San Diego California has some of the best beaches in California. There are so many beaches to go it’s overwhelming. Every beach city in San Diego County has its own vibe and purpose. Some beaches are surf beaches, others are great for families, some are dog-friendly, and some are hard to get to, but worth the beauty. Here is a list of the top beaches in San Diego that are easy to access with fun things to do.
Ocean beach or OB is a classic beach in San Diego. Home of the best fish taco in San Diego, Dog Beach, and the iconic head shop, The Black. OB is dog-friendly and has plenty of parking close to the beach which makes it great for a family beach day. Make sure to get there early because the parking lot fills up fast. The parking lot there is free so no need to worry about paying. There are three main parking lots for beach parking. The biggest parking lot is at the end of West Point Loma. There are bathrooms and showers towards the end of the lot. Dog Beach is right in the beginning of the parking lot off West Point Loma. There is more parking next to the lifeguard tower off Abbott Street and parking by the Pier. There are more showers located next to the lifeguard tower. The main beach called avalanche is blackballed in the summer so that means no surfing, but it’s a great beach for bodysurfing or body boarding.
7. Mission Beach
Mission Beach is a super fun beach park to take the family. Home of the Giant Dipper roller coaster in Belmont Park. I highly recommend taking a ride on the roller coaster for the cheap thrills and nice view of downtown San Diego and the beautiful coastline. There is parking at Belmont Park and all around Mission Bay. If you follow Mission Blvd down to the end and take a right, there is another large parking lot. That parking lot is known as South Mission Beach. A lot of people go there to play volleyball and surf. All the beaces in Mission have lifeguards on duty.
6. Pacific Beach – Tourmaline Surfing Park
Tourmaline is a classic surf beach in San Diego. There is a nice sized parking lot with easy beach access, bathrooms, and showers. The beach has some rocks on it, and a lot of surfers, but is overall a family friendly beach. The waves are perfect for beginner ocean goers because of they aren’t too powerful. But the waves do offer up some nice long rides when the swell is right. If you are into the Van Life you will dig Tourmaline. A lot of people live in their vans and post up here all day. The locals call this spot “Tourmos.”
5. Oceanside Harbor
Oceanside Harbor is located in North County San Diego right next to Camp Pendleton. The harbor has a lot going on and is a super fun place to hang at the beach, surf, grab drinks, and food. There is a little strip of restaurants and shops. I recommend going to Harbor Fish and Chips for, you guessed it, fish and chips. The Nautical Bean has some killer hot chocolate for an after surf treat during those winter months.
Parking in the Harbor
There are a couple spots that are free for two hours and the rest of the lot is paid. There is an overflow parking lot that is free, but it’s a little bit of a walk to the beach. There is also street parking that is metered and requires quarters.
Surfing Oceanside Harbor
There are four main areas that are good for surfing. Oceanside harbor is one of the most consistent surf breaks in San Diego because the coastline is angled to catch north and south swells. The north side of the jetty has a nice right that breaks off the jetty and peels down the beach. There are lefts that break into the jetty as well. The crowd gets pretty hectic, but if you paddle a little south you can find plenty of peaks for yourself.
The south jetty has waves on both the north and south side. The left off the north side of the south jetty is super fun. It wedges up off the jetty and peels all the way into the inside. The south side of the jetty does the same thing only it’s a right instead of a left. Both sides get busy, but when there is a good swell, there’s plenty of waves.
4. Carlsbad Campgrounds
Carlsbad is located in North County San Diego and has plenty of coastline for beach goers. One of the best beaches is the parking lot next to Carlsbad Campgrounds. The beach isn’t the easiest to access so pack light. You have to either walk into the campgrounds and walk down a fairly long staircase or scale the cliffs in front of the parking lot. The beautiful beach is fairly private with mostly people from the campgrounds on the beach. The waves out front our perfect for either a beginner or intermediate surfer. If you go there with your family there is a lifeguard on duty for safety. Parking is free and there is a water spicket in the campgrounds as well as bathrooms, but no bathrooms near the public parking lot. Exit Palomar Airport Road and take a left on the coast highway and you’ll merge into the parking lot from the main road.
3. Moonlight Beach – Encinitas
Moonlight Beach is located in the heart of Encinitas in North County San Diego. There is a nice parking lot at the end of Encinitas Boulevard. The parking lot has bathrooms and showers along with picnic tables and fire pits. The beach out front is blackballed (no surfing, swimming only) during the summer. You can bodyboard & bodysurf there.
The parking lot isn’t that big, so it gets pretty busy. It’s recommended to get ready the night before and get there early to secure a spot.
2. Carlsbad – Ponto
Ponto is located on the north end of Carlsbad and is just up the street from Carlsbad Campgrounds. Ponto is nice because you can park right on the beach so it’s super easy access to the beach. Parking is free, but there aren’t any bathrooms or showers on the beach. The waves are pretty strong there which makes it a great surfing beach, but not the best for swimmers. There is a lifeguard on duty, but it’s recommended if you have small children to keep a close eye on them. There is a jetty there that creates strong currents and could pose a threat to unskilled swimmers.
1. Cardiff Seaside Reef
Seaside Reef is located in North County just north of Encinitas. Cardiff is a small sleepy little surf town with a bunch of great shops and restaurants. The Seaside parking lot is right off the Coast Highway just up past the Cardiff Reef parking lot.
How to get there: Take the Manchester exit if you are coming from the 5 North. Take a right at the stop light and proceed towards the beach. You’ll wind around and come out to a light intersection. Take a left towards the Coast Highway and then take another left. Go up a couple miles and you’ll see the parking lot on your right-hand side.
If you’re coming from the 5 South, exit Birmingham and take a right. Go down the hill and take a left at the stop light. Then take another right towards the Coast Highway then take a left onto Coast Highway. You’ll see the parking lot up on your right.
The parking lot is a State Beach so you’ll have to pay $10 for the day. It’s totally worth it because the parking lot is huge and the beach is gorgeous. There’s also showers and bathrooms.
There are a couple surf spots there with really good waves. The skill level is more advanced on the outer reefs, but there is plenty of shore break for bodysurfing and swimming.