Mission Beach

Mission Beach is the closest thing in San Diego to classic East Coast beaches like Atlantic City and Coney Island. At one time, it was a thriving summer circus of vacation rentals, carnival games and other seaside concessions. Over the years, bungalows have been turned into condos and hot dog stands have been replaced by hot night clubs, but the circus is clearly in town to stay. Expect to find all kinds of free-spirited folk, sporting all kinds of styles - from dreadlocks to designer jeans - and styling all kinds of sports - skating, skateboarding, surfing and cycling. But that's only one side of the Mission Beach story. A stone's throw from the beach, on the Mission Bay side, you'll find middle-age professionals out for a run, kids learning to sail at the Aquatic Center, and families picnicking on the grass. Visit the Mission Beach Website     Location

Pacific Beach

Pacific Beach, with its endless boardwalk (three miles from here to the Mission Bay Harbor Channel) and funky beach bars, is a favorite haunt of college students and young adults living the California Dream. The heavily trafficked boardwalk is a fascinating exhibition of contemporary style and beach culture. Tattooed skateboarders rub elbows with study-weary grad students as bronzed beauties cycle past in bikinis. Pacific Beach from the Crystal Pier to Pacific Beach Drive offers bathrooms and pockets of dedicated parking at Grand Avenue and PB Drive. You can find anything from bicycle rentals to biker bars along the coast here, and more of the same as you head inland up Garnet Avenue for many blocks. Swimming and surfing are segregated throughout P.B., the latter being mediocre here at best. There's always a party on the beach and on the boardwalk, especially on any sunny summer afternoon. Visit the Pacific Beach Website     Location

Ocean Beach

Ocean Beach is a cozy little beach with a small town feel, nestled between the San Diego River and the hills of Point Loma. It's the kind of place where you can pull a chair up to the bar for a cup of coffee and settle in with the newspaper before heading out to enjoy the sunshine on your favorite stretch of sand. Like a small town, people greet one another as they meet on the pier for a fish or cross paths on the boardwalk. Surfers enjoy the waves created by the jetties here while swimmers and sunbathers will be pleasantly surprised by the friendly, familiar atmosphere on the beach. Visit the Ocen Beach Website     Location

La Jolla

If you're on holiday in San Diego, a visit to La Jolla should already be on your agenda. This affluent community is known for luxury homes, fine dining and upscale shopping. But its real assets are the beaches, and these are freely available for the enrichment of all. The coastline varies dramatically in La Jolla. At its northernmost limit, fortified by 300-foot sea cliffs, is Blacks. The Shores is a mile-long crescent of prime sand beach favored by active beachgoers of all interests. The Cove, with its Mediterranean backdrop, is among San Diego's most sheltered swimming spots, while the reefs southward around Windansea and Birdrock are among its most exposed. Visit the La Jolla Beaches Website     Location

Mission Bay Park

The wide marshland that once lured mariners to their doom at the mouth of the San Diego River has since been dredged and designated as an aquatic playground. Mission Bay Park covers 4,200 acres in roughly equal parts of land and water. A network of waterways, inlets and islets make the best way to explore Mission Bay by boat. Most of its 27 miles of meandering shoreline are sandy beaches, with the remainder devoted to marinas and resorts. The paramount symbol of watery fun in Mission Bay is SeaWorld in the southeast quadrant of the park. At Fiesta Island and Leisure Lagoon in the east bay, the names say it all, while it's easy to imagine what to expect at places like Sail Bay and Mariners Cove on the west end. There's always something happening in Mission Bay, from waterskiing and wakeboarding to sailing and swimming. Visit the Mission Bay Website     Location

Coronado Beach 

In its annual Top 10 survey, The Travel Channel has now confirmed what locals and visitors have always known: that Coronado is one of America's finest beaches. By any standards this wide, clean, family-friendly beach would be a winner, but it's the setting, the postcard-perfect community of Coronado that makes it so special. Turn-of-the-century mansions front the ocean, while yacht clubs line the bay. The town offers numerous parks with impeccably-maintained facilities, the entire beach is patrolled by lifeguards and, from the town skateboard park to upscale dining, there's plenty to do in Coronado when you're done at the beach. Plan to make a day of it. Visit the Coronado Beach Website     Location

Del Mar

It's remarkable indeed that Del Mar has managed to maintain its rural yet sophisticated feel even in the face of a burgeoning North County population boom. If you rise early in the morning, you may still find trainers from the famous Del Mar Racetrack exercising their horses on the beach by The River Mouth. Head inland on Via De La Valle and you'll find stately ranches and polo fields. But the beach is what started it all, and visitors keep coming year after year. There are three main beaches in Del Mar, all large and with lots of sand.Visit the Del Mar Website     Location

Torrey Pines

At Torrey Pines you've got two ways to go. The low road will take you to a popular beach right off the highway, with bathrooms, showers, lifeguards and a safe spot for kids to play by the lagoon. The high road leads to a coastal wilderness of pine forests, sandstone canyons and a network of dirt hiking trails on the bluffs overlooking the sea. Virtually everything in Torrey Pines is protected, from the Penasquitos river valley on the east side of the highway, to the State Park lands on the west, to the Underwater Ecological Reserve offshore. The world-famous Torrey Pines Golf Course helps to safeguard the southern end of the bluffs from development, while the rugged cliffs do their part to discourage access (and crowds). Visit the Torrey Pines State Beach and Park Website    Location