San Diego's Pacific Beach neighborhood embodies Southern California’s chill vibe. Whether you're headed there to catch some rays, shred waves, or partake in the famous nightlife, PB (as the locals call it) is a constant beach party.
That said, there's so much more to PB than revelry-minded college students and young adults. Situated on a stretch of land between the Pacific Ocean and San Diego's man-made “water wonderland” Mission Bay, Pacific Beach is also an ideal base for exploring America's Finest City, given its proximity to major San Diego must-see attractions.
From wide, sandy beaches to trendy rooftop bars and fish tacos you'll never forget, here is your guide to Pacific Beach San Diego.
Where to Stay in Pacific Beach, San Diego
No matter where you stay in Pacific Beach, you'll be close to the ocean. That's especially true at the Crystal Pier Hotel, whose tagline is literally “sleep over the ocean.” Guests at these 1930s-era cottages perched on the historic Crystal Pier can fall asleep to the gentle sounds of lapping waves.
For more modern beachside accommodations, try the sleek, luxury boutique Tower23, with its lit-up glass-box architecture and acclaimed JRDN restaurant.
For something more serene, consider the AAA Four Diamond Pacific Terrace Hotel on the neighborhood's north end, or the posh Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa. And for a classic beachside motel–feel complete with a kitchenette, park yourself at the Pacific Shores Inn.
Where to Eat in Pacific Beach, San Diego
After a day of basking in the sun or catching waves, you're bound to work up an appetite. Fortunately most of the best Pacific Beach restaurants are situated mere steps from the beach and boardwalk.
Cap off a day of water activities with authentic Milanese pizza at Ambrogio15, or try some locally caught seafood at the stylish JRDN at Tower23. If you're willing to venture off the boardwalk a bit, you'll get a taste of Spain at Costa Brava. The Basque restaurant offers a range of tapas and paellas to enjoy as you listen to the sounds of live flamenco music. For a tasty burger with fries and a pint, pay a visit to the no-frills Rocky's Crown Pub.
Pacific Beach has excellent breakfast and brunch options too. Try the apple fritter pancakes and thick-cut brown-sugar bacon on the patio of Fig Tree Cafe or grab a table at the French-inspired La Clochette du Coin, where you can enjoy a cappuccino and a pesto croissant sandwich. At Kono’s Café, diners can enjoy breakfast all day in a fun, surf-themed setting.
When it comes to quick bites in Pacific Beach, it's all about the seafood.
Stop by The Fishery for the freshest catches. The mid-century warehouse is a wholesale distributor, fresh fish market, and a full-menu restaurant all in one.
San Diego is known for its fish tacos, and Pacific Beach is where it all started. If you want a taste of history, try the trademarked “Original Fish Taco” at Rubio's Coastal Grill, made with beer-battered pollack.
Stop by La Playa Taco Shop on the Mission Bay side of Pacific Beach, roll up to the Pacific Beach Fish Shopon Garnet Avenue and order a spicy taco with grilled mahi mahi, or grab a smoked fish burrito at Oscar's Mexican Seafood.
Where to Play in Pacific Beach, San Diego
At Pacific Beach's northernmost point, near La Jolla, you'll find Tourmaline Surf Park Beach. With “slow-rollers” aplenty, it's a surfer's paradise. Don't expect to be able to swim there though—on most parts of the beach, that's not allowed. If you're not a surfer, you can still have a blast lounging on the beach and watching some expert shredding and the occasional kitesurfer and windsurfer. After dark, call dibs on one of the fire pits and enjoy s'mores under the stars.
The waves calm down a bit south of Tourmaline, where you'll find North Pacific Beach. It's the place to be if you're looking for a relaxing family-friendly beach day. Lifeguards patrol the shores for swimmers, and aspiring surfers can take lessons at the San Diego Surf School. North Pacific Beach is at the head of the neighborhood's 3.2-mile boardwalk, connecting it to the main strip of PB bars and restaurants.
Running south along the boardwalk from Crystal Pier to where PB borders Mission Beach, the sandy stretch of Pacific Beach is one of the most popular coastal spots in San Diego. You'll find sunbathers and beach volleyball in addition to a vibrant bar and restaurant scene along the entire boardwalk. You'll also find souvenir shops and places to rent bikes and water-sports equipment. Here you can also sign up for a lesson with the Pacific Beach Surf School.
The Bar Scene
You're never far from a hot spot along the Pacific Beach boardwalk. Step off the sand and into one of Mavericks Beach Club's five lively indoor/outdoor bars where you can enjoy a cocktail or a beer, dance, hang out by a fire pit, or people-watch from a rooftop with an ocean view.
Try the famous “Red Bull slushie” at PB Shore Club. Dance the night away to house music at PB Avenue. Experience a “Sunday Funday” on the rooftop with sangria in hand at Firehouse Pacific Beach.
For a calmer vibe, you can take in stunning ocean views at Waterbar, try one of the award-winning mimosas at Duck Dive, or sip a giant margarita and take sunset pics at El Prez Beach Bar & Cocina.
And if you are craving a dive bar–like atmosphere, hit up Thrusters Lounge and play some skeeball.
Pacific Beach's 3.2-mile boardwalk, also known as the Ocean Front Walk, runs along the coastline from the bottom of North Pacific Beach down to the border of Mission Beach. Step off one side and you're on the sand. On the other side is an array of trendy bars, restaurants, food stands, and shops.
The concrete walkway is a popular place for walking, running, biking, skateboarding, and rollerblading, so keep an eye out for fast movers. If you'd like to join those locomotors, there are plenty of spots along the boardwalk to rent bikes and beach cruisers, including Pacific Beach Bike Shop and Ray's Rentals.
The busiest spot along the boardwalk, where you’ll find the highest concentration of bars and restaurants, is at the corner of Mission Boulevard and Garnet Avenue, where it intersects with Crystal Pier.
At some point during your visit, you’ll likely see a beach volleyball match underway, as the sport is wildly popular along San Diego shores. If you want to seek out a pickup game or watch some of the action, head to Sail Bay, which is a favorite match spot for both locals and visitors.
If you want to catch your own fresh seafood, Crystal Pier is one of the prime spots to land corbina, halibut, and surfperch. It's even a good spot for lobster if you're lucky. Be sure to bring your own bait and tackle, and obtain the proper fishing license in advance.
If you need a break from the beach, head over to Kate Sessions Neighborhood Park on the northeast side of town. The park boasts great views of both Mission Bay and downtown, and offers wide-open grass fields that make for a great spot to have a picnic or fly a kite, with playgrounds for the kids and paved paths for walking and biking.
Situated on the northern end of Mission Bay and flanked by I-5, Pacific Beach is also a central location for accessing San Diego’s must-see attractions. SeaWorld San Diego is a mere three-mile drive, and downtown San Diego, Balboa Park, the San Diego Zoo, and La Jolla Cove and beaches are all about 15 minutes away by car.
For more ideas for your San Diego vacation, check out 5 Amazing Things to Do in San Diego, 10 San Diego Museums Worth the Price of Admission, The Best Spots to Catch a Sunset in San Diego, and San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. Looking for more under-the-radar attractions? Visit So You Think You Know San Diego? and learn about the favorite haunts of a longtime Coronado local.