San Diego County has 76 miles of coastline, and most of it is accessible beachfront. And while any beach is good in most residents' minds, there are some that are particularly special, whether its for the scenery (both geographic and human), the surf, or the sand. In any case, here are a few of San Diego's favorite beaches.
If you want to experience the epitome of the San Diego/Southern California beach lifestlye, then Mission Beach is your place. You have wide sandy stretches, a boardwalk, beautiful bodies, beachfront condos - everything you would ask for on a visit to San Diego. Oh, and throw in an oceanfront, wooden rollercoaster and you've completed the classic picture. The crowds are lively and youthful, and the surf is challenging at the southern end near the jetty. Pickup basketball games and volleyball are popular at the south end park. The area near Belmont Park and the Giant Dipper rollercoaster is where the serious people watching happens. If you love crowds and like to be seen, Mission Beach is your place.
If Mission Beach the sometimes rowdy beach, then Coronado Municipal Beach is the mellow, family friendly beach with the picture perfect postcard backdrop. A wide, sandy expanse gives families plenty of room to stretch out. And if you spread your towel along the central beach, you have the majestic Hotel del Coronado rising right behind you. On the north end, near the North Island Naval Station is Dog Beach, where your dog can romp leashless. A walk along Coronado Beach is a contrast in style: the grand Victorian Hotel Del, the highrise condos to the south, a Navy jet or two taking off, and the Point Loma peninsula to the distant north. And did you know those sand dunes on central beach spell out "Coronado?" Really.
Obviously, San Diego has a number of prime surfing spots, and Swami's Beach in Encinitas is arguably one of the best. So much so that the Beach Boys immortalized the beach in their song, "Surfin' USA." Experienced surfers love the place because the reef break provides challenging waves. Far below the bluff, the cobblestone beach adds to the allure that this is no sunbathing spot - it's a surfing spot. High above along the bluff is the golden dome of the Self-Realization Fellowship Temple,home of the monastic Swami order, hence the beach's name. There's hardly any parking, not much sand, and that's perfectly fine for the hardcore surfer.
The La Jolla area is blessed with a number of incredible beaches (hey, that's why it's La Jolla, right?), but nothing compares to Windansea when it comes to waves, scenery and mythology. You see, this longstanding surfing hotspot is dripping in surfer lore, and the beach and its surfers were immortalized in the 1968 Tom Wolf book "The Pump House Gang." The thatch-roofed Surf Shack is the iconic symbol of the beach and it sits on the sandstone outcroppings that are a picturesque feature of the beach. Beware - if you aren't a skilled surfer, then you probably shouldn't be messing with Windansea's waves or territorial surfers.
OK, let's get this out of the way: yes, because of its isolated location, nude sunbathing is practiced and allowed on the state park side. That being said, this stretch of Torrey Pines beach known as Black's is both picturesque in it's setting at the foot of the towering sandstone Torrey Pines cliffs and a favorite surfing spot. And though most of the nude sunbathers are left alone, there is an occasional element of creepy lurkers seeking a cheap thrill, so the beach isn't great for families. But the beach access is pretty difficult (you need to hike down a slippery trail on the cliffs or a lengthy hike along the beach from the north or south), so that can be a determent. In any case, Black's is a spectacular piece of beachfront.
The vibe of Ocean Beach is mellow and laid back and that vibe reflects the surrounding community of Ocean Beach, the neighborhood that never left the 1960s. But that's cool, because the beach itself makes everyone feel welcome - from surfers to families to the oddball residents. But that's what makes Ocean Beach distinguish itself from it's more bustling neighbors Mission and Pacific beaches just north across the jetty. Make sure you check out the view from the huge O.B. pier, and if you have a dog, let it romp leashless along Dog Beach to the north of Ocean Beach.
Cardiff State Beach is along a strip of land fronting the San Elijo Lagoon. What makes this beach so inviting is the Coast Highway runs right along the beach, and as you're driving along this stretch of highway, you can't help but pull over to the side and check out the scenery. On top of that is Cardiff's famous restaurant row, where the breathtaking scenery provides a perfect backdrop to your meal in a restaurant right on the sand. This stretch of the Coast Highway from Carlsbad down to Torrey Pines is one of the most scenic anywhere and Cardiff is a great stopping point.
Just north of Del Mar is the town of Solana Beach. Now there isn't an actual Solana Beach but there is Fletcher Cove Beach Park in the center of town, just steps away from the train depot. The beach at Fletcher Cove is but a narrow strip of sand, but it has become a favorite training spot for surfers, triathletes and swimmers. Fletcher Cove was the site of a recent shark attack and death of a local swimmer.
OK, so you've moved to San Diego from, say, Nebraska to go to school or you're just out of school and you have to live at the beach. Where do you go? P.B., of course. And that's the lifestyle you get from Pacific Beach. From the sand up along the clubs of Garnet Ave., P.B. is one big house party. The beach is essentially a northern extension of Mission Beach and the boardwalk, but P.B. is a mix of vacationers, families and the college crowd. It all melds into a lively Southern California vibe, and with the vintage Crystal Pier, it is your classic San Diego beach setting. The hopping nightlife adds to the purely P.B. personality.
"Where the turf meets the surf" is the tagline used by the Del Mar Racetrack, and the surf they talk about is the Del Mar City Beach. Horses from the nearby track often were seen on the beach for their morning training, and the locals love the stretch from 15th St. to the San Dieguito River mouth, from the wide stretch of sand to the million dollar beachfront homes, Del Mar beach is a picturesque favoorite. Throw in Dog Beach, at the northern end, where dogs and people socialize in the surf, and you have a beach that is quintessentially Del Mar. Oh, and you might still see a race horse or two in the early morning.