bottom and ease of getting into the ocean. Entry to La Jolla's Underwater Marine Park full of sea life is here. A nice playground, Kellogg Park, offers tots a break from the beach while boot camp, yoga and running enthusiasts have space on the big grassy area to burn calories. Just a few minutes walk away are the shops and restaurants of Avenida de la Playa.
This beach earns its name because residents in the early 1900s used to picnic under the stars here. Today, Moonlight State Beach is a popular beach choice with North County San Diego locals and visitors. A picnic area, restrooms, volleyball courts, tennis courts, equipment rentals, a snack bar and more are just a few of the conveniences offered here. It's located at the end of Encinitas Boulevard and Highway 101, which also happens to be where some of the best restaurants and shopping in Encinitas awaits. Surfing is in a designated area and lifeguards are on duty in the summer. It's a fantastic place to watch the sunset.
Widely considered one of the top ten beaches in the U.S., the seaward side of Coronado Island is exceptionally clean, with wide stretches of sand. The northern end, "North Beach," is dog-friendly and popular for surfing in the summer. The main part, "Central Beach," runs along Ocean Boulevard south to the famous Hotel Del Coronado. Because it's the easiest to get to, it's also the most crowded. Conveniences in downtown Coronado are walkable from here and there's a public parking lot next to the Del. This is a very family-friendly beach with calm waters due to some protection from a nearby point. Tidepools even expose themselves during low tides.