Seventy miles of coastline makes San Diego County a shining destination for lovers of sand and surf. And with all that shore, there’s something for every sort of beach goer. From budding marine biologists to experienced shredders, here are five of the best beaches to please them all. Insider tip: Always stay for sunset to see if you can catch a glimpse of the ephemeral green flash.
The surf culture is strong in Encinitas, a beach community in San Diego’s North County. The city offers plenty of breaks for the catching—Seaside, Pipes, D Street to name a few. But with big swells and high performance waves, Swami’s is a local favorite. Try this recipe for a truly rad morning: surf a dawn patrol session followed by a massive breakfast burrito at Pipes Cafe, coffee from local roaster Zumbar, and a peaceful walk through the Self Realization Fellowship Gardens from which Swami’s Beach gets its name.
Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve
This reserve, which protects 1,500 acres of land along La Jolla’s coast, is one of the only places where you can see the country’s rarest conifer, the torrey pine. Explore groves of jutting pines as you hike from the top of sea cliffs all the way down to the shore on the aptly named Beach Trail. Celebrate your efforts with a root- or ginger-beer float. There are six to choose from on the menu at the Lodge at Torrey Pines. Or better yet, spend the night at this five-star resort.
Belmont Park at Mission Beach
Click, click, click, click, weeee! The Giant Dipper at Mission Beach’s Belmont Park delivers buzzing anticipation and stomach flips drops for $6 a pop. Built in 1925, it’s one of the last two wooden roller coasters still in operation on the west coast. The oceanfront amusement park brings nostalgia-inducing staples—including mini golf, carousel rides, and arcade games—to the sands of Mission Beach for a day of boardwalk fun.
Often voted one of the top beaches in America, Coronado Beach’s wide span, calm waters, and soft golden sand is a favorite of couples and families. Hotel del Coronado, the massive Victorian confection overlooking the beach, has been impressing guests since 1888. Sixteen presidents and hundreds of celebrities have enjoyed the hotel’s beautiful beach views, which were featured prominently in the classic film Some Like It Hot. An impressive dedication to modernization has allowed the hotel to stay completely current. The resort now offers yoga on the sand as well as mermaid fitness classes, tail rental included.
La Jolla Cove
San Diego is known for its award-winning zoo, but some of the very best animal watching is right along the shore. La Jolla Cove is home to sea lions (large, dark brown, big flippers) as well as seals (smaller and more mottled), and it’s easy to spend hours watching them swim, play, and sunbathe along the rocky coast. Admire the creatures from land at Shell Beach, Children’s Pool, or after a journey down the stairs into Sunny Jim’s Sea Cave. You can also choose to swim or kayak with your newfound friends by renting gear from outfitters including La Jolla Kayak and Everyday California.