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The Beach Neighborhoods of San Diego County

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San Diego's beaches and coastal communities are what define our city. It's a reflection of our lifestyle, our attitude and our vibe. And from the border up to the Orange County line, each beach community has its own unique personality and attractions. From the funky neo-hippie aura of Ocean Beach, to the cool, upscale vibe of Del Mar, San Diego's beach communities and towns have something for everyone. Here is a roundup of San Diego's Beach Neighborhoods and Towns, traveling south to north.

Imperial Beach

Imperial Beach is the most southwesterly town in the United States, and it's probably the most low-key and unassuming of San Diego's beach communities. Sometimes susceptible to sewage runoff from Tijuana, Imperial Beach is an ideal surfing spot, with four miles of sandy beachfront. The immediate beach area isn't nearly as commercial as other beach towns, so if you're looking for hot action, Imperial Beach isn't your destination. But if you want a mellow day at the beach, this is the place. Don't miss: A stroll along the Imperial Beach Pier, the central point of the beach.

Coronado

Well, what more can you say? Coronado Beach was voted the Top Beach in the United States for 2012 by Dr. Stephen Leatherman, also known as Dr. Beach, in his annual survey. And rightly, so. Because living in this little very upscale city across the San Diego Bay Bridge is so idyllic - it's a veritable Mayberry, a place of quiet streets, manicured lawns, and pricey oceanfront mansions. If you want that rowdy beach life to go with your beach, Coronado is not your place. But if you want a wholesome smalltown vibe, this is your place. If you can afford it. Don't miss: The Hotel Del Coronado, the Village Theater, and the Ferry Landing for views of downtown.

Ocean Beach

Of all San Diego's beach communities, none exemplify the community and neighborhood ethos better than Ocean Beach. This funky beach town sits between the Pacific Ocean to the west and the more upscale enclave of Point Loma on the hill to the east. It's a laid back and less rowdy (relatively speaking) than its brethren Mission Beach and Pacific Beach a few miles north. Where other beach communities have embraced commercialism, Ocean Beach remains fiercely independent and skeptical of wholesale change. And that's what makes it so cool. Don't miss: A stroll along the Newport St. business district, Hodad's for arguably the best burgers anywhere, Dog Beach, and the massive OB pier.

Mission Beach

You want the quintessential SoCal beach lifestyle? Then Mission Beach is your place: surf, sun, sand, beach babes, beach bums, crowds, noise. Occupying the most southerly part of an isthmus that separates the ocean from Mission Bay, Mission Beach is all about the beach and the boardwalk. This is place where you soak up the iconic California sun, where you go to be noticed, and where you go to hang out and watch those wanting to be noticed. Throw in the old school Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster, cruising on the boardwalk, and sunbathing next to sand volleyball players, and this is your place. Don't miss: Belmont Amusement Park and the roller coaster, the boardwalk, and peeking into the ocean front condos.

Pacific Beach

If you take Mission Beach, throw in a pier, 10 times more bars, and a main drag of retail and restaurants, and you have Pacific Beach. Travel north on Mission Blvd. from Mission Beach and you quickly find yourself in PB. In fact the boardwalk runs from the jetty in South Mission beach all the way up into and through PB, which makes it an awesome people watching trek. The sandy beach is an extension of MB, and it culminates at the iconic Crystal Pier. Pacific Beach is a residential community - if you're from out of town and you want to live at the beach, chances are you end up in PB. Lots of nightlife, places to eat and shop, PB is a self-contained community. Don't miss: the Crystal Pier Hotel and its cabins over the water, Garnet Ave.

La Jolla

OK. Everyone knows about La Jolla. And everyone wishes they could live in La Jolla. And everyone knows they can't. So the next best thing is to visit its scenic beaches. There are actually a couple of La Jolla's: there is the old, ritzy enclave of the village area, with it's pristine downtown, awesome rocky La Jolla Cove, and family friendly La Jolla Shores. Then there's the Bird Rock area south of the village, transitioning from Pacific Beach to the exclusive old money part of La Jolla. Bird Rock is a little more casual (but still pricey), and it's the location of the iconic Windansea Beach, immortalized in Tom Wolf's "The Pump House Gang." Don't miss: the Cove, Bird Rock neighborhood, Children's Pool, and the Munchkin Homes of La Jolla.

Del Mar

If you're wealthy and you can't find a place to buy in La Jolla, then your next best bet is to head just north to Del Mar. Known as the town for the annual San Diego County Fair and the Del Mar Horse Races, Del Mar is an upscale but laid back community with some fine surfing beaches. The village business district along Camino Del Mar is the obvious center point, with nice eateries and shopping. The beach near the old train depot is a nice, scenic spot, and a stroll north along the beach gives you a glimpse of the oceanfront homes owned by the rich and famous. At the north of Del Mar beach is Dog Beach, a favorite place for pooches. Don't miss: the village area, Torrey Pines State Beach immediately to the south, the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

Solana Beach

Solana Beach is where Coast Highway 101 begins and heads north through San Diego's famous coastal beach communities. Unlike Pacific Beach, Mission Beach and Ocean Beach to the south, the north coastal towns are much more laid back and less commercial. Solana Beach is a small town, with some nice beaches that hug the coastal cliffs that the north coast is known for. The beaches are not as readily accessible, which means they aren't as crowded. The Coaster and Amtrak trains make a stop at the Solana Beach station, just a few yards from popular Fletcher Cove Beach. Don't miss: the Solana Beach Design District, which includes the awesome Belly Up Tavern for concerts, and Pizza Port, famous for its award-winning microbrews.

Cardiff-by-the-Sea

Cardiff-by-the-Sea is actually a part of the much larger city of Encinitas, but it still maintains its own identity: that of a small beachside neighborhood with great surfing found at Swami's Beach. Cardiff is one of those "local" spots - the people who hang out in Cardiff live in Cardiff. No real town center to speak of, Cardiff is all about its beaches accessible off Hwy 101. Cardiff is also known for San Elijo Lagoon and the very popular San Elijo State Beach Campground, and its Restaurant Row, where you can dine literally on the beach. Don't miss: San Elijo State Beach, Swami's Beach, Restaurant Row, and the infamous Cardiff Kook statue at San Elijo State Beach.

Encinitas

Encinitas is a fairly large city of nearly 60,000 that sprawls well beyond the coast on to the east inland. But along the immediate coast, Encinitas still is a charming beach town with a cool downtown business district along Coast Hwy 101, and some very nice beaches, the most popular being Moonlight State Beach. If you're checking out the north coast beaches, Encinitas is a great place to stop and do some strolling and dining in Old Encinitas.Don't miss: Moonlight State Beach, Lou's Records for vinyl, La Paloma Theater for surf movies, the Lumberyard for shopping.

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