Tucked away in America’s southwestern corner, lies a land with 70 miles of unspoiled coastline, 75-degree year-round weather, a relaxed culture, and unrivaled Mexican food. With all the characteristics of a Latin paradise, it’s hard to believe San Diego is actually stateside. The most poorly kept secret about San Diego is that it’s beaches are absolutely immaculate. It doesn’t have the murky smog of Los Angeles, the rugged rockiness of the Northeast, or the humidity of Florida — these are white-sand, clear-water beaches in their purest form. If you’re heading to San Diego this summer (or winter) and looking for the skinny on the best places to get your sunshine, we’ve compiled a definitive list of the county’s best spots. Enjoy!
Moonlight State Beach, Encinitas
North County San Diego is home to some of the best beaches in southern California, plain and simple. Moonlight specifically is the family-friendly hub of Encinitas, a quaint surf town 25 miles north of downtown. Boasting a snack shack, 10+ fire rings, a newly renovated and highly modern lifeguard tower, and a summertime concert series, Moonlight is the beating heart of Encinitas. It’s also a stone’s throw from the 101, a strip offering dozens of options for food, smoothies, and iced coffee. Moonlight is primarily a swimmer’s haven that gets pretty crowded, so feel free to head up the coast a bit to Stone Steps or D Street if you’re looking to dodge the crowds.
Fletcher Cove, Solana Beach
Just south of Encinitas is Solana Beach, another small beachside community with a population of about 15,000. Fletcher Cove, which was once built as a WWII-era gunnery installation, is now the best public beach in the town. Amenities available include public showers and restrooms, picnic tables, a basketball court on the bluffs and ample public parking. It’s a great stretch of beach for a long walk or a jog, but make sure you check the tide in advance. High tide usually comes crashing into the cliffs and leaves little sand. The main beach stretch is located strategically next to the Solana Beach train station and just a few blocks from the Cedros shopping and design centers.
Best for Adventure
La Jolla Shores, La Jolla
La Jolla is one of San Diego’s most famous neighborhoods with lots going on. The Shores specifically is one of the most popular destinations for summertime cookouts and day parties, but also for its amenities. Activities on deck include kayaking, novice scuba diving classes, and beach volleyball courts. Just south of the Shores is La Jolla Cove, a picturesque little peninsula with a winding cave system and tons of crustaceans. Perch yourself on the north end of Coast Boulevard to see seals and sea lions lounging in their natural habitat.
Best for Tide Pools
Cabrillo National Monument, San Diego
Spending hours getting lost in the intricate and delicate ecosystem of a tide pool is genuinely one of the best ways to spend an afternoon in San Diego. If you’ve never seen sea anemones, crabs, barnacles, and starfish up close and in the flesh, now is your time to do so. Cabrillo National Monument is a national park located on the peninsula west of Coronado and boasts some of the best shallow-water wildlife around. Be on the lookout for periwinkle snails, troglodyte chitons, lobsters and even octopuses.
Best for Dogs
Dog Beach, Del Mar
I think we can all agree, dogs are happiest on a beach. To see your pup reveling in filthy mud, swimming in the water, and high on sensory overload is great for everyone. Just about two miles north of Del Mar City Beach is North County’s best spot to bring your pooch in the summertime. Check the tides and head over at low tide to give your four-legged friend ample room to run about. Pro tips: head to the south side of the narrow lagoon for free parking and less people, especially if your pup is still learning to make friends.
Best for Surfing
Too many to list! Realizing this topic is hotly debated and particular to each person’s style and experience level, the reality is there are literally countless top-class breaks through the entire county of San Diego — so you can’t go wrong. That being said, there are some standouts. If you know the ropes and are looking to ride a shortboard, be sure to check out Black’s Beach (fun fact: it’s a nudist beach), Oceanside, and Windansea. If you’re still learning or looking to ride a longboard, the swells are usually slower at Tourmaline, Swami’s, and Beacon’s. Most of these waves vary greatly in size and shape depending on wind, tides, and the direction of the swell, so ask a local for insider information if you’re trying to get pitted, bro.
Best for Luxury
Coronado is a tiny island hemmed in by the San Diego bay and home to some of the most picture-perfect beaches around. If you’re not keen on the crowds and chaos around Imperial Beach, Pacific Beach, and Mission Beach, hop over to Coronado and treat yourself. The entire island looks like something off a postcard. With fine dining, beautiful homes, cookie-cutter shops, the historic Hotel Del and fantastic views of the San Diego skyline, it almost feels Truman Show-esque, a little too good to be true. The sand is incredibly soft, and the water literally sparkles thanks to the mica mineral endemic to the island. It all packages together quite nicely, so if you’re feeling posh, Coronado is the place to go.